Charsteen cave, a symbol of ancient Zoroastrianism history
Located only 2 kilometers north of Duhok, the Charsteen cave is a symbol of ancient Zoroastrianism in the Kurdistan Region.
On the way to Duhok valley near Duhok dam, there are stone steps to the east of the valley that leads up to Spi Mountain (the White Mountain). The steps lead to several ancient spots, including an open fire temple and a short rocky tunnel. Due to the fact it was a sacred place, the tunnel was like a gate, not just anyone was allowed to enter.
Then the steps lead to the mesmerizing cave known as 'Charsteen' ('four pillars' in Kurmanji Kurdish), a name reflective of the fact that there are four carved stone pillars inside the cave that date back to 1st millennium BC, according to Karzan Muhhamed, a history instructor at the University of Duhok.
Fire, water, soil, and air, were four sacred elements in Zoroastrianism. A fire alter stands among four stone pillars.
In 2000, the Duhok directorate of antiquities started excavation at the Charsteen cave site, and in 2006 it made some important academic discoveries.
The cave used to be a fire temple (Atashkadeh ) dedicated to deity Anahita, as indicated by the discovery of Anahita's emblem and a fire-alter at the heart of the temple, according to archeologist Hassan Ahmed, who has written a detailed book on the cave.
The cave's unique architectural style differs considerably from previously discovered Zoroastrian temples. It is also one of the most complete ancient temples.
"The temple's style, which looks toward the four directions, is central to Iranian architectural tradition, but it is the most unique style ever discovered in this region," said Hassan. "Thus, it reaffirms our cultural cohesion with the Zoroastrian heritage."
The temple is made up of five sanctuaries, three of which were carved into the rock, with the remaining two constructed from stone blocks.
The cave is two meters high and 15 meters wide. A square tilted window brings in sunlight.
With such temples, some archeologists believe that Duhok was an important place for Zoroastrians, and Zoroaster himself may have even visited this place.
There are five symbols engraved on the right side of the cave and 100 small fireplaces to make the temple bright at all times.
Geographically Charsteen is sandwiched between the locally famous Shada and Pharaoh Ledges. The Shada Ledge has a flat rocky side. There is a Kurdistan flag painted on it that is visible to everyone inside the city.
Many ancient ruins, carvings, and sculptures have been discovered in the hills and caves of Duhok. Charsteen has become one of the most famous, attracting local and foreign tourists.
Charsteen was renovated twice by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) back in 1999 and 2013.
In February 2022, Dr. Bekas Brifkani, the director of Duhok antiquities, announced work on a plan and design to renovate Charsteen and its stairs,
UNESCO in Iraq, EU, and ILO have been supporting the Duhok antiquities authorities.
Now Duhok is trying to get UNESCO to officially add several archeological sites like Lalish Temple, the ancient houses of Akre, reliefs of Halamata cave, and Charsteen to the list of world heritage sites.