Seen from afar, the village of Kandovan, hidden in the remote north-western corner of Iran, looks like an odd rock formation. On a closer look, doors, windows and people appear, until the silhouettes of cave-like homes carved inside rocks become clear.
The foundation of this astonishing village in the province of East Azerbaijan dates back to at least 600 years ago: according to the inhabitants of Kandovan, it was created when people from Chorasmia (Uzbekistan’s current Khwārizm region), fleeing from the Mongolian army, took shelter in these lava caves, consumed by time and easy to carve.
The pyramid shape of the rocks is due to the eruption of a volcano in the region of the Sahand mountain, which has now been inactive for 11,000 years. That is what determines the peculiar looks of Kandovan’s houses, known as Karaan, a Turkish word for “beehive”.
Kandovan’s inhabitants sculpted and carved rocks to create kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, storage closets and shelter for animals (usually on the ground floor), and to add windows and doors, later decorated with stained glass.
Although there are two more rocky villages in the world – one in Cappadocia, Turkey, and one in Dakota, United States – this is the only one still inhabited. Today, 117 families live in Kandovan, which has a mosque, public bathhouse, a school, a mill, a gift shop and a restaurant, alongside a hotel with 40 rocky Karaan, ten of which have their own bathroom and Jacuzzi.