Tuesday, May 16, 2023


Persepolis (پرسپولیس) was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It is situated in the plains of Marvdasht, encircled by southern Zagros mountains of the Iranian plateau in Fars province. Modern day Shiraz is situated 60 km southwest of the ruins of Persepolis. It exemplifies the Achaemenid style of architecture. Because medieval Persians attributed the site to Jamshid, a king from Iranian mythology, it has been referred to as Takht’e Jamshid (تخت جمشید), literally meaning "Throne of Jamshid".

Persepolis was excavated in the early 1930s. Its earliest remains date back to 515 BC. Inscriptions on these buildings support the belief that they were constructed by Darius. Darius I's construction of Persepolis was carried out parallel to that of the Palace of Susa. Darius I ordered the construction of the Apadana and the Council Hall, as well as the main imperial Treasury and its surroundings. These were completed during the reign of his son, Xerxes I. Further construction of the buildings on the terrace continued until the downfall of the Achaemenid Empire.

The complex is raised high on a walled platform, with five palaces or halls of varying size, and grand entrances. The function of Persepolis remains unclear but until recently, most archaeologists held that it was primarily used for celebrating Norooz. Major tunnels for sewage were dug underground through the rock. A large, elevated water storage tank was carved at the eastern foot of the mountain. Persepolitan architecture is noted for its use of the Persian column, which was probably based on earlier wooden columns. The buildings at Persepolis include three general groupings: military quarters, the treasury, and the reception halls and occasional houses for the King. Noted structures include the Great Stairway, the Gate of All Nations, the Apadana, the Hall of a Hundred Columns, the Tripylon Hall and the Tachara, the Hadish Palace, the Palace of Artaxerxes III, the Imperial Treasury, the Royal Stables, and the Chariot House.

In a process that was presumably intended to underscore the exalted rank of the Persian king, all visitors to Achaemenid Persepolis were obliged to ascend the 14-meter-high double-return stairway that led to the single formal entrance to the terrace. The complex’s broad stairway led to the main entrance to the terrace 20 m above the ground. The dual stairway was built symmetrically on the western side of the Great Wall. The 111 steps measured 6.9 m wide, with treads of 31 cm and rises of 10 cm. The top of the stairways led to a small yard in the north-eastern side of the terrace, opposite the Gate of All Nations.

The Gate of All Nations consisted of a grand hall that was a square of approximately 25 m in length, with four columns and its entrance on the Western Wall. There were two more doors, one to the south which opened to the Apadana yard and the other opened onto a long road to the east. A pair of bulls with the heads of bearded men stand by the western threshold. Another pair, with wings and a Persian Head stands by the eastern entrance, to reflect the power of the empire. The name of Xerxes I was written in three languages and carved on the entrances, informing everyone that he ordered it to be built.

The Apadana Palace was used for official audiences. The palace had a grand hall in the shape of a square, each side 60 m long with 72 columns, 13 of which still stand on the enormous platform. Each column is 19 m high with a square Taurus and plinth. They are adorned with rows of beautifully executed reliefs showing scenes from Norooz festivals and processions of representatives of 23 subject nations of the Achaemenid Empire, with court notables and Persians and Medes, followed by soldiers and guards, their horses, and royal chariots. The columns carried the weight of the vast and heavy ceiling and their tops were made from animal sculptures such as two-headed lions, eagles, human beings and cows.

At the western, northern and eastern sides of the palace, there were three rectangular porticos each of which had twelve columns in two rows of six. At the south of the grand hall, a series of rooms were built for storage. Two grand Persepolitan stairways were built, symmetrical to each other and connected to the stone foundations. To protect the roof from erosion, vertical drains were built through the brick walls. In the four corners of Apadana, facing outwards, four towers were built and the walls were tiled and decorated with pictures of lions, bulls, and flowers. Two Persepolitan style symmetrical stairways were built on the northern and eastern sides of Apadana to compensate for a difference in level.

Next to the Apadana is the Throne Hall or the Imperial Army's Hall of Honor, also called the Hundred-Columns Palace). This 70 m × 70 m hall has eight stone doorways, decorated on the south and north with reliefs of throne scenes and on the east and west with scenes depicting the king in combat with monsters. Two colossal stone bulls flank the northern portico. The Throne Hall was used mainly for receptions for representatives of all the subject nations of the empire. Later, when the Treasury proved to be too small, the Throne Hall also served as a storehouse and, above all, as a place to display more adequately objects, both tribute and booty, from the royal treasury.

Other palaces included the Tachara, which was built under Darius I, and the Imperial treasury, which was started by Darius I in 510 BC and finished by Xerxes I in 480 BC. The Hadish Palace of Xerxes I occupies the highest level of terrace and stands on the living rock. The Council Hall, the Tryplion Hall, the Palaces of D, G, H, storerooms, stables and quarters, the unfinished gateway and a few miscellaneous structures at Persepolis are located near the south-east corner of the terrace, at the foot of the mountain.

The Harem, where the royal ladies lived, was constructed in an L-shaped form. The main wing was oriented north-south; the west wing extended westward from the southern portion of the main wing.

The splendor of Persepolis lasted only two centuries. Its majestic audience halls and residential palaces perished in flames when Alexander the Great conquered and looted Persepolis in 330 B.C. The Macedonians rushed into it, killing all the men and plundering the houses, which were numerous and full of furniture and precious objects of every kind and, according to Plutarch, carried away its treasures on 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels. The fire, which consumed Persepolis so completely that only the columns, stairways and doorways remained of the great palace, also destroyed the great religious works of the Persians written on prepared cow-skins in gold ink as well as their works of art.

In 1971, Persepolis was the main staging ground for the 2,500 Year Celebration of the Persian Empire under the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah and Pahlavi dynasty. It included delegations from foreign nations in an attempt to advance the Iranian culture and history. UNESCO declared the ruins of Persepolis a World Heritage Site in 1979.

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