A Tower of Silence is the place where Zoroastrians laid their dead to rest in the life-giving power of the sun.
Zarathustra is the ancient Persian prophet who founded Zoroastrianism 3500 years ago. The ancient creed which was the dominant religion during the Sassanid era greatly influenced other religions and is still practiced worldwide, especially in Iran and India.
The followers of Zarathustra consider death a temporary triumph of evil over good. They believe a dead body is impure and the evil spirit will therefore enter anything exposed to the corpse.
All creation and natural elements are deemed sacred in Zoroastrianism and followers are prohibited from defiling the sky, earth, water, plants, animals, man, and fire.
Ancient Zoroastrians used to carry their dead to the top of hills or low mountains away from populated centers and sacred natural elements.
Zoroastrians expose their corpses to the sun as they believe it has the ability to destroy pollutants and disintegrate flesh.
The exposure procedure is called ‘Khurshed nigerishn’ which in Pahlavi means ‘beholding by the sun’.
In ancient times bodies were fastened to the ground so that they could not be dragged toward any life form, vegetation, water body or human settlements and defile them.
In Iran, Zoroastrians placed their dead on the top of a tower, called the Tower of Silence, which had an almost flat roof with a perimeter slightly higher than the center.
The roof was divided into three concentric rings. The bodies of men were arranged around the outer ring, women inside the second circle, and children in the innermost ring.
When the sun disintegrated the body and the birds stripped the body of its flesh, the remaining bones were collected in stone ossuaries with holes to allow the deceased to look upon the sun. Ossuaries would then be laid within specially erected structures.
At the funeral, the body was placed upon three flat stone blocks surrounded by a rectangular thin line of sand to protect mourners from the corpse demon.
Zoroastrian population has stopped this ancient practice for forty years now. Today, they bury bodies and use a layer of concrete to secure the ground from contamination.
Towers of Silence still stand in many parts of Iran, especially in the provinces of Yazd, Kerman and Tehran.
Some of these towers date back to the Sassanid era and others date back to more than 3000 years.