Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Zahhak Castle

Zahhak Castle (or citadel) (قلعه ضحاک) is a castle in East Azerbaijan Province, Iran. It is named after Zahhak, a figure in Persian mythology. According to various experts, it was inhabited from the second millennia BC until the Timurid era. It was first excavated in the 1800s by British archeologists. Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization has been studying the structure in 6 phases.  

Even though Iran is better known for Pasargadae and Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire, the nation does in fact have a castle that dates back a thousand years before the start of the Persian Empire. Named Zahhak Castle, this ancient ruin was built around 2000 BCE and was used as a government building and a fire temple during the later Parthain era.. Located in northwest Iran near Hashtroud, the castle contains depictions of animals and symbols that show what life was like for the royalty in ancient Iran.  

The castle was first discovered by a British army officer in 1830. He noticed that the ruins were quite ancient, dating back at least two thousand years. In recent years, Zahhak Castle has been unearthed slowly by archaeologists who have discovered that different parts of the castle were built in later periods. The castle with 10km length, 1-3km width and height of 150-250m includes a square shaped hall made of bricks built during the Parthia period. The castle has a 11X11m square-shaped hall, walls 2.5m thick, and 4 entrances to 4 corridors built with bricks, decorated with beautiful plasterworks of human, vegetation and geometrical designs. During this time, Zoroastrianism was the religion of the ruling kings, who likely used part of the castle for a fire temple. Engraved reliefs found on the castle walls were numerous. A bull found on one relief wall with an image of Mithra, an ancient pre-Zoroastrian deity of justice, suggests that the castle was dedicated to Mithra at one point. Other human figures were also discovered, along with floral and geometrical shapes. These were unearthed during an archaeological dig several years ago. The castle remained in use until the Timurid period which lasted from 1370 to 1526.  

It is unknown why this particular castle was named Zahhak but in Persian legend, Zahhak is the name of a serpent who conquered and ruled over ancient Iran. The story is recounted in the Shahnameh where Kaveh is the hero in this particular story, who rescues his people in Iran from Zahhak's control. 

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