Persepolis

The magnificent ruins of Persepolis, or Parsa, lie at the foot of the Kuh-i-Rahmat mountain, roughly 650 kilometres south of the capital city of Tehran, and 70 kilometres northeast of Shiraz in the Fars region of southwestern Iran. Founded around 518 BC by Darius I (the Great), the site served as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire and was intended and designed to display the splendour and majesty of an empire that stretched from Greece to India. Sacked by Alexander the Great in 333 BC, the site lay hidden, covered in sand until rediscovered in 1620. Persepolis was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.

Coordinates: 29° 56′ 4″ N, 52° 53′ 29″ E

Persepolis, a Greek toponym meaning “city of the Persians”, was known to the Persians as Parsa. It was a monument complex of structures built to the commands of the great Achaemenid kings between about 518 and about 450 BC. An inscription carved on the southern façade of the Terrace wall of Persepolis and written in the three official languages of the Persian Empire – Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian – proves that Darius the Great was the founder of Persepolis. Darius states that he built this fortress upon a place where no fortress had been before and that he made it secure and adequate.

Construction began about 518 BC, as soon as work on Susa was finished. However, according to inscribed tablets found in the Treasury of Persepolis, the tremendous task was not completed until about 100 years later by Artaxerxes I (r. 465–424 BC). Darius started to erect a massive terraced platform, covering an area of 125,000 square metres of the promontory. This platform supported four groups of structures: ceremonial palaces, residential quarters, a treasury, and fortifications. All these buildings were built of locally quarried stone, and architects and craftsmen from all over Persia’s empire contributed to their construction.

A general view of Persepolis.

Darius planned Persepolis as a showcase of the empire, for it was here that ambassadors from all over the Persian world, from Ethiopia to Elam, would congregate each year to offer tribute to the king. The northern part of the Terrace represented the official section of the Persepolis complex, accessible to a restricted public with the Apadana, the Throne Hall, and the Gate of Xerxes (also known as the Gate of All Nations). The southern part held the Palaces of Darius and Xerxes, the Treasury, the Council Hall and the Harem. Darius constructed the platform, the monumental stairway, the Tripylon (or Council Hall), and his private palace. He also carried out the first two building periods of the Treasury and began the Apadana. Xerxes completed the Apadana, built the Gate of All Nations, his palace and his so-called Harem, and started the Throne Hall (also known as the Hall of 100 Columns). Artaxerxes I completed the Throne Hall and began work on an unfinished porch that precedes it.

Plan of Persepolis.
Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, Vol. 2, Page 376

The function of Persepolis remains somewhat unclear. Most archaeologists suggest that the site had a sacred connection to the god Mithra (Mehr) and that it was mainly used for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year’s festival held at the spring equinox. More general readings see Persepolis as an important administrative and economic centre of the Persian empire.

Persepolis remained the centre of Persian power until the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great. The Macedonian conqueror captured Persepolis in 330 BC, and some months later his troops destroyed much of the city. The great palace of Xerxes was set alight with the subsequent fire burning vast swathes of the city.

The ruins were not excavated until the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago sponsored an archaeological expedition to Persepolis and its environs under the supervision of Professor Ernst Herzfeld from 1931 to 1934, and Erich F. Schmidt from 1934 to 1939.

PORTFOLIO

Part of the monumental double staircase leading up to the terrace. Each flight has 111 steps, each 40 cm deep, 10 cm high, and nearly 7 m wide. The stairs were carved from massive blocks of stone, but each step was shallow so that Persians in long elegant robes could ascend the 111 steps gracefully. The stairway was executed in the reign of Xerxes.
The east side of the Gate of All Nations also known as the Gate of Xerxes which was was protected by two massive winged bulls with human heads called lamasssus.
The Gate of All Nations was a structure which consisted of one spacious room whose roof was supported by four stone columns with bell-shaped bases. It had two large doors, probably made of wood, on the south and east of the spacious room, indicating that the gateway was designed to give access to both the Apadana and to the Throne Hall.
The features of the four colossal figures were deliberately damaged by iconoclasts of the Islamic period to whom representation of living forms was anathema.
The stone columns of the Gate of All Nations, they were 16 metres high and were topped with capitals in the form of a double bull.
Double -griffin capital locally known as “homa birds” probably from the Unfinished Gate.
The Unfinished Gateway was began by Artaxerxes I and possibly never completed. From its southern doorway one entered a large court in front of the Throne Hall. It had a central chamber with four columns and long, narrow rooms on its eastern and western sides.
The northern entrance to the Throne Hall. It had a portico with two rows of eight columns flanked by end walls, with figures of colossal bulls.
The interior of the Throne Hall. The hall was 68m² and its foot was supported by ten rows of ten columns each which rose at a height of 8 metres (less than half the height of the Apadana columns).
The Throne Hall had eight stone doorways decorated on the south and north with reliefs of throne scenes and on the east and west with scenes depicting the king in combat with monsters.
Throne scene relief on the southern doorway of the Hall of Hundred Columns (Throne Hall) depicting an enthroned king and attendant.
Adjacent to the Throne Hall is the Treasury, part of which served as an armory and especially as a royal storehouse of the Achaemenian kings.
The tremendous wealth stored in the Treasury came from the booty of conquered nations and from the annual tribute sent by the peoples of the Empire to the king on the occasion of the New Year’s feast.
Two large stone reliefs were discovered in the Treasury that depict Darius I, seated on his throne, being approached by a high dignitary whose hand is raised to his mouth in a gesture of respectful greeting. One of the reliefs is now in the National Museum of Iran.
The Apadana, the largest and most magnificent building of Persepolis located on the western side of the platform. It was begun by Darius and finished by Xerxes, and was used mainly for great receptions by the kings.
Thirteen of the Apadana seventy-two columns which supported the roof still stand. On top of the columns were capitals, consisting of two heads of strong animals like bulls or lions. Between the two heads was the place where the wooden beams could rest.
The monumental eastern stairway of the Apadana adorned with registers of relief sculpture that depicted representatives of the twenty-three subject nations of the Persian empire bringing valuable gifts as tribute to the king.
Relief on the northern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting a procession of dignitaries.
Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Lydians who offer vases, cups and bracelets and a chariot drawn by horses.
Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Syrians who offer two beautiful rams.
Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting an Armenian tribute bearer carrying a metal vessel with Homa (griffin) handles.
Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Sythians, all armed and wearing the appropriate headgear, who offer a bracelet and folded coats and trousers.
Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Arabians offering textiles and accompanied by a dromedary.
Relief on the southern wall of the east stairway of the Apadana depicting Ionian Greeks carrying what may be beehives and skeins of coloured wool.
A general view of Persepolis with the Hall of 100 Columns the foreground and Apadana in the background.
The ruins of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) which connected the Apadana and the Hall of Hundred Columns. The building consists of a central room and three gates that were decorated with reliefs.
Doorjamb of the Tripylon depicting the king with attendants.
Relief with the symbol of Ahuramazda on the on the southern end of the Tripylon (or Council Hall).
The Main staircase of the Tripylon (or Council Hall) in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran with reliefs depicting Persian soldiers as well as Persian and Median clergy bringing sacrifices and offerings.
Persian soldiers depicted on the main staircase of the Tripylon (or Council Hall). National Museum of Iran.
The palace of Xerxes (called Hadiš in Persian) was twice as large as the Palace of Darius and shows very similar decorative features on its stone doorframes and windows. A terrace connected the two royal mansions.
The badly ruined Palace of Xerxes who called it in one of its inscription, the Hadish, has traces of the Alexandrian fire which devastated the palace.
The eastern staircase of the Palace of Xerxes.
Relief of a Persian soldier.
The western staircase of the Palace of Xerxes.
Stone carved Faravahar on the western staircase of the Palace of Xerxes.
The Palace of Darius (also known as Tachara). The Palace was completed after his death in 486 BC by his son and successor Xerxes. Twelve columns supported the roof of the central hall from which three small stairways descend.
The palace of Darius has remained well-preserved. This strongly suggests that it was one of the few structures that escaped destruction in the burning of the complex by Alexander the Great’s army.
The southern staircase of the Palace of Darius with reliefs depicting servants coming up the steps carrying animals and food in covered dishes to be served at the king’s tables.
Relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius depicting Persian soldiers.
Relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius depicting a line of servants bearing food and drinks.
Lion and bull relief on the southern staircase of the Palace of Darius.
The west entrance of the Palace of Darius. Measuring 1,160 square meters (12,500 square feet), it is the smallest of the palace buildings on the Terrace at Persepolis.
View of the Palace of Darius from the Apadana.
A general view of Persepolis with the Treasury and the Harem in the foreground and the palaces of Xerxes and Darius in the background.
The Tomb of Artaxerxes II (r. 404-358) cut into the rock face of the Kuh-i Rahmat overlooking the Terrace.

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8 thoughts on “Persepolis

  1. As always a fascinating pictorial essay, this time one I site that I have longed to see since I was in my very early twenties. I was all set to go to Tehran and onward to Shiraz with a ticket I had won on GulfAir but a little thing called the Revolution put paid to that trip. Thank you for allowing me to visit it all these years later. With your permission I would like to reblog the post on my own blog with a brief introduction.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You always do a marvellously impressive job with words and photos, so entertaining and informative. Have a great wish to travel around Iran. So thanks for whetting the appetite!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Kaveh Farrokh | Persepolis: A Comprehensive Photographic Overview

  4. Fantastic work Carole! Thank you for sharing your wonderful pictures. This brought back so many memories from a trip I made to Persepolis in the 1990s. I have 2 comments about the following:
    “Each flight has 111 steps, each 40 cm deep, 10 cm high, and nearly 7 cm wide. The stairs were carved from massive blocks of stone, but each step was shallow so that Persians in long elegant robes could ascend the 111 steps gracefully.”
    – There appears to be a tiny typo (I imagine you meant 7 m wide instead of 7 cm).
    – I asked the site’s guardian during my visit why the stairs were so deep and short. His explanation was that ancient Iranians loved their horses so much that they designed many things around them and named people with the word horse (asb) in their names (Vishtasb, Ghashtasb, etc.). According to him, the design of the stairs was to permit horses and mounted riders to easily climb onto the terrace and minimize the possibility of the horse being injured. I can also imagine those who brought tributes carried on animals such as camels and bulls also had an easier time hauling cargo.
    Anyway, I wish you all the best in your future travels. Keep up the great work and thank you again for sharing such beautiful pictures from my homeland.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent pictures! Thank you.
    Interesting, I saw the winged sign of AhuraMazda, the God of Zoroastrianism.
    I wonder if Persepolis had a Library. Who knows what ancient knowledge may have been lost when Alexander the Great set fire to things?

    Like

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