Cyrus II, who was later known as Cyrus the Great, is the founder of Achaemenian dynasty, creator of Persian Empire and the father of a nation called Iran. He was appointed as governor at the Southern part of Iran by Medes who rules from Zagros Mountains at the Northwestern and Western of Iranian plateau. He was also the king of an area known as Anshan for eight years. It was a territory at central Iran.

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Famous Reliefs attributed to Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae

Two Major Accomplishments of Cyrus the Great

The reputation of Cyrus the Great is due to two major accomplished tasks he had brought to reality:

  1. He changed the small country of Persia to a powerful empire in a vast territory. No other government had reached this level of authority in the world till then.
  2. His ethical values had made him a well-behaved emperor with humble policies and favorable method by which he treated the conquered nations.

The world was dominated by brutal arrogant rulers who didn’t care about their nations’ rights. In fact, they oppressed everyone with sheer rigidness to put awe in their hearts. Cyrus changed all such mannerism.

When the final years of Medes’ domination was accompanied by oppressing people and treating them unfairly, the level of injustice was so high and suppression so severe that Median people had no choice but to wait for someone to save them from their brutal ruler. Cyrus turned to be this savior character. When he came to power, the new situation couldn’t corrupt him and make another monster out of him. Instead, he won lots of hearts and gained many nations’ respect for his mannerism. Cyrus united Medes with Persians.

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The tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae

 

The Policies of Cyrus the Great

He maily focused on bringing peace, security, understanding, respect for others’ opinions and justice to his empire. He deeply influenced the civilization at the world of his time with positive impacts. The century in which he established Achaemenian Empire became the golden era of the world history and the century of creating arts and cultures. Subsequently, he brought about the acceleration in evolution of human societies and the development in ethical values, civilizations and human rights.

Cyrus the Great is well-known for his policy of tolerance and respect. When Cyrus defeated Croesus, the last king of Lydia, he ordered him to be saved, not killed and made him an advisor for his empire. He conquered Babylonia without a fight. He respected hand-made gods of all conquered nations despite of the fact that he believed in an unseen God. He went further and even helped the followers of other religions to rebuild their temples and take back their gods to their worshipping places. Historians and the Old Testament has recorded the way he treated captivated Jews forever.

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Ruins of the residential palace of Cyrus at Pasargadae

Cyrus allowed the nations under Persian Empire to keep their religions, traditions, dress code, language, etc. He didn’t force the ideas, rituals and beliefs of Persians to the rest of the world. However, today we see that there are lots of powerful influences of Persian culture outside the present boundaries of Iran in a vast area.

The mighty rulers before him used to build minarets out of people’s heads and created heaps of corpses to demonstrate their power to the subject nations. They burned the people alive in fire, gouged their eyes, cut their tongues and boasted of the number of young girls and women imprisoned and taken away by their brutal soldiers. On the contrary, he didn’t carry out bloodshed, plunder, brutality, etc to prove his power. He established a government that tried hard to found unity and peaceful coexistence among nations from India to the Mediterranean Sea. To win people’s support, he used a different policy: He supported their rights, promoted justice and worked for their prosperity.

 

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Ruins of the fortification at Tal-e-Takht at Pasargadae

The Legacy of Cyrus the Great

After the death of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae, his capital city, wasn’t the capital anymore. Yet, it kept its significance among the succeeding Achaemenian kings. They held their coronation ceremonies there first and paid their respects to him as the founder of the dynasty. Then, they went to Persepolis to keep up with their festivities.

He built the first series of Achaemenian palaces in Pasargadae. He planned and made the first examples of Persian gardens at Pasargadae. He planned water channels and basins along the ducts there. We see the same style of parks and gardens made in Iran using the same plan.

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Water Channels of Persian Gardens remained at Pasargadae

 

Without Cyrus the Great, there wouldn’t be any nation called Persia and later Iran. He united different ethnic groups via mutual respect and humanitarian supports under one flag. He taught everyone that tolerance and kindness is more powerful than any other weapons.

Even until 20th century, all dynasties in Iran tried to connect themselves somehow, through bloodline, etc, to Achaemenians and Persian Emperors. He’s the author and father of Iran. He’s the source of pride for everyone in Iran.

Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great, was the founder of Achaemenid dynasty. His maternal grandfather was Astyages, the last king of the Medes, and his paternal grandfather was Achaemenes, the first founder of hereditary rule among the Persians.

Cyrus presented a new empire based on morality, justice, and decency to the world. Unlike the previous emperors, he treated the defeated with compassion, enemies with tolerance, and those with opposing beliefs and customs with liberality. His statement in Babylon, written on a clay cylinder, is the first draft of the Declaration of Human Rights.

The followings are three sites worth exploring to learn more about the rise and fall of Achaemenids. You can leave Shiraz for a one-day tour to visit these spectacular sites and then come back.

Pasargadae: This Is Where Achaemenids Rose to Power

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Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae, Iran

 

It was the dynastic capital of Achaemenid Empire, the first great multicultural empire in western Asia. Today, it’s located near Shiraz in Fars province, south western Iran. It’s where Cyrus the Great conquered Astyages, the last Median king, in his last battle, and then founded the first Persian Empire in the same region and beyond. He founded Pasargadae and constructed palaces in memory of his victory. It was the rise of Achaemenids and Cyrus the Great was the author of Achaemenid dynasty. His tomb is also here in this city.

According to UNESCO, “palaces, gardens, and tomb of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture, and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization”.

A brief description of the site

The tomb of Cyrus has long been a focal point for visitors to Pasargadae and the palace area lay almost a kilometer north of it. This area included a palace to receive audiences and a whole series of adjacent gardens. They emerged to be the first Persian gardens. Unfortunately, all that has remained from Achaemenid era in this region are stone foundations and some wall socles.

In this site, the columned hall is the most common form of design. A notable architectural point about this hall was making use of stone-working techniques. It’s notable because all the previous columned halls in Iranian plateau were built in mud-brick walls and wooden columns.

Such an innovation facilitated the production of stone platforms, staircase, floors, and stone columns. Each one of these structures was to become a hallmark of architecture in Achaemenid era from about 540 BCE onward.

The gardens at Pasargadae would appear to be the first known occurrence of chaharbagh or fourfold garden, a specific articulation of space. It went on to become a distinctive characteristic of later garden designs in Iran for centuries.

Pasargadae kept its importance to Achaemenid emperors, but during the reign of the next kings, the capital moved to other cities.

Persepolis: The Glorious Times of Achaemenids

 

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Gate of All Nations at Persepolis, Achaemenid Era

 

It’s the other dynastic center of Achaemenid kings located about 60 kilometers south of Pasargadae. After Cyrus the Great, Darius I, known as Darius the Great, succeeded in ruling the Persian Empire. He started the construction of Persepolis. It consists of ceremonial palaces, provisional residential palaces, a treasury, and a chain of fortification. It was built as a ceremonial palace complex mainly for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival.

The gate to the site was from the south, through a staircase. To the right of this entrance, you can see a huge rectangular block bearing four cuneiform inscriptions in the name of Darius the Great: Two in Old Persian, one in Elamite, and the fourth in Babylonian. These scripts were clearly meant to inform visitors of the nature of Persepolis, the people who contributed to its construction as well as Darius’ beliefs and ideals.

The remarkable parts of the palace complex consist of:

  • The Gate of All Nations.

It was a four-columned square hall with three stone doorways. Two enormous winged bulls are carved at the inner side of eastern as well as western doorways, and the gates are decorated in the upper part with six cuneiform inscription sections.

  • The audience palace of Darius, The Apadana

The double-reversed stairways of this palace are the most splendid parts of Persepolis

  • The Palace of Darius known, the Tachara.

A charming structure which is the oldest palace of Persepolis. Here, you can find three different scripts carved in various historical periods: one in cuneiform from Achaemenid era, one in Pahlavi from Sassanid era, and one in modern Persian from Qajar era.

  • The Palace of Xerxes, the Hadish

It was the Xerxes’ temporary residence.

  • The Central Palace, the Tripylon

A small but lavishly ornamented structure located in the center of the complex. Three doorways and a couple of corridors and staircases were linked to the other palaces. It must be attributed to Xerxes and Artaxerxes I.

  • The second largest palace of Persepolis, The Hundred Column Hall

Its main feature was a square hall provided with ten rows of ten columns. It was an audience hall.

These structures were built by Darius the Great and his successors, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I, and maintained until 330 BCE, when they were looted and burnt by Alexander of Macedonia. Although today you can see only the remains of this complex, its magnificence can still impress you.

Darius the Great was a powerful and sage emperor in the ancient world. His territory was so extended that there were no such imperial expansion until then and long after.

Naqsh-e-Rostam, Mighty Emperors Have Rested Here

Naqsh-e-Rostam

Naqsh-e Rostam, Achaemenids’ Necropolis near Shiraz, Iran

 

It’s one of the most spectacular ancient sites of Achaemenid era dating back to the times when the fall of Achaemenids was about to happen. It’s located almost 5 kilometers northwest of Persepolis, and consists of the colossal rock tombs of Persian kings dating back to the first millennium BC. Here you can see the best ancient rock reliefs in Iran from both the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods.

The rock-cut tombs of Achaemenid rulers and their families dating back to the 5th, 4th, and 3rd centuries BC have been engraved on the façade of a mountain. The tombs belong to Darius the Great, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. In addition to being a royal necropolis, Naqsh-e-Rostam was a major ceremonial center for the Sasanians until the 7th century AD.

I highly suggest you to put these three spectacular Achaemenid sites in your checklist for travelling to Iran. It takes just one day to visit them all and learn about the rise and fall of Achaemenids. I promise there will be so many amazing things that can cause your admiration.

 

 

Ganjnameh  inscriptions (literally ‘Treasure Book’) is so named because its cuneiform rock carvings were once thought to be cryptic clues leading to caches of Median treasure.

Ganjnameh Inscriptions

Ganjnameh Inscriptions

The Ganjnameh are set of cuneiform characters written in three languages (ancient Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian), set into a rockface on Mount Alvand, about 5 kilometers from modern-day Hamadan. They were first studied in detail by the French painter and archaeologist Eugene Flandin, who was accompanied by Pascal Coste. Following on their work, Sir Henry Rawlinson, a British explorer, used the inscriptions as a sort of Rosetta stone to descipher the cuneiform characters of the era. The inscriptions proved to belong to the age of Darius I (521-485 BCE) and Xerxes I (485-65 BCE), refuting earlier myths that the inscriptions described the location of buried treasure–hence the name Ganjnameh, or ‘treasure epistle’.

Ganjnameh Entrance Sign

Ganjnameh Entrance Sign

The texts are in fact a hubris-laden suck-up to the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda from the Achaemenid monarch Xerxes (r 486–466 BC) for making him such a stellar king. To emphasise the point, the message is repeated in three languages (Old Persian, Elamite and neo-Babylonian) on rock faces some 2m high. A second panel similarly commemorates his father, Darius. All this is rather ironic considering the modern-day fetish for social-media immortality.

Cuneiform Inscriptions of Darius and Xerxes in Ganjnameh

Cuneiform Inscriptions of Darius and Xerxes in Ganjnameh

The right inscription, belonging to Xerxes I, reads: “The Great God [is] Ahuramazda, greatest of all the gods, who created the earth and the sky and the people; who made Xerxes king, and outstanding king as outstanding ruler among innumerable rulers; I [am] the great king Xerxes, king of kings, king of lands with numerous inhabitants, king of this vast kingdom with far-away territories, son of the Achaemenid monarch Darius.”

In this context, “God” refers to Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrian religion.

Ganjnameh Waterfall

Ganjnameh waterfall is one of the most important waterfalls of the province, near the city of Hamadan and at the tail end of the recreational area of Abbas Abad Valley. This waterfall flows down from a height of about 12 m. and is known as the water of Abbas Abad. Its average output is 200 litres / second. This waterfall is in the vicinity of the Ganjnameh Inscriptions and also en route to the track from where the heights of the Alvand mountains are accessible.

Beautiful Ganjnameh Waterfall

Beautiful Ganjnameh Waterfall

Ganjnameh Waterfall in Winter

Ganjnameh Waterfall in Winter

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iran-esfahan-imam-detail-geoex

Everyone says you’ll be surprised by Iran (except for those who say, you’re nuts for going — and they’d probably be the most surprised of all). So I went in expecting to be surprised, but I still wasn’t prepared.

I was surprised by the red poppies bursting out all over the landscape, the snowcapped mountains where I’d expected desert, and the national commitment to mystical poetry and song. The most profound surprise of all was the genuine warmth of the people. From Tehran to Tabriz to the smallest village in the desert, people went out of their way to express appreciation at our visit. In Yazd, a restaurant owner went so far as to place an American flag on our table and blast “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the speakers, causing the other patrons to rise from their seats out of respect. Now, that’s surprising.

Below are a few of my favorite memories:

 

Our "Treasures of Persia" group examines the tomb of Nasser al-Din Shah at Golestan Palace in Tehran. The 19th-century Persian king was famous for his courtly visits to Europe, his large harem, and his assassination by a revolutionary in 1896.

Our “Treasures of Persia” group examines the tomb of Nasser al-Din Shah at Golestan Palace in Tehran. The 19th-century Persian king was famous for his courtly visits to Europe, his large harem, and his assassination by a revolutionary in 1896.

The palace was a pleasant surprise — an equivalent place in Europe would be overrun with tourists and selfie sticks. Instead, it was magnificently quiet; you could hear the babble in the fountains and the chattering of parrots overhead.

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iran-jess-silber-geoex

I had my picture taken by a young Iranian couple who were also strolling around Golestan, being tourists themselves. They were thrilled to see a group of Americans touring their capital.

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iran-tehran-street-art-geoex

One thing that surprised me about Iranian cities was the fun public art. I expected to see lots of sober portraits of the Supreme Leaders, Khomeini and Khamenei, and yes, I did see those. But I didn’t expect colorful murals and whimsical sculptures, and I saw lots of those, too. I think the picture above is actually an advertisement, but it’s a nice reminder of how Iranian cities can be joyful places, not just somber ones.

On Iran's rural border with Azerbaijan, set within a canyon and reachable only by a steep walk, the centuries-old St. Stephanos Church feels like it's in a different world from cosmopolitan Tehran.

On Iran’s rural border with Azerbaijan, set within a canyon and reachable only by a steep walk, the centuries-old St. Stephanos Church feels like it’s in a different world from cosmopolitan Tehran.

 

Iran’s Islamic architecture is dazzling, no surprise there. But there are other religions in Iran, and exploring sites sacred to Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism was a surprise highlight. Saint Stephanos Church is a long drive from the closest major city; perched just across the border with Azerbaijan, it holds court in a canyon of red rock that feels like one of the archives of time.

The Iranians that we met on the "Treasures of Persia" trip were always eager to have their picture taken with us. Same goes for this group of guys who ran into us at St. Stephanos Church.

The Iranians that we met on the “Treasures of Persia” trip were always eager to have their picture taken with us. Same goes for this group of guys who ran into us at St. Stephanos Church.

We visited Saint Stephanos on a weekend, and it was busy. At each corner and courtyard of the church complex, we were approached by people who wanted to welcome us and chat with us — or take their photo with us. Kathie is pictured here with a group of gentlemen who wanted to immortalize the visit.

A spring fills this volcanic crater at Takht-e Suleiman, Iran - it's easy to see why it was considered a sacred site to different civilizations throughout Iranian history.

A spring fills this volcanic crater at Takht-e Suleiman, Iran – it’s easy to see why it was considered a sacred site to different civilizations throughout Iranian history.

At first I was a bit skeptical as we walked up to Takht-e Suleiman, a windy mountaintop UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’d driven hours through mountain landscapes to get there, and as you approach, you can’t see much except the crumbs of ruins. But the opaque, blue-green pool in the center of the site, formed in a volcanic crater, brought into focus how magnificent and spiritual it was. “One of the most sacred places in Iran,” our trip leader, Sylvie, said, and it was pretty easy to see why.

 

A group gathers around the National Guide at Takht-e Suleiman, a remote, ancient ruin and sacred site in northern Iran.

A group gathers around the National Guide at Takht-e Suleiman, a remote, ancient ruin and sacred site in northern Iran.

As with so many other places in northern Iran, we pretty much had the whole site of Takht-e Suleiman — all of its chambers, tunnels and temples — to ourselves to ponder and explore. Here, our national guide, Peyman, is explaining the Zoroastrian fire temple that once burned here.

The atmospheric ruins of Takht-e Suleiman, a sacred site in rural Iran.

The atmospheric ruins of Takht-e Suleiman, a sacred site in rural Iran.

There was just one other group of tourists visiting the ruins at Takht-e Suleiman that day, an older couple strolling with a young man. The woman asked me to take a photo with her. After the young man had taken the picture, the woman squeezed both of my hands in hers and kissed both of my cheeks. I don’t think anyone has ever been so happy to take a picture with me in any other country I’ve visited.

Military service is compulsory for young men in Iran. These two soldiers serve their time as guards at the crumbling Anahita temple, a pre-Islamic ruin in the town of Kangavar.

Military service is compulsory for young men in Iran. These two soldiers serve their time as guards at the crumbling Anahita temple, a pre-Islamic ruin in the town of Kangavar.

Military service is compulsory for most young men in Iran. These two soldiers serve their time as guards at the crumbling Anahita temple, a pre-Islamic ruin in the town of Kangavar, dedicated to the Zoroastrian goddess of water.

An Iranian woman in Kangavar offers warm bread to a traveler and GeoEx Trip Leader Sylvie Franquet.

An Iranian woman in Kangavar offers warm bread to a traveler and GeoEx Trip Leader Sylvie Franquet.

An Iranian woman in Kangavar offered warm bread to some members of our group. At first we declined, trying to adhere to the Iranian custom of taarof, which governs etiquette, but as you can see, eventually the aroma of warm bread overcame us.

Lions, gryphons, and bulls are represented in the capitals of columns and other ruins at Persepolis.

Lions, gryphons, and bulls are represented in the capitals of columns and other ruins at Persepolis.

Persepolis! Ancient cities haven’t always been my thing — in the Roman Forum I was preoccupied by the scrawny cats begging between the columns — but this site is magnificent from the very first approach. The city was a ceremonial capital for the Achaemenid kings, built on these tremendous stones that heave it toward the sky like an altar, and decorated with astonishing carvings and reliefs. It was more recently famous for being the site of the last Shah’s final big party in 1971, which lavishly celebrated 2,500 years of Persian civilization and provoked the outrage of then-exiled Khomeini.

This third-century relief at Naqsh-e Rustam, just a few miles from Persepolis, depicts the beginning of an empire: Ardashir, the first Sassanid king, is receiving a ring of kingship from the Zoroastrian deity Ahuramazda. The empire only ended four centuries later with the arrival of Islam in Iran.

This third-century relief at Naqsh-e Rustam, just a few miles from Persepolis, depicts the beginning of an empire: Ardashir, the first Sassanid king, is receiving a ring of kingship from the Zoroastrian deity Ahuramazda. The empire only ended four centuries later with the arrival of Islam in Iran.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historical trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historical trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

The highway from Shiraz to Yazd follows historic trade routes, passing the same desert mountains as the camel caravans of previous centuries.

This man has greeted travelers to the Towers in Silence, a Zoroastrian ruin on the outskirts of Yazd, for years - maybe decades. "Over the years I've come here, he's gone through three different donkeys," the guide explained, "but it's always the same man."

This man has greeted travelers to the Towers in Silence, a Zoroastrian ruin on the outskirts of Yazd, for years – maybe decades. “Over the years I’ve come here, he’s gone through three different donkeys,” the guide explained, “but it’s always the same man.”

I’m posing here with a gentleman who has greeted travelers to the Towers in Silence, a Zoroastrian ruin on the outskirts of Yazd, for years — maybe decades. “Over the years I’ve come here, he’s gone through three different donkeys,” our guide explained, “but it’s always the same man.”

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iran-tile-work-yazd-geoex

Kathie admires the tile work and calligraphy at the Friday Mosque in Yazd.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Chehel Sotun, or Forty Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Chehel Sotun, or Forty Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Only 20 columns support the ceiling of the Forty-Column Palace. The other 20 are created by the reflection in the pool at the entrance to the palace.

Esfahan's Forty-Column Palace has an impressive variety of mustaches depicted in the artwork on its walls. On the day we visited, they honored their mustache heritage with a make-your-own-Persian-'stache station.

Esfahan’s Forty-Column Palace has an impressive variety of mustaches depicted in the artwork on its walls. On the day we visited, they honored their mustache heritage with a make-your-own-Persian-‘stache station.

The Forty-Column Palace might have only had 20 columns. What it had in excess was mustaches depicted in its artwork and frescoes — an impressive variety. On the day our group visited, the palace happened to have a temporary exhibit dedicated to this mustache heritage, including a “make your own historical Persian mustache” station that we took full advantage of.

The exterior of the Imam Mosque - known as the Shah Mosque before the 1979 Islamic Revolution - features master calligraphy and tile-work. Here, it is covered in ornamental red bulbs to honor the birthday of the Hidden Imam, a Messianic leader believed by some Shia to be living in secrecy among the people.

The exterior of the Imam Mosque – known as the Shah Mosque before the 1979 Islamic Revolution – features master calligraphy and tile-work. Here, it is covered in ornamental red bulbs to honor the birthday of the Hidden Imam, a Messianic leader believed by some Shia to be living in secrecy among the people.

The exterior of the Imam Mosque, in Esfahan, is covered in ornamental red bulbs to honor the birthday of the Hidden Imam, a Messianic leader believed by some Shia to be living in secrecy among the people.

Esfahan's Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was built in the 17th century as a private mosque for the women of the Shah's family. The pious women were invisible while at prayer thanks to a long, curving hallway that twists away from the entrance doors.

Esfahan’s Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was built in the 17th century as a private mosque for the women of the Shah’s family. The pious women were invisible while at prayer thanks to a long, curving hallway that twists away from the entrance doors.

Lots of people have written about the beauty of the Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque in Esfahan. I am happy to confirm that they were all correct. It’s a masterpiece. The mosque was built in the 17th century as a private mosque for the women of the Shah’s family. The pious women were invisible while at prayer thanks to a long, curving hallway that twists away from the entrance doors.

Abyaneh, a rural village in the Karkas mountains north of Esfahan, is beloved for its red-brick historical houses and its dried fruit.

Abyaneh, a rural village in the Karkas mountains north of Esfahan, is beloved for its red-brick historical houses and its dried fruit.

As our trip wound to a close, we stopped in the village of Abyaneh, in the Karkas Mountains north of Esfahan. It’s beloved for its historic red-brick houses and its fruit leather (it tastes better than it sounds).

 

 

The joint efforts of Iranian-Italian excavation expedition bore further fruits in Tal-e-Ajory historical mound in the vicinity of Persepolis. The result has been a gateway had been constructed for an Achaemenian palace already in place before Persepolis had been built! Yes, the fact is that this discovery has unveiled some ambiguous unknown period about the ancient city of Parseh. The time period is between 559 and 521 BC, the era of the Persian Empire reigned by Cyrus the great and Cambyses.

The Square Structure of Gateway

Part of the brick-made gateway

Part of the brick-made gateway

According to Cultural New Agency, the dimensions of the recently discovered gateway has been:

  • 40 m long walls on North-South side
  • 30 m long walls on East-West side
  • 10-12 m thick walls on all sides

This square gateway was built in a 40 sq meter area leading people in and out on SE and NW corridors. There could have been approximately 1000s of 33 cm by 33 cm bricks, each one 11 cm thick forming the gateway. After the fall of Achaemenians, this historical mound built by such large number of bricks was demolished. That’s why local people call it Tal-e-Ajory, meaning brick-made mound.

Art & Architecture at This Achaemenian Gateway

As a result of the recent archaeological excavations in Iran as well as studying 12 other Achaemenian monuments at this side of Persepolis, it’s largely speculated that this part of the ancient city of Parseh used to exist at the time of Cyrus the great and more importantly, before the construction of Persepolis. The reason for such inference is the fact that there are several similarities between the motifs on the glazed bricks of this newly discovered gateway and those of the Mesopotamian myths, in particular with those of Ishtar Gateway in ancient Babylon. Another similarity is found between the plan of the discovered palace near this Gateway and those of the ancient Babylon as well as Pasargadae.

 

Sample glazed bricks with patterns,

Sample glazed bricks with patterns

There can be found the traces of mythical animals on these glazed bricks. The most significant discovery of this season of archaeological excavations in Iran have been 30 glazed bricks decorated by combinations of winged animals. In most of them, there can be noticed mythical griffins of Elamite and Achaemenian eras depicted with the ancient traditions of SW Iran, Susa and the Mesopotamia. Among them all, Mushussu, is the legendary animal depicted on bricks like in ancient Babylon. It’s an animal that looks like dragons, lions and snakes combined.

Bas-relief of Mushussu in the Pergamon Museum,

Bas-relief of Mushussu in the Pergamon Museum

 

Approximately 100 m South of this historical mound, there’s another historical mound in which a large palace (50 m by 60 m) had been unearthed. The space between this palace and newly discovered gateway had been planned as Persian gardens with some water supplement structures. Geophysics studies have proved the existence of such gardens and their water supplying facilities.

More Discoveries at this Area

As more and more remnants of ancient monuments and archeological excavations are found at this area of Iran, an interesting fact is revealed to us: In an area of 600 square acres, there had been laid a landscape with several royal monuments as well as Persian gardens among them, creating a breathtaking view for those inside Persepolis.

 

A closer view of Achaemenian inscription & relief at Bisotun

A closer view of Achaemenian inscription & relief at Bisotun

This ancient archeological site is one of the most outstanding historic  attractions of Iran. It has got its name from a relatively perpendicular mount by the same name where it is located. A prehistoric cave called “hunter’s cave” indicates this place has been a human shelter since 40,000 years ago. The ancient trade route between the Mesopotamian and Iranian merchants used to pass by a valley in front of this mount. There are some remnants of Medes, Achaemenians, Sassanians, Ilkhanids and Safavids here that were created several centuries later. I’m going to introduce them at this post:

Bas Relief & Inscription of Darius the Great

After the death of Cyrus the Great, the founder of Persian Empire and Achaemenian dynasty, there was a chaotic situation across the empire about who was his son to ascend the throne. At such crucial time, a few people falsely introduced themselves as Cambyses, his son. When Darius I and other Achaemenian nobles realized the pretenders’ plots, they decided to stop them, save the country and bring law and order back to the nation. Therefore, in a period of approximately less than 2 years, he suppressed these liars and ordered the truth to be written on parchment and potsherd to be distributed everywhere and carved on the face of the mount Bisotun.

This large cuneiform inscription carved on mount Bisotun is the world’s largest inscription ordered by Darius the Great to be inscribed at this site. It explains what the true identity of these people were, where they had come from, who they had pretended to be and how they were arrested. The bas relief also illustrates the story in a scene in which 9 rebels are tied to one another in a row and a magus, the priest, called Gaumata under Darius’ foot.

The decipherment of Bisotun inscription largely contributed to the understanding of cuneiform as well as understanding of ancient civilizations. In this sense, it can be compared to Rosseta Stone in Egypt.

Other Historic Monuments in Bisotun Area

The most significant monuments and historic remnants are:

  • Hunters’ cave: a cave from Neandertals’ time, app 40,000 years ago,
  • Median remnants: a fortress going back to 8th/7th century B.C on the slope of the mount near the inscription, a Median terrace below the relief of Darius most probably for the worship of an image,
  • Achaemenians’ remnants: a royal road built at the time of Darius the Great extended from Susa to Sardis passing by this area,
  • Seleucid  remnants: a statue of Herakles with a curly hair lying in front of an olive tree,

 

Statue of Herakles Recumbent at Bisotun

Statue of Herakles Recumbent at Bisotun

  • Parthian remnants: it includes the remnants of Parthian town, bas relief of Gotarzes II and bas relief of Mithridates II, a site of worship, relief of king Balash, etc,
Mithridates relief & Zanganeh Endowment Inscription at Bisotun

Mithridates relief & Zanganeh Endowment Inscription at Bisotun

 

Mithridates relief & Zanganeh Endowment Inscription at Bisotun
  • Sassanian remnants: Behistun Palace, which is said to be Palace of Khosrau II, carved stones, Farhad Tarash (a rectangular area of the foothill cut perpendicularly most probably to form some bas relief, but not completed).
  • lkhanid caravansery: the rocks, bricks and mortars in form of semi-standing walls and vaults down the slope from the mount and close to the inscription.
  • Safavid remnants: a caravansary still standing in the area at a walking distance from the inscriptions, inscription of Sheikh Ali khan Zangeneh, which is a text endowment.

 

A general view of the remnants of Ilkhanids & Safavids’ caravansaries

A general view of the remnants of Ilkhanids & Safavids’ caravansaries

 

 

The ancient city of Bam and its protective walls

The ancient city of Bam and its protective walls

 

The ancient city of Bam, a world heritage site registered in UNESCO’s list, has emerged at least at the time of Achaemenians (6th to 4th centuries). The flourishing time of Bam traces back to 7th to 11th centuries when it was at the crossroad of ancient trade routes. This city started to be inhabited since Achaemenian period until around 200 years ago. After that, it was used as military station for soldiers until approximately 80 years ago.

The creation of the ancient city of Bam was indebted mainly to the ancient underground water supplement system of Iran called Kariz (qanat in Arabic). This system has been continuing the provision of water for this city till now.

Whereabouts of Ancient City of Bam

It has been located between the Southern part of Kavir-e-Lut, Southern desert pit of Iran and the Northern part of Barez local mountain range, South East of Iran. The importance of Bam has been due to its geographical location in a broader scale, in connection to the centers of commerce in Western Asia during antiquity.

Originally, like any other communities at or inside deserts, the city was surrounded by protective walls and its governor was living within another walled section, a citadel, inside the walled town. The entire walled city of Bam was 200,000 square meters. Desert towns feel safer this way and can grow much more confidently. The surrounding wall is as long as 1810 meters and its height varies from 15 to 18 meters. There seems to have been 38 watch towers along this wall and a deep moat outside the city’s walls, which was filled with water at the times of danger.

Apart from the walled town and its citadel being the central focus of this valley, the cultural landscape of Bam is connected to a series of forts and citadels now destroyed. Today you may see a fortress of 7th century called Qale Dokhtar at the North of Bam and a couple of shrines dated back to 11th and 12th centuries – Emamzadeh Asiri and Emamzadeh Zeyd mausoleums.

Various Parts of Ancient City of Bam

Tourists visiting the ancient city of Bam after earthquake

Tourists visiting the ancient city of Bam after earthquake

 

What makes the ancient city of Bam unique in regards to its construction is the vernacular technique applied there: Traditionally, the architects have used mud layers (Chineh), sun-dried mud bricks (khesht), and vaulted and domed structures. This is the best example of desert architecture that you will find in several parts of Iran around the deserts. No matter which part of the city we visit, we will see the same style and technique applied to the structures.

The ancient walled city of Bam consists of 2 main sections for the governor (citadel) and common people. The Governor’s section, built on top of a rock higher than the rest of the city, includes royal stable, garrison and governor’s house. The common people’s section, spreads out from the foot of the governor’s section to the city walls in a relatively flat area, has got all including what a city required: 528 residential houses, main bazaar, Meydan (Tekieh), Friday mosque, Mirza Naeem School, Zurkhaneh (traditional sport club), Malek-o-Tojar House (a merchant house), caravansary, public bathhouse (hammam), Jews’ Sabat (rest area) and a noble’s house.

Some of the most important structures are:

Bazaar: it’s 115 meters long accommodating 42 shops in it. It used to offer silk and cotton fabrics to the traders traveling on the spice route, a sub-branch of silk route.

Friday Mosque: It was built on the site of a former temple, a Zoroastrians’ fire temple, with four eyvans (porticoes), later changed to three.

Zurkhaneh: The tradition of building such clubs dates back to ancient times in Iran when this sport was exercised.

Mirza Na’eim School: it’s a beautifully built structure consisting of two sections of interior (living quarter for the teacher) and exterior (studying quarter for the students).

What separates the common people’s section from the governor’s is the government’s reinforced gate. There are two rooms attached to this gate when you enter with their upper floors for the guards. After you cross this gate, you will see a different section. First you go to the left where the royal stable is located. You turn right and go through a garrison where the governor’s soldiers and guards were stationed. A corridor on the right side leads you to a steep slope which goes up first toward the commander’s house on the right and eventually leads to the top, house of governor.

Governor’s Section at the Ancient City of Bam

Governor’s Section at the Ancient City of Bam

 

The main part of this section is where the Bam’s governor used to live:

House of Governor: it consists of summer eyvan, winter eyvan and open space. There’s a building called four-season mansion. It could be used during all seasons as the name implies. It was a three-storey building. On top of all, there’s a watch tower square in base, which used to be circular and changed shape under Qajars after some destruction. Behind all parts of the governor’s section, there’s a private bath.

Water Supplement System at Bam

Apart from the Kariz system that brought water from Barez Mountains to the vicinity of the walled town and was transferred inside the walled city of Bam through a U-shaped pipe, many houses had their own wells. There was a deeper well half way to the top at the garrison and one well, the deepest, next to the private bath of the governor. Some water canals are on the surface for the irrigation of the trees.

Water supplement helps the irrigation of palm trees

Water supplement helps the irrigation of palm trees

Bam’s Present Condition

Outside the walled city, as the time passed by, the population grew and the security is the region was supported, some new houses were built and people started relocating to those houses. The centers of business moved outside and main places for religious ceremonies went outside the city walls. There are several palm tree areas and many trees along the streets shaping a garden city out there. Gradually, the walled city was evacuated and the new city of Bam was formed.
Some started looting the ancient city for the antiques, some for its fired bricks and some for the old soil to be used for their gardens. All these contributed to the tear and wear of the ancient walled city of Bam.

The 2003 earthquake largely devastated the new city and the ancient city of Bam. The newly restored city has kept its city planning and the ancient monuments’ restoration is underway. Fortunately, the foundations of several walls were still standing after the earthquake. This made the restoration job move convenient.

The city is undergoing more restoration these days, but it’s worth some exploration. Even before the earthquake when several world travelers visited the city, it wasn’t complete and intact. When you go to the ancient city of Bam, you see more or less what could be seen before 2003’s natural disaster.

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

This cave is located on the heights overlooking Chogan Valley, about 6 km from the ancient city of Bishapur in the south of Iran. Shiraz is one of the cities from where you can start your trip to get there.

Now imagine you’re up there. What appears in front of your eyes is a huge statue standing in front of you not far ahead. He’s Shapur I, the second king of the Sassanid Empire. Yes, it’s really surprising to see such a huge statue in a cave at the top of a mountain. But it’s not the only thing that can surprise you.

Sculptures and rock reliefs have formed an outstanding part of Sassanid art. Although such carvings benefited less popularity at those times as compared to the other ancient periods, they’ve done the best in depicting some significant figures and events.

What You Need to Get to Shapur Cave

  • Because of the steppe climate in this region, you’ll need cotton clothes in light colors if you want to be there in spring or summer. But if your trip is in fall or winter, you’ll need warm clothes. The annual precipitation is very low in this region but to be assured of your comfort, have a raincoat with yourself.
  • You’ll need suitable and comfortable footwear because you have to go up the carved stairs with about 230 treads to get to the entrance of the cave. Or you can hike the steep slope of the mount if you wish. It can be challenging but you don’t need to be a professional mountain climber.
  • Have a bottle of water with yourself. There’s no access to drinking water in the cave. It takes about an hour and a half to get there. It’s rather a long way and makes you tired and thirsty.

Now It’s Time to See the Real Surprise

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

Shapur Statue inside Shapur Cave

So, to see the real surprise, you have to reach a cave which is located at a height of about 800 meters above the mountain foot. The entrance of the cave is about 30 meters wide and 15 meters high, and its length is about 450 meters from the entrance to the end. It’s called Shapur cave because the enormous statue of Shapur I is there.

Yes, this remarkable manifestation of Sassanid art is so impressive. The height of this statue is about 7 meters and the shoulders are more than 2 meters wide. It’s carved out of a stalagmite in this limestone cave and dates back to about 17 centuries ago. It’s the only sculpture this large remaining from the ancient times in Iran.

Shapur I was one of the most powerful Persian kings who achieved great victories against the Romans. In his last war with the Romans in early 260 A.D., he arrested the Roman Emperor and imprisoned him in the ancient city of Bishapur, 6 km from the cave, and therefore, the Roman Empire was dominated for a long time. This victory attracted attention of the civilized world of the day to the power of the Sassanid Empire.

Other Attractions in and around Shapur Cave

  • There are two pieces of stone inscription cut in the wall of the cave. One of them dates back to the ancient times in Sassanid period. It is the translation of a piece of inscription attributed to Shapur. The other one belongs to the contemporary times and talks about how the statue was raised again after about 14 centuries in 1957. It was pulled down after the Arabs invasion of Iran and the collapse of Sassanid dynasty.
  • As you go further into the cave, you can see two water reservoirs dug in stone. They are about one meter deep and have stairs for access to water. Water dripping from the ceiling of the cave was collected in these ponds. The locals used to provide drinking water from these ponds.
  • There is a beautiful flowstone by the reservoirs on the left. At the back of this flowstone, you can see some of most eye-catching stalactites and stalagmites.
  • As you explore in depth of the cave, you encounter a very large hole in the floor with a diameter of about 100 meters. It reminds you of dry lakes. It’s about 30 meters deep from the front hall floor.
  • Passing the hole, on the left, there’s a flat area partially created by locals. It seems it was used as a spot for ceremonies or offering sacrifices. The height of the ceiling in this hall is about 40 meters. It’s the highest point of the cave’s ceiling.

It’s said that the dead body of Shapur I is buried somewhere in this cave. There is also another legend narrated by the locals about this issue. It says that Shapur, being defeated in a war, took refuge in this cave. Since then he has been disappeared and his body has never been found.

These are not the only wonderful attractions in the region. You can take a tour to visit the other ancient spots near Shapur cave. Among them all, I suggest visiting the ancient city of Bishapur and Chogan Valley rock-reliefs. There you can learn much more about Sassanid art and get hugely surprised, too.

Genral View of Part of Persepolis

Genral View of Part of Persepolis

 

One of the best-known and glorious sites of ancient world, Persepolis, is located in the plain of Marvdasht, about 75 km northwest of Shiraz. It was one of the dynastic centers in Achaemenid era. UNESCO has registered this impressive manifestation of Achaemenid architecture at the list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.

In about 518 BCE, Darius the Great ordered the construction of a palace complex on a platform at the foot of a mountain called Kooh-e Mehr (Mount Mithra). Subsequently, the structures were extended by Darius’ Successors, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I. The whole platform covered an area of about 125,000 square m. This complex consist of ceremonial palaces, provisional residential palaces, a treasury, and a chain of fortification.

Function of Persepolis

There is a wide-ranging debate on the function of Persepolis. Many scholars believe Achaemenids have built it as a ceremonial palace complex mainly for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival. Others deny any evidence of celebrating Nowruz in Achaemenid period, and therefore, at Persepolis. Some scholars, on the other hand, see the site as a manifestation of royal power, or think of it as a political, economic, and administrative center of the empire.

Achaemenid Architecture at Persepolis

The palaces and their annexes of the site benefited from such luxury and glory that could raise a sense of respect and humility in every visitor. In constructing the palaces, not only the best materials were provided from all over the empire, but also all the ethnic groups living under the empire cooperated by offering their industries and skills as a sign of interest in unity.

The Gate of All Nation at Persepolis

The Gate of All Nation at Persepolis

 

The entrance gate to the site was originally from the south, through a staircase. To the right of this gate, you can see four cuneiform inscriptions in the name of Darius the Great on a huge block: Two in Old Persian, one in Elamite, and the fourth in Babylonian. These inscriptions informed visitors of the nature of Persepolis, people who contributed to its construction, and the Darius’ beliefs and ideals.

In the following, you can learn more about Achaemenid architecture by passing through different parts of this unique site. They’re as follows:

1. The Gate of All Nations: It was a four-columned square hall with three stone doorways. Two enormous carved winged-bulls are at the inner side of eastern as well as western doorways. The gates are decorated in the upper part with six cuneiform inscription sections. The eastern doorway leads to the Hundred Column Hall, and the southern doorway has a view of the Apadana, the administration hall of the Darius the Great. Xerxes built this gate later to lead the delegations from various nations to enter the site.

2. The Apadana: The audience palace of Darius and the largest building of the site. Its double-reversed stairways are the most splendid parts of Persepolis. The facades of these stairways are decorated by friezes and bear inscriptions of Xerxes. Once there were 72 columns supporting the roof of the palace but today only 13 of them are still standing.

Rock Reliefs on the eastern wall of Apadana palace

Rock Reliefs on the eastern wall of Apadana palace

 

3. The Tachara: The private palace of Darius and the oldest one at the site. In this charming structure, you can find three different scripts carved in various historical periods: one in cuneiform from Achaemenid era, one in Pahlavi from Sassanid era, and the other one in modern Persian from Qajar era. Representations of servants and attendants are carved on the inner walls of the stairways, and the façade of the staircase shows two sphinxes, palm trees, and Persian soldiers.

General view of Tachara palace, the private palace of Darius the Great

General view of Tachara palace, the private palace of Darius the Great

 

4. The Harem of Xerxes: A two-wing structure to the west of the Treasury. Here, you can see the largest monoliths at Persepolis in form of two flanking pillars. Building the entire floor of the structure on a natural bedrock, not something man-made, indicates a subtle use of natural space in Achaemenid Architecture. Today, this building is the museum of Persepolis and administrative center of Achaemenid research.

5. The Tripylon or The Central Palace: This small structure, located at the center of the site, must be attributed to Xerxes and Artaxerxes I. Achaemenids have ornamented it lavishly. They had fully engraved its façade. This building was linked to the other palaces by three doorways, a couple of corridors and staircases. They used this building for meetings and consultation with high ranking officials.

Achaemenid Art at the Central Palace of Persepolis

Achaemenid Art at the Central Palace of Persepolis

6. The Hadish: The palace and temporary residence of Xerxes which was twice the size of the Tachara. Its two double reversed staircases are decorated in reliefs. Some parts of the inner façade also show representations of people carrying utensils or leading wild goats or similar animals. You can’t find similar representations anywhere else in Persepolis.

7. The Treasury: built by Darius, extended and formed like a fortress by Xerxes. A thick, mud brick wall has surrounded it leaving only a single entrance at the northeastern corner. This structure accommodated a large part of the huge wealth accumulated by Achaemenid emperors.

8. The Hundred Column Hall: The second largest palace of Persepolis functioned as an audience hall. It’s located to the north of the Treasury and east of the Apadana. The main feature of it was a square hall provided with ten rows of ten columns supporting the ceiling. In fact, Xerxes has built this palace to receive audience from different parts of the empire.

Entrance of 100-Column Palace

Entrance of 100-Column Palace

 

9. Royal Hill: The other monument part of Persepolis are the rock tombs of Artaxerxes III, Artaxerxes II and Darius III beautifully decorated by rock reliefs. These rock tombs are just some of the burial monuments of Achaemenids. They overlook the entire site.

The End of Story for Persepolis

Persians planned and directed the construction of this magnificent palace complex. The best artisans and artists from all the nations under the Persian Empire executed the project. This manifestation of Achaemenid architecture was being extended and maintained until 330 BCE, when Alexander of Macedonia brought its glory to an end by looting and burning it.

By setting Persepolis on fire, Alexander destroyed numerous books and a great part of Achaemenid art and culture. He plundered all gold, silver, and riches of the Persepolis treasury. It was the biggest treasury of Achaemenids.

Excavations and Discoveries:

So far, more than 30000 clay tables have been discovered through excavations of Persepolis most of which in Elamite. They’re the most valuable documents from Achaemenid era in terms of content. They contain important information on payment systems or payment records, work groups, social rights, and materials used in construction of this monument.

Cuneiform Script on Persepolis Walls

Cuneiform Script on Persepolis Walls

 

nscriptions of these clay tablets prove that Achaemenids had not used forced labor to construct Persepolis. They had paid all the workers. They also benefited from a kind of labor insurance.

Another discovery is a complex water disposal system with underground channels about 2 km long, and in some parts, up to 5 to 6 m high. Sewage and rainwater was led toward the southeastern corner of the complex to leave it through this drainage system. A sizable well at the foothills is dug and connected to this sewage system that functions like a flash tank to clear the channels and unblock any possible clogged spots.

Administration of the Site
Persian & Median Guards below the Xerxes Throne on Persepolis Walls

Persian & Median Guards below the Xerxes Throne on Persepolis Walls

 

A board of trustees is elected as the administrator. Legal entities consisted of the governor of Fars Province, Deputy Head of Cultural Heritage Organization, Head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization, representative of Arsanjan, Pasargad, and Marvdasht, governor of Marvdasht, Head of Global Database of Persepolis, Mayor of Marvdasht, and some respectable trusted individuals.

What I told you here is just a drop in the bucket. You have to feel the real glory of Persepolis at first hand. I’m sure it will be one of your memorable experiences.