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Yakhchāl (Persian: یخچال ‎ ice pit yakh meaning ice and chāl meaning pit) is an ancient type of evaporative cooler. 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 that were built hundreds of years ago remain standing.

10. Yakhchal (Refrigerator)

The yakhchal is an ancient evaporation cooler which has a two-fold meaning: yakh means “ice” and chal means “pit.” These ancient refrigerators were mainly built and used in Persia. The Persians had mastered the technique of building and using the yakhchal by 400 BC. The structure above the ground was dome-shaped and had a subterranean storage space. Using thick, heat-resistant construction materials, the subterranean storage space was insulated year-round. The underground spaces were up to 5,000 cubic meters in volume. Many of these structures were built hundreds of years ago and are still standing.

Cold air entered the structure through the base and subterranean space. The conical shape of the structure allowed the remaining heat to flow up and out which caused the inside of the structure to remain cooler than the outside environment. They were built from a unique water-resistant mortar called sarooj. The mortar was composed of sand, clay, egg whites, goat’s hair, and ash in certain proportions to make it resistant to heat transfer and water. The walls at the base of the structures were at least two meters thick and the main function of the structures was to store ice, but it was also used to store food. Ice was created in the winter and stored in the yakhchal for the summer.

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Meraji Yakhchal Ancient Refrigerator

“By 400 BC, Persian engineers had 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 Yakhchal, or ice-pit. These ancient refrigerators were used primarily to store ice for use in the summer, as well as for food storage, in the hot, dry desert climate of Iran. The ice was also used to chill treats for royalty during hot summer days and to make faloodeh, the traditional Persian frozen dessert.

Aboveground, the structure is comprised of a large mud brick dome, often rising as tall as 60 feet tall. Below are large underground spaces, up to 5000m³, with a deep storage space. The space often had access to a Qanat, or wind catch and often contained a system of windcatchers that could easily bring temperatures inside the space down to frigid levels in summer days.

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.”

[Note: you can add spirals in the plaster for water catchment on domes.]


Yakhchal: Ancient Refrigerators — 2 Comments

more importantly is how they pumped the water in those times….I came across this because of a modern day version they is genuinely applicable w/todays energy costs

Interesting. Please tell us more.

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Yakhchals: Ancient ice pits in the deserts of Persia

The day is hot, you need an iced drink. You simply open your refrigerator and yank some ice cubes in your drink. Nowadays, ice is this much abundant in all over the world. Be it Alaska or Dubai, if you have a refrigerator, you have ice! But think about a time which dates back to a thousand years, maybe more. How did the people cool their drinks then? Or they drank it hot as there was no refrigerator? You will think probably they drank hot drinks as the concept of ice was limited to the part of the world where it actually existed naturally. You are wrong! Ice existed in the deserts of Persia too. Here comes the concept of Yakhchals.

What are Yakhchals?

Yakhchal is an ancient evaporative cooler and ice maker. The Persian word Yakh means ice and Chal means pit, together it makes the word ice-pit.

These structures were dated back to 400 BC when Persian engineers became expert in the technique to create Ice in winter and store it for the summer in a Yakhchal. Also, it was used to preserve food and to prepare the Persian frozen dessert Faloodeh.

Just imagine! How difficult it was to make ice as there was no electricity.

Structure of Yakhchals

These giant structures were built up of spiral structures which comprised wind towers and vents. Some had holes towards the bottom. Through these holes, cold air kept flowing in the underground part of a Yakhchal. In this underground, the ice was prepared and stored. The hot air used to funnel out from the holes situated in the top.

Large walls were often built to keep the water and ice shaded. The water is channeled into the Yakhchals so that it can freeze faster in the reaction with the cold air. These structures were also served as places to store ice that was brought from nearby mountains. The walls were heat along with water-resistant. These were made using sand, clay, lime, egg whites and mountain goat and camel hair. This water and heat resistant mortar were called Sarooj. The Sarooj walls act as effective insulation all year round and these walls are two meters thick at the lower base.

Ancient Advanced Technology: 2,400-Year-Old Yakhchals Kept Ice in the Desert

The ancients were cleverer than some people today assume. They didn’t have rockets or electricity, at least no indisputable proof has been found of such technologies, but they did come up with technology that we don’t usually associate with the ancient world. The yakhchal (meaning ice pit) was a type of ancient refrigerator built in the deserts of Persia (now Iran), which was made without electricity, modern coolants, or most elements of modern refrigerators. It demonstrates the ability of humans to find solutions to problems with any materials or technology they have available.

This approach to making refrigerators was mastered by Persian engineers around 400 B.C., though it is possible that people were making them before that. Yakhchals are fairly simple to make so that even those who were relatively poor could afford them. Most yakhchals were domed structures with an underground square-shaped containment area. After the containment area was dug and the dome was erected, a type of mortar made from clay, sand, ash, goat hair, and lime called sarooj was used to make it waterproof.

The collection area for the water needed to be deep enough to keep cool and the material out of which the yakhchal was made needed to be enough of an insulator to keep out heat. Water was brought to the yakhchal either by directly transporting ice from nearby mountains or diverting water from an aqueduct into the yakhchal using underground water channels called qanats. Adjacent to some yakhchals, an east-west oriented wall would be built on the south side of the refrigerator and water would be brought into the yakhchal from the north side of the wall. The reason for this was to keep the water cool during the middle of the day as it entered the yakhchal.

Another device used to keep the yakhchal cool is a badgir, a type of wind-catching mechanism which would catch the breeze and divert it down into the yakhchal. As the air descended, it would be cooled by the ice as well as the cool air accompanying the water in the qanat. Alternatively, the badgir could be used to cause warm air to rise and cool air to replace it. This mechanism is still used in many desert towns in modern Iran.

A diagram showing how the yakhchal kept the inside refrigerated

Once in the yakhchal, the water would freeze overnight. This process could be expedited through having ice, transported from the mountains, already present in the yakhchal to act as a seed. Once the water was frozen, it would be cut up into blocks so that the water could be easily transported out of the yakhchal for drinking and other purposes. In addition to storing drinking water, the yakhchal was also used to keep food such as fruit, dairy products, and probably meat cool so that it would last longer.

Many Yakhchals in Iran, Afghanistan, and other parts of west and central Asia are still standing even after thousands of years. They represent the remnants of ancient Persia and are a part of the cultural heritage of Iran.

In addition to being historically interesting, yakhchals have also been suggested as an inexpensive and sustainable way for modern Iranians and other central Asian communities to have refrigeration without requiring the use of electricity. Theoretically, the process used to make yakhchals could also be replicated and used in other regions with climates similar to desert areas in Iran and central Asia such as the American Southwest or parts of northwestern China. In this way, the revival of an ancient technology could help modern people around the world live more sustainably and still have modern conveniences, specifically refrigeration.

Modern westerners tend to assume that conveniences like refrigeration require advanced technologies such as electricity and the ability to produce powerful coolant chemicals, but it turns out that refrigeration can be produced using surprisingly simple methods.


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Though they look like giant clay beehives, these structures in the deserts of Persia were used to make something much more needed and much harder to come by there than honey in ancient times: ice.

Yakhchāls, ancient evaporation coolers, came into being around 400 BC. The giant conical structures allowed ice to be made and collected during the colder months and used throughout the year for things like preserving food and making faloodeh, a traditional Persian frozen dessert made with thin noodles and semi-frozen syrup.

Different design features kept different yakhchāls cool, from spiral structures to wind towers and vents. Some yakhchāls had holes near the bottom, to keep cool air flowing into the vast underground portion of the structure where the ice was made and kept, and holes near the top through which hot air would be funneled out.

Walls were often built to keep the water shaded as it was channeled in to the yakhchāls so it would freeze faster. Yakhchāls also served as places to store ice that was brought down from nearby mountains and often food as well. The extremely thick waterproof and heat resistant walls were made of a special mixture of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash called sarooj.

Many of these monuments to ancient Persian ingenuity are still around today, hundreds of years later. One of the easiest to find is the one near the Narin Castle in Meybod, Iran, but there are also some in Iranian cities like Yazd and Kerman.


By 400 BC, Persian engineers had mastered the technique of storing ice in the middle of summer in the desert. The ice could be brought in during the winters from nearby mountains, but more commonly they had a wall made along an east-west direction close to the yakhchal. In winter, the qanat water was channelled to the north side of the wall. The shadow of the wall made the water freeze more quickly so more ice was produced per winter day. Ice was stored in a specially designed, passively cooled refrigerator. This was a large underground space (up to 5,000 m 3 (180,000 cu ft)) 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 or wind towers 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.

Human Rights

The Cyrus Cylinder has been historically recognised as the the world’s first universal charter of human rights. Created in 534 BCE, the Cyrus Cylinder is constructed out of clay and inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform script, and predates the Magna Carta by one millennium. It was discovered in Babylon in 1879, and is now kept in the British Museum in London.

10 Incredible Ancient Technologies that were Way Ahead of their Time

We are yet to uncover so many things of the past. The ancient times were further ahead than we presume them to be. On example is the technology that existed then. They have been many discoveries that determine that the ancient Greeks, Romans, and other civilizations had devised numerous technologies to accomplish day-to-day work. From refrigerators for keeping ice cool in the hot desert to cups that could change color, we bring to you 10 incredible ancient technologies that will just blow your mind.

1. By 400 BC, Persian engineers had mastered the technique of storing ice during summers in the desert.

Yakhchal or icehouse (exterior), Meybod, Iran. Image Credit: Ggia via Wikipedia

During the winters, the Persian people used to bring ice from nearby mountains and store them in pits they created in the middle of the desert. The ice pits, known as “yakhchal,” were one of the most ancient refrigerators known to mankind. They were also used to keep food cool and healthy during the intense summers.

On first glance, the structure looks like a large dome made from mud brick. Some of the structures were as tall as 60 feet. Below the dome lies a large underground space with excess storage area. The underground space was as large as 5,00 cubic meters.

The underground space was connected to a “qanat,” or wind catch. The wind catch consisted of multiple windcatchers that had the ability to bring down the temperature to frigid levels during the summers.

Yakhchal of Yazd province/ Icehouse (interior), Meybod, Iran. Image Credit: Pastaitaken via Wikipedia, Ggia via Wikipedia

The wall of the dome used to be as thick as two meters. Moreover, it was made by a special mortar that was comprised of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash in specific proportions. The walls were resistant to heat transfer, thus keeping the insides cool. Also, they were impenetrable to water which helped to keep the ice and food safe.

But what if somehow the ice melted a little bit? For such unforeseen circumstances, a trench was provided at the bottom so that the melted water could be caught and frozen again during the chilly desert nights. The entire structure was really well-thought despite being from an ancient era. (1, 2)

2. The “Archimedes screw” is a hand-operated machine that can move water up using gravity. If reversed, it can generate energy by water moving down.

Archimedes Screw. Image Credit: Amanjosan2008 via Wikipedia

The Archimedes screw was predominantly used for irrigation purposes in the ancient times. The machine was a screw inside a hollow pipe. The screw was initially operated by hand but later, wind energy was utilized.

The technology exists to this day and is operated with the help of a motor. As the shaft starts to turn, the bottom end of the device scoops up water. this water is then pushed to the top of the screw via the rotating helcoid until it comes out from the top end. (source)

3. There is an ancient masonry technology in Mexico that allows bricklayers to build vaults and roof-type domes using only their trowel, without formworks or ceiling mounts.

Tequisquiapan is a town located in the state of Querétaro Arteaga, one of the 32 federal entities of Mexico. The town is home to a generation of masons known as “bovederos.” These masons seem to have a superpower as they can build vaults and roofs of domes with just their trowel! For those who do not know what a trowel is, it is a small hand tool that is mostly used for digging or when applying concrete to bricks.

So, these masons from Mexico do not need the aid of any support and build domes with just their trowels! The video above shows this gravity-defying act in action. These masons do not require any formworks or ceiling mounts. It is said that the technology has been passed on from parents to children from generation to generation. This is one of the ancient technologies that still exists today. (source)

4. The ancient Egyptians invented the ramp to aid construction processes.

Ancient Egyptian ramp. Image Credit: Nano Science

The Egyptians are well known for their massive architectural structures such as pyramids. They normally make their structures quite tall and uniquely shaped. Such massive structures call for the use of ramps during construction. Ancient Egyptians have been known to invent ramps to be used to carry materials during construction.

A ramp is just an inclined plane against a horizontal surface that enables people to overcome resistance. By applying a small force for a longer distance, the load can be carried to a height rather than applying intense force to lift or raise it vertically. The Egyptians were surely ahead in their time when it came to construction. (source)

5. The “Antikythera mechanism” is a 2,000-year-old computer developed by the Greeks. It was used to predict the position of the planets and stars in the sky depending on the calendar month.

Antikythera mechanism. Image Credit: Flickr

One hundred sixteen years ago, divers found came across a shipwreck off the coast of a Greek island. They inspected the site and discovered an odd-looking bronze item. Little did they know that this small discovery would change our understanding of human history.

The structure had a series of gears made of brass and dials mounted on something that looked like a mantel clock. The structure had at least two dozen gears laid on top of one another with perfect calibration. Archaeologists came to the conclusion that this must be some kind of analog clock of the past or a calculating device. A debate went on for years until Princeton science historian Derek J. de Solla Price provided a detailed analysis of the device in 1959.

His study revealed that the device was used to predict the location of the planets and stars taking into account the calendar month. According to Price’s analysis, the main gear would move to represent the calendar year, in turn, would move the separate smaller gears that represent the motions of the planets, Sun, and Moon. In short, when the main gear is set to the current date, the device would point out the location of the celestial bodies in the sky!

In Price’s words, “The mechanism is like a great astronomical clock … or like a modern analog computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation.” The logic behind calling it an analog computer is that similar to a computer, the user can provide an input and get the desired output based on some calculations. (source)

Watch the video: Ancient Ice-Making Machines Found In Persian Desert, The Yakhchāl (May 2022).