We left our hotel in Shiraz after breakfast and headed to Persepolis. We were looking forward to visiting this 2,500 year-old site.
Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE). Persepolis is situated 70 kilometres northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran. The earliest remains of Persepolis date from around 515 BCE. UNESCO declared the citadel of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Archaeological evidence shows that the earliest remains of Persepolis date from around 515 BCE. André Godard, the French archaeologist who excavated Persepolis in the early 1930s, believed that it was Cyrus the Great (Kūrosh) who chose the site of Persepolis, but that it was Darius I (Daryush) who built the terrace and the great palaces.
Darius ordered the construction of the Apadana Palace and the Council Hall (the Tripylon or three-gated hall), the main imperial Treasury and its surroundings. These were completed during the reign of his son, King Xerxes the Great (Khashayar). Further construction of the buildings on the terrace continued until the downfall of the Achaemenid dynasty.
Persepolis is near the small river Pulwar, which flows into the river Kur (Cyrus / Kuroush). The site includes a 125,000 square metre terrace, partly artificially constructed and partly cut out of a mountain, with its east side leaning on Kuh-e Rahmet (“the Mountain of Mercy”). The other three sides are formed by retaining walls, which vary in height with the slope of the ground. From five to 13 metres on the west side a double stair. From there it gently slopes to the top. To create the level terrace, depressions were filled with soil and heavy rocks, which were joined together with metal clips.
Around 519 BCE, construction of a broad stairway was begun. The stairway was planned to be the main entrance to the terrace 20 metres above the ground. The dual stairway, known as the Persepolitan stairway, was built in symmetrically on the western side of the Great Wall. The 111 steps were 6.9 metres wide with treads of 31 centimetres and rises of 10 centimetres. Originally, the steps were believed to have been constructed to allow for nobles and royalty to ascend by horseback. New theories suggest that the shallow risers allowed visiting dignitaries to maintain a regal appearance while ascending. The top of the stairways led to a small yard in the north-eastern side of the terrace, opposite the Gate of Nations.
Grey limestone was the main building material used in Persepolis. After natural rock had been levelled and the depressions filled in, the terrace was prepared. Major tunnels for sewage were dug underground through the rock. A large elevated water storage tank was carved at the eastern foot of the mountain. Professor Olmstead suggested the cistern was constructed at the same time that construction of the towers began.
The uneven plan of the terrace, including the foundation, acted like a castle, whose angled walls enabled its defenders to target any section of the external front. Diodorus writes that Persepolis had three walls with ramparts, which all had towers to provide a protected space for the defense personnel. The first wall was seven metres tall, the second, 14 metres and the third wall, which covered all four sides, was 27 metres in height, though no presence of the wall exists in modern times.
Ruins of a number of colossal buildings exist on the terrace. All are constructed of dark-grey marble. Fifteen of their pillars stand intact. Three more pillars have been re-erected since 1970 CE. Several of the buildings were never finished. F. Stolze has shown that some of the mason’s rubbish remains. These ruins, for which the name Chehel minar (“the forty columns or minarets”) can be traced back to the 13th century. They are now known as Takht-e Jamshid (“the throne of Jamshid”). Since the time of Pietro della Valle, it has been beyond dispute that they represent the Persepolis captured and partly destroyed by Alexander the Great.
Behind Takht-e Jamshid are three sepulchres hewn out of the rock in the hillside. The façades, one of which is incomplete, are richly decorated with reliefs. About 13 kilometres NNE, on the opposite side of the Pulwar, rises a perpendicular wall of rock, in which four similar tombs are cut at a considerable height from the bottom of the valley. The modern Persians call this place Naqsh-e Rustam, from the Sassanian reliefs beneath the opening, which they take to be a representation of the mythical hero Rostam. It may be inferred from the sculptures that the occupants of these seven tombs were kings. An inscription on one of the tombs declares it to be that of Darius Hystaspis, concerning whom Ctesias relates that his grave was in the face of a rock, and could only be reached by the use of ropes. Ctesias mentions further, with regard to a number of Persian kings, either that their remains were brought “to the Persians,” or that they died there.
After visiting Persepolis we ended our day’s journey with a visit to Necropolis.
So ended another day of our visit to Shiraz.