Thursday, August 19, 2010

Takht’e Soleiman


Takht’e Soleiman is an archaeological site in West Azerbaijan, Iran. It lies midway between Urmia and Hamedan, in a valley set in a volcanic mountain region, close to the present-day town of Takab, and 400 kilometers west of Tehran. The site includes the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary partly rebuilt in the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period (13th century) as well as a temple of the Sassanid period (6th and 7th centuries) dedicated to Anahita. According to studies carried out by Iranian and foreign, Takht’e Soleiman saw four stages of construction during the Sassanid era. The Ilkhanids, a Mongol people who ruled eastern Iran from 1256 to 1349, also added some structures to the monument in five stages.


Takht’e Soleiman consisted of a fire temple called Azargoshasb in the Sassanid era when the temple was at its apogee. Azargoshasb was one of the three main fire temples built around the lake located in the region, at the order of Khosro Anooshirvan, who ruled the Sassanid Empire from 531 to 579 CE. This Zoroastrian fire temple housed one of the three "Great Fires" or "Royal Fires" that Sassanid rulers humbled themselves before in order to ascend the throne. At its heyday during the Sassanid era, the Azargoshasb fire temple burned for some 7 centuries as a symbol of the strength of Zoroastrianism. Studies indicate that Takht’e Soleiman had been converted into a township comprised of a bazaar, a mosque, a bath house, and housing units after the Ilkhanids devastated the royal monuments of the site. Abagha, Hulegu's successor, expelled people from the township, but they returned after his death in 1282.


The earliest settlement on the hill was a rather small and poor agglomeration of houses with stone socles and clay or mud brick walls at about 60 meters northwest of the lake. It is dated into the Achaemenid period by pottery and other finds. During the Parthian period a small fortification was built at the northern edge of the lake. The lower part of the northern stone gate is covered with debris. Only the upper part, that is less than half of the gate height, is visible today. When Takht’e Soleiman was under the control of the Sassanids, the region was further fortified. An enormous wall was built to enclose everything and nearly forty towers were erected for defense. In the early 7th century the region fell under Roman control. The Romans pillaged and destroyed Takht’e Soleyman, and the Fire Temple of Azargoshasb.


Folk legend relates that King Solomon used to imprison monsters inside the 100 meter deep crater of the nearby "Prison of Solomon". Another crater inside the fortification itself is filled with spring water; Solomon is said to have created a flowing pond that still exists today. A 4th century Armenian manuscript relating to Jesus and Zoroaster, and various historians of the Islamic period, mention this pond. The foundations of the fire temple around the pond is attributed to that legend. Nevertheless, Solomon belongs to Semitic legends and therefore, the lore and namesake (Solomon's Throne) should have been formed following Islamic conquest of Persia. After the Conquest, the Arabs sought to destroy anything Zoroastrian or Persian, as these things were deemed to be contrary to Islam. In order to avoid this, the Persians changed the names of many sites and monuments to save them from destruction.


Archaeological excavations have revealed traces of a 5th century BC occupation during the Achaemenid period, as well as later Parthian settlements in the citadel. Coins belonging to the reign of Sassanid kings, and that of the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II (AD 408-450), have also been discovered there. Also as recent as 2005, archaeologists unearthed over 1,300 clay seals in a storage room. The seals were used on parcels, letters, and merchandise sent to other cities with the names of the cities receiving the parcels, letters, and merchandise from Takht’e Soleiman having been inscribed on the seals. Furthermore Iranian archeologists discovered a water mill which is believed to be from the Sassanid period; the first time that a Sassanid water mill is reported to have been found in Iran proper. The water mill is 17 meters high and 6 to 7 meters wide. Water was directed to this mill from Takht’e Soleiman Lake through a canal and entered the mill from a raised ground with a high pressure.


Takht’e Soleiman was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2003.

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