Sunday, August 2, 2009

Yakhchal or Natural Refrigerators

These are the heritages from many years ago in a place near Mashhad.
According to the Wikipedia:

A yakh-chāl (meaning "ice pit") is an ancient type of refrigerator.
Above ground, the structure had a domed shape, but had a subterranean storage space; it was often used to store ice, but sometimes was used to store food as well. The subterranean space coupled with the thick heat-resistant construction material insulated the storage space year round. These structures were mainly built and used in Persia. Many remain standing that were built hundreds of years ago.

In 400 BC Iran, Persian engineers had already mastered the technique of storing ice in the middle of summer in the desert. The ice was brought in during the winters from nearby mountains in bulk amounts, and stored in a specially designed, passively cooled refrigerator, called a yakhchal (meaning ice pit). This was a large underground space (up to 5000 m³) that had thick walls (at least two meters at the base) made out of a special mortar called sārooj, composed of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash in specific proportions, and which was resistant to heat transfer. This mixture was thought to be completely water impenetrable. The space often had access to a Qanat, and often contained a system of windcatchers that could easily bring temperatures inside the space down to frigid levels in summer days. The ice was then used to chill treats for royalty during hot summer days and to make faloodeh, the traditional Persian frozen dessert.

Yakhchal of Yazd province (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Yakchal in Kerman is located about a mile from the center of the city. This cone-shaped building is about sixty feet high. The massive insulation and the continuous cooling waters that spiral down its side keep the ice stored there in winter frozen throughout the summer. These ice houses used in desert towns from antiquity have a trench at the bottom to catch what water does melt from the ice and allow it to refreeze during the cold desert nights. The ice is broken up and moved to caverns deep in the ground. As more water runs into the trench the process is repeated. Often seen around the ice houses and many of the homes in the desert are towers called badgirs or wind traps. Built of mud or mud brick, these badgirs, mentioned by Marco Polo, are square or round, but the operating principle is the same: to catch the slightest breeze in the vents at the top and to funnel the cooling air down through internal, vertically placed wooded slats to the water or dwelling below.
In present day Iran the term yakchal is also used to refer to modern refrigerators.