Persepolis, about an hour’s drive from Shiraz, literally means Persian city and was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC). The ruins of Persepolis was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The site is partly constructed and partly cut out of a mountain. It gives one a great sense of the level of art, culture, and prosperity of the Persian Empire which was the largest empire in ancient history. Sadly, the splendor of Persepolis only lasted two centuries before it was burned and looted by Alexander the Great.
We enter the ancient ruins via the Gate of Xerxes or the Gate of All Nations. It is the only entrance to the terrace and the Throne Hall. A pair of lamassus or bulls with heads of bearded men guard the western entrance and another pair with wings guard the eastern entrance. The second largest building in Persepolis is the Throne Hall which is also called the Hundred Column Hall. Next to the Throne Hall is the Treasury. Apparently, according to Plutarch, 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels had to be used to carry away all the treasures of Persepolis by Alexander the Great. There are a pair of tombs carved into Mercy Mountain behind the complex at Persepolis belonging to Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. The highlight at Persepolis is no doubt the Apadana which was used mainly for receptions by the kings. Thirteen of the original 72 columns still stand on the platform. The beautiful reliefs depicting scenes from festivals and processions can still be seen. Other highlights include the Palace of Darius with very well preserved reliefs such as ones depicting the king in combat with monsters, and the Palace of Xerxes.
Not far from Persepolis is Naqshe Rustam. It is believed to have been a cemetery for Persepolis where the royalty were laid to rest. There are four tombs here but only one can be identified with certainty and that is the Tomb of Darius I. The other three are speculated to be the tombs of Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. There is a cube of Zoroaster here which is a tower-like structure of the Achaemenid era speculated to house an eternal flame memorial to the kings whose tombs were nearby. Others believe it to be an Achaemenid royal tomb. Archaeologists date most of the reliefs found here to the beginning of the Sasanian period. It is believed that in order to legitimize their rule, the Sasanians associated themselves to the Achaemenid Empire and claimed to be its direct successors and hence carving the reliefs at Naqshe Rustam.
Next will be Pasargadae of Cyrus the Great and Yazd! Stayed tuned!
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