The Majestic Persepolis!

We woke up very early this morning despite the late night that we had last night because we needed to travel to the majestic Persepolis! We’d be exposed to the sun and so the tour guide asked us to get ready at around 6am so that we could avoid the afternoon sun there.

I didn’t expect Persepolis to be that impressive!!

The entrance of the palace – Xerxes Gate (Gate of All Nations)

Lord of the Rings!

I thought I was at the setting of Lord of the Rings!  That was my first impression when I arrived at this palace at Persepolis, the capital of the Achaemenid Empire.

It was majestic!

It was magnificent!

The carving was still very smooth, glossy and could still clearly be seen, line by line.

It was just amazing!

Another stunning thing about it was that the palace was still unfinished despite the fact that it had already taken two dynasties to build!  Fragments of unfinished works could be found at this site. If it was finished, it would be even more majestic!

It was first started by Darius the Great in 518 B.C. and ‘finished’ by his son Xerxes.  During the whole tour, this palace was referred to as the ‘unfinished palace’.

Everyone who came to this palace had to go through Xerxes Gate and then they would arrive at the ‘Army Street’.   The street is 92 metres long and nearly 10 metres wide.   It links the Gate of All-Lands and the ‘Unfinished Gate’ and the north portico of the Hundred Column Hall.   On either side of the street stood thick mud brick walls.  At each 7-metre interval, there were stepped niches where it was believed that guards would stand there during ceremonial occasions. The narrow rooms to the south of the street were guard rooms, and those on the north side were used by workers and masons.

Two Eagles. These two eagles looked very new because they had been covered by dust for many years before they were found.
Soldiers. Don’t they look like the pictures you can find in your history books?
Close up of two soldiers on the wall. Look at the details! The surface was still very smooth.   According to the local tour guide, these stones were polished so well by the workers that they were like mirrors in the past. People could see their own reflections on the walls.
A tiger killing a unicorn. You can see this kind of carving in many places other than Persepolis. The tiger symbolizes power and summer whereas the unicorn symbolizes winter.   The weather in winter in Iran was very harsh. It snowed, crops didn’t grow, darkness came very early, etc. (the winter now is still like this). So, the people didn’t really like winter. The whole carving means summer gets rid of winter.
Old Persian was carved on the rocks. In 2006, one of the languages that the Iranian students learnt at school was Persian (or Farsi).  The modern language looked very different from Old Persian. I wonder how many people can still read and understand Old Persian other than the historians / archaeologists / linguists.

The purpose of this palace?  It was only used once in a year during the new year. Civilians came to say ‘happy new year’ to the king and the king in return gave his blessings to his people. The people took their offerings to the king. Offering included sheep, wines, dogs, etc. 🙁   These can be seen from the carving on the wall.

A civilian making an offering to the king. Was it a dog or a sheep? Poor dog! Poor sheep!   🙁  Let’s switch our focus to the feet of the civilian and the steps. The feet were precisely stepping on the actual steps. It was so perfectly done!

According to the archaeologists, the palace was NOT built by slaves but normal paid labourers. Their salaries were even recorded on some documents excavated by archaeologists.

This was so adroitly done! I’d be surprised if it was carved by unskilled workers.

And where did they get all these rocks to build this place?

It was 9a.m. when we reached there. I touched the rocks, even if the sun was shining brightly on this unsheltered place, the rocks were not hot at all. They were in fact limestones quarried from the mountains nearby.

Speaking of the mountains, the reason why the king decided to build his palace here had a lot to do with the landscape.

Behind the palace lay a mountain, and in front of the palace lay a bush.  Where a bush was found, water could also be found nearby. Having water so close to the site, it made it easy to channel the water to the gardens and other places inside the palace. Hence, it made a perfect site to build a luxurious and magnificent palace with a very nice view. Wasn’t it clever?

What about the ceiling of this palace? Where were they now? Why were we exposed to the strong sun?

It was built with wood and timber. According to some online resource that I found on the internet in 2020, the roof was burnt in 330 B.C. According to the tour guide back in 2006, the wood and timber eroded over the years.

Also according to the tour guide, the kings liked to build their palace in the same site. They expanded the original palace by adding more and more sections to it so that they could tell people, this section belonged to me, and that section belonged to my ancestors.   This could be one of the reasons why it looked so huge to us now.

This whole palace was now being restored. I hope they would also restore the gardens. 🙂   I’d love to see what the gardens originally looked like when plants and flowers blossomed there.

Persepolis… allowed me to travel back in time.

The investiture of Ardashir I (A.D. 224 – 39), at Naqsh-i Rustam

Darius the Great and his sons were buried here.

Opposite to their tombs stood a tower called Ka’bah of Zoroaster.  The reason why such a name was given to that tower was because people wrongly interpreted it as a fire temple.

The tower was built during the Achaemenid period.   It was believed that it was an important monument because Snapur I (A.D.239 – 70) recorded his genealogy, the extent of his empire, the victories he won over three Roman Emperors (Gordian III, Philip the Arab and Valerian), and also the names of his family members, courtiers and the religious endowments he had established for them.   All these were written in 3 languages: Parthian, Middle Persian and Greek. Where is the photo of this tower?   Well, you just have to go there and see it yourself.  🙂

After visiting the tower, walk down a slightly steep path and you will see what I show you here.

Ardashir was the son of Papak and grandson of Sasan.   He started his career as a military governor of Darabgerd.   But he rose in rebellion against the Parthian king, took Istakhr and other parts of Pars.   He was commented as ‘a military genius but a shrewd politician’.   He conquered the rest of Iran after all these and in A.D. 224, he overthrew Ardavan V, the last Arsacid ruler, at the Battle of Hormozdgan, and was later crowned in Cetesiphon as the King of Kings of Iran. He was thus the founder of the Sasanian empire, which lasted until 651. He commemorated his accession to the imperial throne in three rock cut investiture scenes: the photo you see here, at Firuzabad and at Naqsh-e Rajab grotto.  

After visiting the tombs of Darius The Great and his sons, we went to visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great.

Cyrus was the king before Darius I, from 550 B.C. to 530 B.C. Cyrus was a member of the Passargad tribe. He revolted against Ajdahak, the Median monarch of the time, in protest to the dominance of the aristocratic class. Cyrus’s mother, i.e. Ajdahak’s daughter, managed to unite 10 Persian tribes and overthrew the Median Dynasty. This marked the birth of the Achaemenian Dynasty. – source from ‘The Traveller’s Guide To Iran’ by Dr. Ali Rahimpoor.

Unfortunately, when we visited the tomb of Cyrus the Great, it was being restored and we could only see a lot of sticks supporting the tomb.

According to some historians, the tomb originally stood in the middle of a vast park made up of various royal gardens. But what we could see now was a desolate, barren, dry, dusty, sandy, basically a desert-like area.

There was a single entrance at the front of the tower which led you into a cellar wherein the body of Cyrus was placed inside a golden coffin on a golden throne next to his weapon and valuables, however, all of which were destroyed during Alexander’s invasion of Persia.

Dust returns to dust.

We didn’t stay there for too long.  The sun was very strong so was the wind.

Not long after that, we headed to Gate House. 

On all the pillars at Gate House, we found a trilingual cuneiform inscription which read ‘I am Cyrus the king, an Achaemenid’.   One of the languages used was Babylonian.

I wonder what Cyrus was like. It seems to me that he was very proud of himself, and being an Achaemenid.

Trace of looting. It was a man wearing an Elamite dress. See the holes in the dress?  There used to be gold buttons there but they were looted during Alexander’s invasion.

It was very tiring to join a tour especially one with such a hectic itinerary but I was glad it was quite informative. The tour guide did a very good job. Maybe it was because back in 2006, Iran started welcoming foreign tourists and so the tour guide wanted to give us a good impression and filled us in as much information as possible. I remember he was a bit annoyed when he saw us taking photos. In the end, he said, ‘I will give you time to take photos after I finish explaining.’ Nowadays, we can find all the information on the internet and it is so much easier to travel (compared to the time when I started travelling in the 90’s).  What will the roles be as a tour guide? How will the entire travel industry change?  Domestic travel will definitely thrive and eventually international travel will return. This sounds like the conclusion that the other two volunteers and I drew in our sharing session a few months ago.

People still like to travel around the earth like what our ancestors did millions of years ago.

It looks like we haven’t changed much.

3 September 2006

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