News | Cultural Heritage
Samen Underground City suggests clues to life in ancient Mithraic Iran

Date: 16 April 2017

Situated in the southwestern city of Malaya, the history of Samen underground city, accidentally discovered in 2005, goes back to pre-Parthian Empire, when Mithraism was widespread in Ancient Iran.

The site 3 hectares in area, embraces over 50 chambers and catacombs of various dimensions, most of which interconnected by corridors and thresholds, and punctuated with human skeletal remains that are rich sources for revealing the lifestyle, food habits, and diseases in ancient Iran.

According to the journal Bioarchaeology of the Near East, the human remains date back to the time of Mehrdad I (160-130 BC) of the Parthian Empire (247 BC – 224 CE) that was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran and Iraq. Most probably it was first built to perform special Mithraic religious ceremonies. Mithraism or the worship of Mithra or Mehr, the god of Sun was one the most ancient Iranian gods. According to the available evidences, the followers of this cult conducted their ceremonies in secret underground altars called Mehrabeh. Some of the channels in this space were used to bury religious victims and most probably high religious leaders. This is the first period of its use. Then comes the second Parthian period, which can be called its heyday. In the third period where its decline begins, particularly after the Arab invasion of Iran and Nahvand war it was used as a shelter and for the burial of special figures until WWI and even the Qajar dynasty.

Situated under a modern urban area of the same name, the site was recovered accidentally during some development activities in 2005 and explored further during four seasons of archaeological investigations in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. 

A combination of photos by photographer Abdollah Heidary from IRNA shows the Samen Underground City, an archaeological site near Malayer in western Iran on April 10, 2017.

Source: Tavoos from various sources