Architecture of Wine Storage

The Neolithic period from about 8500-4000 BCE is associated with the necessary preconditions required for the making of wine. [19] Fairly large amounts of resonated wine were being produced in the Neolithic period at the site of Hājji Firuz Tepe in the northern Zagros Mountains of Iran, south-west of Lake Urmia. [20] The Hājji Firuz Tepe comprised of a well made mud-brick building dated by radiocarbon determination to about 5400-5000 BCE, which included a large living room, a kitchen, and two storage rooms. Six 2.5 gallons (9 litres) wine jars were embedded along one of the walls in the earthen floor of the kitchen. [21]

Despite rightful doubts of modern oenologists that ancient wine would not have aged well for long owing to deficiencies in preparation and storage compared to modern methods, we have examples of wine-cellars from different historical periods with continuous improvements in their design. A few examples of wine storage and wine cellars of various types in the ancient times, some of them of considerable size, give us a good overview of the evolutionary process in their architecture.

The storage of wine in the early days of wine-making was above ground. The next stage was probably the sinking of the jars into the floors.

As the sense for older wine developed, further attention for the improvement of systems of aging wine became of importance which in turn led to the concept of the specialized wine-cellars quite early in history. These are termed passive wine-cellars, which are not mechanically climate-controlled but rely on careful orientation and location, wall thickness, light control and other factors for temperature and humidity control, In a modern so called active wine cellar, both temperature and humidity are maintained by mechanical systems. The modern consensus of the optimal temperature of a wine cellar is 13-15 centigrade and a humidity of 50-70%.

It is interesting to note that some ancient architectural designs of wine cellars realized the importance of climate control at an early date and placed the entrance of the cellar facing north to protect it from direct sunlight.

A free standing wall in front of the entrance to the wine storage room (room 20) at Godin Tepe, which was considered by archaeologists to have been built for privacy, [22] is likely to have been constructed to shield the southerly oriented entrance from direct sun rays. The construction of this wall is likely to have been an afterthought, which is corroborated by its non-alignment with the building it hides.

The first unquestionable reference to wine cellars, as far as we know, is found in a text from the middle of the twenty-third century BCE in which the king of Lagaš, Uru-KA-gina boastfully claims of having been the first to “build the beer cellar, where they brought him wine from the Mountain, in great urns.” [23] We have no information on its design.

The royal palace of Mari which dates back to the eighteenth century BCE contained several long, narrow storage rooms some of which must have been used as wine cellars. According to the written evidence, the incoming wine to the palace, depending on need, was sent either to the storerooms (Akkadian nakkamtum or rubum) or the (wine) cellars (Akkadian(bit)kannum). In the storerooms wine was kept in the jars in which it was shipped, the jars which were destined for the cellars were emptied and treated in various ways, These cellars are likely to have possessed large-capacity vats. [24]

Two presumed wine cellars, one in Nimrud and another more than two kilometres distance in Fort Shalmaneser, held presumed wine jars, The Nimrud cellar held two rows of large storage jars, and the Fort Shalmaneser had narrow gangways that held “serried ranks” of large jars that were set in mud-brick benches. [25] The wine was transported either in wineskins or wine jars.

In Teishebaini (around 700 BCE, modern Karmir-Blur), the capital of the Urartian Transcaucasian provinces located near present Yerevan, a total of about 400 huge jars (Armenian karas, Georgian kwevris) were found half buried in subterranean cellars of the palace which could have handled some 35,000 litres of wine, A larger wine cellar in the nearby royal city of Argishtihinili (modern Davt-Blur and Armavir) catered for 400,000-500,000 litres. [26]

Polycleitus[27] in his Histories described the extensive wine cellar of Tellias, perhaps the richest man of Acragantini in Sicily:

the wine-cellar in the house as still existing and as he had himself seen it when in Acragas (southern coast of Cicily) as a soldier; there were in it, he states, three hundred great casks hewn out of the very rock, each of them with a capacity of one hundred amphorae,and beside them was a wine-vat, plastered with stucco and with a capacity of one thousand amphorae, [28] from which the wine flowed into the casks.[29]

This amounts to 279,000 gallons (786,000 litres) of wine which is of quite substantial sixe for a private estate.

When Mnasippus of Sparta invaded Corcyra in 373 BCE to recover the island from the Athenians, he found that “there were magnificent houses [...] and well-stocked wine cellars,” the wine was so good that the “soldiers got such a taste for luxurious living that they would drink no wine unless it had fine bouquet.”[30]

We also have a report by Demosthenes (384/383-322), the great Athenian orator for the storage and transportation of three thousand jars of wine[31] (around 18,000 gallons or 50,130 litres).

In the Parthian period, a northern sub-divided square house next to the southern complex in Nisa may have held the royal treasury and important wine vaults. Apart from big jars (xums) that might have been used for wine storage, a cache of almost three thousand ostraca (ca. 100-29 BCE) give information on the delivery of consignments of wine from local wine yards and their quality.[32]

Apart from the ancient evidence of wine in Egypt, there are further widespread indications of the existence of systematic wine storage in cellars from the late fourth through to the early sixth century CE Ballana period.[33]

In medieval Iran, we have numerous meritorious examples of very refined wine cellars of different architectural styles. These were not necessarily used uniquely as wine cellars, but they were undoubtedly used for such a purpose (fig. 1,2,3).

Fig. 1. Wine cellar, Khāne-ye Veysi-ye Namadmāl, Dezful, 20th century (photo: Jassem Ghazban-pour).

Fig. 1. Wine cellar, Khāne-ye Veysi-ye Namadmāl, Dezful, 20th century (photo: Jassem Ghazban-pour).

Fig. 2. Wine cellar, Khāne-ye Mostowfi, Shushtar, Qajar period (photo: Jassem Ghazban-pour).

Fig. 2. Wine cellar, Khāne-ye Mostowfi, Shushtar, Qajar period (photo: Jassem Ghazban-pour).

Fig. 3. Wine cellar, Khāne-ye Qodsiye, Isfahan, Qajar period (photo: Jassem Ghazban-pour).

Fig. 3. Wine cellar, Khāne-ye Qodsiye, Isfahan, Qajar period (photo: Jassem Ghazban-pour).

Fig. 4. Shah Abbās, the Great, Wine cellar (17th century CE drawing in Jean Chardin, vol. VII., Fig. XXXVIII).

Fig. 4. Shah Abbās, the Great, Wine cellar (17th century CE drawing in Jean Chardin, vol. VII., Fig. XXXVIII).

Wine cellars which were intended to include wine drinking were more elaborately decorated. They were designed to cater for receptions which included music and dance accompanied with dining and wining. An outstanding and impressive example of this was the now destroyed Shah ‘Abbās royal wine cellar (fig. 4), which was placed in an adjacent annex complex of Tālār Tavila pavilion, situated in a magnificent garden beyond the ‘Ali Qāpu palace. This pavilion was used for the reception of the ambassadors and as the coronation hall of Shah Soleimān. The annex housed the royal library, various store rooms, the workshops or the ateliers and the royal wine cellar which is described in length by Chardin:

The building is like a salon, some 40 feet high, set 2 feet above ground level, built in the middle of a garden with a narrow entrance and screened by a small wall two feed away, making it impossible to see within. After entering, on the left-hand side are offices or stores, on the right a large room. It is surrounded by a vault which has the shape of a square or a Greek cross by means of two portals or arcades sixteen feed in depth which are along the sides, The centre of the room is filled with a large water basin, the sides of which are made of porphyry. The walls are cad with slab of jasper, 8 feet high. Above up to the middle of the vault, are recesses made of a thousand different kinds of patterns which are full of vases of all sorts of designs and materials imaginable. In this ornamented salon, the floor is covered with rich gold and silk carpets. There is nothing more lively and entrancing than the countless variety of vases. Cups and bottles of all kinds and shapes, designs and materials like crystal, cornelian, agate, onyx, jasper, amber, coral, porcelain, precious stones, gold, silver and enamel. All these are mixed with each other and seem as if they were encrusted along the walls. They appear so lightly attached as if they might fall from the vault. The storage along the sides of this superb room is filled with cases of wine. The wine is mostly in large bottles holding fifteen to sixteen pints or bottles of two to three pints with a long neck.

Among appropriate proverbs inscribed on the walls, the following is quoted by Chardin:
Life is a series of intoxicating states. Pleasure passes, hangovers remain.[34]

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[19] Patrick E. McGovern, “foreqord”, in The Origins and Ancient History of Wine, op. Cit., p.ix

[20] Patrick E McGovern, U. Hartung, V. R. Badler, D. L. Glusker, and L. J. Exner, “The Beginnings of Winemaking and Viniculture in the ancient Near East and Egypt”, Expedition, 39/1 (1997), pp. 3-21; Patrick E. McGovern, “Vin Extraordinaire”, The Sciences, 36/6 (1996), pp. 7-31.

[21] Several pottery vessels, possibly for purpose of cooking, were also found in this room; Patrick El |McGovern, Ancient Wine: The search for the Origins of Viniculture, Princton-Oxford, 2003, p.67.

[22] Virginia R. Badler, “The Archaeological Evidence…”, op. Cit., pp. 44-45.

[23] E. Sollberger, and J. R. Kupper, Inscriptions Royales Sumeriennes et Akkadiennes, Paris 1971, p. 79..

[24] A. Finet, “Le vin a Mari”, Archiv fÜr Orientforschung, 25 (1974-77), pp.125-26; Richard L. Zettler, Naomi F. Miller, “Searching for Wine in the Archaeological Record of ancient Mesopotamia of the Third and Second Millennia B>C>”, in The Origins and Ancient History of Wine, op. Cot., p. 128.

[25] M. E> L. Mallowan, Nimrud and its Remains,, London 1966,p.407; ibid., “Foreword”, in J. V. Kinnier Wilsonand, The Nimrud Wine Lists, British School of Archaeology, London, 1972,p. Viii; David Stronach, “The Imagery of the Wine Bowl: Wine in Assyria in the Early First Millennium”, in The Origins and Ancient History of Wine, op. Cit., pp. 179-80.

[26] Patrick E. McGovern, Ancient Wine…, op. cit., p. 25

[27] A native of Larissa and probably of the generation of Alexander the Great.

[28] Each ampjora contained about 9 gallons.

[29] As quoted by Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, .83.

[30] Xenophon, Hellenica,. 2. 6 (History of My Life, trans, Rex Warner, London, 1979,p. 309.)

[31] Demosthenes, 35. 18.

[32] I. M. D’yakonoff and V. A. Livshits, “Dokumenty is drevneǐ Nisy. Rasshifrovka i analiz” (Documents from ancient Nisa, Decipherment and analysis), in I. M. D’yakonoff and V. A. Livshits, eds. Material yuzhno-turkmenistanskoǐarkheologicheskoǐ ekspeditsii(Materials from the general southern Turkmenistan archeological expedition) II, Moscow and Leningrad, 1951, pp. 21-65. “Parfyanskiǐ arkhiv iz drevneǐ Nisy” (The Parthian archive from ancient Nisa), Vestnik drevneǐ istorii 4, 1953, pp.114-130; N. I. Krasheninnikova, “Otval bitoǐ tary serediny I v. do n.è. iz vinokhranilishch Staroǐ Nisy” (A dump of shards from the Middle of the 1st century BCE from the wine cellars of Old Nisa), IZVESTIYA AKADEMI NAUK TURKM,SSR, 1963/5, pp. 93-98; A. D. H. Rivar, “The Political History of Iran Under the Arsacids”, The Cambridge History of Iran, Cambridge, 1983, 3 (1), p. 22; Mary Boyce, “Parthian Writings and Literature”, The Cambridge History of Iran, Cambridge, 1983, 3 (2), p. 1152.

[33] W. Y. Adams, Nubia: Corridor to Africa, Princeton, 1977, p. 418; McGovern and Michel op.cit., pp. 63-64.

[34] Jean Chardin, Voyages…, 1811, vol. 7. Pp. 375-76; idem, A Journey …, 1996, p. 146.