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Remarkable Discovery of an Achaemenian Gateway Near Persepolis

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.

 

Bisotun A World Heritage Site at Western Iran

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

 

 

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Visit The Ancient Bam City

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.

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Genral View of Part of Persepolis

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.

Nowruz History and Its Origins among Iranians

Nowruz, Iranian New Year, has got deep roots among ancient Iranians, particularly farmers. As their lives depended largely on agriculture and producing food, it has got strong connection to such lifestyle. You need to know Nowruz history and roots of Nowruz Celebration to understand it better.

Preparing for Nowruz Celebration in Persepolis

Preparing for Nowruz Celebration in Persepolis

When no agricultural activities were possible in Winter, each individual used to go home and try to keep warm on his/her own. The end of Winter and beginning of Spring, when it got warm again and the people, most of whom were farmers, could get out and come together for work and produce food, the time for togetherness started. This could be a solid reason for Nowruz celebration!

Nowruz & Mythology

According to the ancient myths, when Iranian mythological king, Jamshid, ruled in Iran for 1000 years, everything was good. Food was abundant, lies didn’t exist, plants didn’t go dry, people didn’t suffer from extreme cold and hot weather conditions, nobody got old, jealous, etc.

During such time and at the beginning of first day of the first month of Spring, Jamshid sat on his throne decorated with gems and put on a crown encrusted with jewels, against the East. When the Sun started shining at him and the throne, people saw him glittering like the Sun. Therefore, this brought plenty of happiness and joy to the nation. They celebrated that day and called it a new day, Nowruz. The happy ceremonies took five days and everyone celebrated the New Year and the revival of nature.

Nowruz & History

Since 3rd millenium BC, Nowruz was commemorated with joy in Iranian plateau, but not in the Eastern half of Iran. At the same time, it was celebrated in the Mesopotamia. Nowruz history doesn’t originally go back to a Zoroastrian nor an Aryan tradition.

Nowruz Celebration by Ancient Iranians

Nowruz Celebration by Ancient Iranians

 

There was another festivity popularly celebrated after the time of harvest around early November. During that time, Iranian calendar had 7 months of Summer and 5 months of Winter. Mehregan was at the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter. The cause of joy was the crops harvested, meaning food for people.

Nowruz and Mehregan were celebrated in several other adjacent countries. For example they were popular among Semites, Arabs of Medina, etc. These annual celebration have continued till now in various countries.

When you study Nowruz history, you find out it wasn’t a Zoroastrian festivity, because Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrians, hasn’t mentioned it. On the other hand, it wasn’t celebrated at the Eastern half of Iran, where the main concentration of Zoroastrians used to live. One fact is for sure: Nowruz was celebrated in Persepolis.

Nowruz Festivity in Ancient Calendars

In Achaemenian era, people and officials commemorated Nowruz in form of an annual tradition everywhere – at home and in Persepolis. Some researchers believe that during early Achaemenian era, Mehregan was celebrated in Fall, but under Darius I, the beginning of Spring was determined to be the time for the annual festivity in Persepolis.

The Persian king was sitting in a particular direction and specific spot in Persepolis so that daylight could shine at his face at sunrise. This is why Persepolis is known as the throne of Jamshid and Iranians call it Takht-e-Jamshid.

In Parthian and Sassanian eras, various calendars caused the day of Nowruz to move to other days as the calculation for different calendars were not the same.

Iranians continued celebrating Nowruz even after Arabs’ invasion, which brought Islam to Iran. Arab caliphs weren’t happy about this at all, but Iranian Muslims kept on honoring and celebrating their national rituals.

Under Seljuks, when Turk authorities were very much against Nowruz festivities, Iranian calendar went through several manipulative changes. Eventually, a group of mathematicians were assigned a project to correct the calendar including Omar Khayyam. They fixed Nowruz time at the beginning day of Spring, almost the same as 21st of March, when Iranians celebrate Nowruz these days.

When Safavids ruled in Iran from 16th to 18th centuries, Nowruz celebration was mixed with some Islamic rituals. Religious leaders narrated traditions from Imams to approve that the prophet Mohammad and others did great things at such a day. Therefore, today Iranian Shiites celebrate Nowruz as an annual Iranian-Islamic event and even recognize it as a holy and blessed day.