The settlement that is now Bandar Abbas dates back to between 522 and 486 BCE. The original settlement, then named Gamerun, stood on the mainland near Hormuz Island, home to the settlement of Hormuz, which served as the main port for the area.
In 1514, the Portuguese gained control of Hormuz, and then established a fort at Gamerun. The fort was later renamed Comorão by the Portuguese, its purpose was to protect the trading outpost at Hormuz from attack from the mainland. This was the point at which the settlement grabbed the attention of Shah Abbas I of Persia, the man who the settlement would come to be named after.
Shah Abbas I of Persia, XVII
Abbas the Great and his court welcome Vali Muhammad Khan I as he seeks to garner support for his campaign to lead the Ashtarkhanid (17th and 18th principal rulers of the Khanate of Bukhara, now a region in Uzbekistan), as shown in one of the paintings in the Chehel Sotoun pavilion in Iran.
When the Persians regained control over Bandar Abbas from the Portuguese, it would not last, with the leadership of the city changing several times between the Persian, Omani, and British Empires. Though the city changed rulers, its culture remained Persian. Comparatively small in population against the larger trading cities, Bandar Abbas had a cosmopolitan nature and is said to have had English, Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, Armenian, Georgian, Muscovite, Turkish, Arab, Indian, and Jewish merchants.
Alphonse Albuquerque, 1584
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Portuguese naval commander Afonso de Albuquerque first set foot on Hormuz during an expedition in 1507, but was forced to abandon the island. Another anniversary was celebrated In 1515, he returned to the island and succeeded in establishing control over the kingdom of Hormuz, building a powerful fortress on the island, and maintaining a strong naval presence in the region for 107 years.
During their occupation of the city, the Portuguese brought thousands of Africans to Bandar Abbas as slaves, and while most of these slaves were sold and taken out of the city, some settled in Bandar Abbas, resulting in a distinct population of Afro-Iranians that remains to this day. Slavery in Persia was non-discriminatory, there would have been Georgians and Circassians enslaved in Persia, and Bandar Abbas, at the same time that the Portuguese and Omani’s were bringing Africans to Bandar Abbas as slaves. While the British would put pressure on the region to end its slave trade, slavery in Iran would not be abolished until 1928, and not in Oman until 1970.
Bandar Abbas faced severe conditions. Its climate is inhospitably semi-arid and oppressively humid, with afternoon temperatures exceeding 40° C (104° F) in summer. It also saw modest growth over the centuries because of water scarcity, which forced the population to retreat to the hills in winter. In spite of all this Bandar Abbas flourished commercially as a link between the Gulf and the Irano-Afghan hinterland with easy corridors, through the Zagros mountains, to Kerman, Yazd, and Shiraz.
Shah Abbas, King of Persia, 1596
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
On a page in an album titled “Natural effigies of the greatest princes and most valiant captains of this age with their weapons” [translation], is this portrait of the Persian king, Shah Abbas I (r. 1588–1629), whose valor the Venetians greatly admired. The Shah’s ambassadors receiveda royal welcome in Venice and assured the city’s merchants that they would always be welcome to trade in Persia.
From there, Bandar Abbas became the key Persian trading port in the region. As a reward for helping to liberate the port from the Portuguese, Abbas exempted British ships from customs duties and gave them half of the port’s customs revenue, so long as they maintained and protected regional shipping routes. The merchants who lived in the city would trade and ship a myriad of commodities like English textiles, Indian cotton, indigo, ores, steel, silk carpets, saffron, pepper, nutmeg, sugar, and more, while the area itself was famous for its pearl production. However, the prosperity would not last. Persia was in decline after the rule of Shah Abbas I, and this decline culminated in the Afghan invasion of 1722. Shortly thereafter, in 1727, the Afghans reached Bandar Abbas and the city was sacked.
Bandar Abbas faced several decades of misfortune before recovering under Omani rule. The Persian government did not maintain the city, rather the Safavid government committed large scale embezzlements and oppression of merchants. This resulted in Bandar Abbas and its surroundings undergoing depopulation, and it gradually came under Arab control before the British abandoned their trading post. Arab control was formalized in 1793 when the Sultan of Oman leased the port from the Persians, which brought the city into the Omani trading empire. In 1798, the Omanis signed a treaty that gave the British East India Company access to the port, and trade once again flourished. Inclusion in the Omani Empire connected Bandar Abbas to trade with the coastal areas of the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa, but Bandar Abbas still was not as prosperous as it had been just after liberation from Portuguese rule.
Graphite on Paper
A merchant couple await their shipment by the steps of the Indian Temple.
Despite new connections, Bandar Abbas’ fortunes continued to slowly decline. The Omani Empire weakened as Persia recuperated, and in 1868 Persia was able to force an end to the lease and regain control of its possessions along the southwestern Persian coast, including Bandar Abbas. Persia regaining control over the city, however, would not herald a new era of trade. Instead, the city would continue to languish as a backwater for another century.
Bandar Abbas continuously changing hands between multiple governments contributed to ineffective administration that was detrimental to long-term growth, until the 20th century. At that time Bandar Abbas went through a period of stagnation before it became modern Iran’s primary port of entry for goods.
The city was largely ignored until 1964 when its deep-water port was
developed, increasing its importance massively, and soon the city was thriving. Expansion of the port city accelerated during the Iran-Iraq war, and the size of the city only increased with the installation of improved facilities during the 1990s, and the establishment of a connecting railway.
Antique Map of Gamron (Bandar Abbas), circa 1700J.C Haffner
The port-city of Bandar Abbas, known at the time as Gamron, sprawls from the coast to the mountains, as ships of all sizes arrive and depart with their wares.
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Hormuz. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Hormuz.
Ibid; Planet, L. (n.d.). History. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.lonelyplanet.com/iran/the-persian-gulf/bandar-abbas/history.
Bandar-e ʿAbbās. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Bandar-e-Abbas.
De Planhol, X. (2012, December 30). BANDAR-E ʿABBAS. Retrieved November 29, 2020, fromhttps://iranicaonline.org/articles/bandar-e-abbasi.
Oman, The early period. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Oman/The-early-period.