Cultural Travel, Iran, Shiraz, UNESCO WHS

Persepolis, Ceremonial Capital of the Persian Empire

Our second day in Shiraz, promptly at 9:00 am, Sara and her driver picked us up at our hotel for the 60 kilometer drive  northeast of Shiraz to visit Persepolis, an UNESCO site.

Entrance to Persepolis

Yesterday, during our walking tour of Shiraz, Sara had pointed out copies of Persepolis reliefs throughout Shiraz, as successive rulers want to show they are as powerful as the ancient Achaemenian rulers.  So we were excited to be on our way to see the real thing.

Persepolis means “The City of the Persians”.  It is the symbol of glory and grandeur of Iran, the culmination of human genius in art and architecture.

The “Gate of all Lands”.

It is an incredible place, 125,000 square meters, 9 palaces, 3,000 reliefs.

Persepolis dates back to 515 BC. The city was constructed during the reign of Cyrus the Great and Darius I. It was primarily used for ceremonial purposes and was a burial ground to seven rulers of the Achaemenian Empire. Darius I made Persepolis the new capital of the Persian Empire.

The army street

Dating back to over 25 centuries ago it shows the clothing style of people in different parts of the world at the time.  Sara, our guide was so knowledgeable and had us in awe with the magnificent ancient architecture.

The lion and bull combat is a recurrent theme among Persepolis sculptures.  The details were amazing.  One can only imagine what it was like when these carvings were in vivid colors.

Lion and Bull combat relief

Carved on a long wall in the eastern stairway of the Apadana, is a 23 member delegation from all over the Empire and even outside the Empire, lined up with Persian escorts, bringing their tribute or presents to the Persian King. The presents consisted of cloth, weapons, plants, animals like camels and horses, gold and pots and vases made of precious metals. Delegates were from Ionian Greeks, Turkey, Egyptians, Libyans, India, Babylonians, Medes, Afghans, Syrians, Armenians, Kurds, Scythians, Arabs, and more.

South wing of the eastern stairway of the Apadana. 23 delegations sent by the nations subject to the Persian empire to present their gifts to the King.

As old as the pyramids and still so vibrant, and the names of Darius, Cyrus and Xerxes evoke the past glorious history of the Persian Empire.

The Hadish Palace

However, Persepolis was conquered, plundered and burned by Alexander the Great, king of the ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedon.

We had the perfect weather to leisurely soak in all the history.  Normally, this prime tourist attraction in Iran would be packed with tourists.  But since it was winter in Iran, tourists at the attractions were a fraction of the norm.

We climbed up a short trail to see the Tombs of Artaxerxes II, a rock-cut tomb in the mountain over-looking the northeastern corner of the terrace.

Hike to Tombs of Artaxerxes II

On top, the carving shows the great King standing, a bow in hand, in front of his royal fire.  Above him is the moon and a winged man.  It represents the Royal Fortune of the Persian King, without which no sovereign could rule.

The royal tomb cut the mountain. Relief of the great King standing.

From the rock-cut tomb platform, one can see appreciate the size of the complex.  We can see both the entire one hundred column hall as well as the treasury of Persepolis that Alexander the Great plundered.  It was one of the richest in the world, and Alexander used 3,000 camels and mules to carry off its contents, worth over 120,000 talents of silver.

From the rock-ct tomb platform, good overview of Persepolis.

After Persepolis, we drove northwest for 2 km to see Naqsh-e Rostam, an ancient necropolis, carved out of rock face, from both the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods. There is a relief which depicts mythical Persian hero Rostam, and because of that, this site is called Naqsh-e Rostam.

Approaching Naqsh-e Rostam

Three tombs belonging to Achaemenid kings are carved out of the rock face. They are all at a considerable height above the ground.

Close up of the ancient tombs

There are seven oversized rock reliefs at a lower level that depict monarchs of the Sassanid period.

In one Relief, the founder of the Sassanid Empire is seen being handed the ring of kingship by Ahura Mazda (Zoroastrian God). In another most famous rock relief, Emperor Shapur’s victory is depicted over three Roman emperors, Gordian III, Valerian and Philip the Arab.

Relief from the Sassanid period.

Also, on this site is a curious and enigmatic cubical structure called the Kaba-e Zarthost, whose purpose & function is yet mystical.

For five hours we were immersed in ancient history.   Then it was time to fast forward two thousand years.  We drove back to Shiraz and walked through the Eram Botanical Garden. This garden has about 900 years of history.  In 2011, this garden was registered by UNESCO as the symbol of Iranian Gardens and gained fame as a result.  Hafez, the great Shiraz poet, pointed to this garden in some of his poems.

The garden old building from Qajar era.

Many plant and trees species. 200 years old cypress tree.

Then we checked out the tomb of this famous poet, Hafez, so loved by the Iranian people for his romantic poetry on love and everything good in life.

The tomb of the famous poet, Hafez, was surprising very busy

Perhaps Sara was saving the best for last.  Our last Shiraz holy place we visited was the magical Ali Ibn Hamzeh Holy Shrine.

Exterior of Emir Ali Shrine

This glittering mausoleum honors Emir Ali, a nephew of Shah Cheragh, the Fourth Imam. It was built in the 19th century, during the Qajar Dynasty years. There is a superb “onion” shaped dome, intricate carved wood door, stained glass windows, and impressive glittering Venetian mirrors works on walls and domed ceilings.

Glittering mirror tiles inside the shrine

This shrine, unlike other shrines, welcomes visitors.  Chadors are loaned at the entrance,  and photography is allowed. The atmosphere is peaceful and respect. Many men were praying inside this holy shrine.

Stain glass windows

Sara provided her personal views about Islam and explained the differences between Shi’ite Islam and Sunni Islam.  Then after we exited the shrine area, we were served tea and cookies by welcoming volunteers.

Discussion on Islam

After the full day, we walked through the colorful Vakil bazaar again on the way back to our hotel.

Vakil Bazaar

Vakil Bazaar

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