A Persian Odyssey: Persepolis now

I couldn’t quite believe it. Persepolis. Is it real? Is it mythical? Both?

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Visiting Persepolis is an absolute MUST when visiting Iran. Persepolis is one of those places that, though real, can rightly be termed ‘legendary’. This is the city of greats; Cyrus the Great conceived of it; Darius the Great built it; the Great Xerxes extended it; and finally its conqueror Alexander the Great burnt it (or his troops did at any rate).

The was city conceived of and built by the Achaemenid dynasty and was the Persian empire’s seat of power between about 515BCE and its destruction in 330BCE, rivaling the great European empires of the classical world, Athens and Rome. Persepolis was built as a royal city, a series of palaces, reception halls, military barracks and processional ways.

There was still occupation at the site after its destruction by Alexander and, indeed, it continued to be an important city regionally, but it’s real glory days were over.

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Looking at the ruins today, it’s clear that its glory days were really very glorious indeed.

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The city is built on a raised platform, partly built up and partly cut into the mountain at the back of the site, which is reached via processional staircases.

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Amongst the site’s iconic structures is the Gate of All Nations, built by King Xerxes.

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Visitors would pass through doorways flanked by pairs of massive bulls and great winged oxen with human faces, Lamassu.

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Above the huge statues are tri-lingual inscriptions proclaiming Xerxes as the builder, written in Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian.

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The largest and most magnificent buildings were the Apadana and the Council Hall. Grand meeting spaces where the Persian Kings received visitors and tribute.

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On the staircases up to these buildings are processional friezes with relief images of delegates from the 23 subject nations of the Persian Empire, bringing gifts and paying tribute to King Darius I.

The friezes contain many many individual characters, I guess there must be several hundred, but they aren’t just static copies of one another. There are certainly ‘types’, and there are repeated scenes, but we see figures with signs of individuality, especially expressing friendship; holding hands, smiling, talking together and so on.

They also depict ranks of the elite imperial troops, The Immortals.

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Inside the Apadama there were seventy-two 19m tall columns, topped with animal sculptures, and many other animal sculptures are seen on columns and doorways throughout the site.

Cut into the mountain behind the city are two rock-cut tombs, similar to those seen at Naqsh-e Rustam. These are probably the tombs of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III.

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Up at the top of the scene is the Zoroastrian symbol, the Faravahar (Persian: fravahr). The key symbol of ancient Persia and one which is seen all over the place in modern Iran.

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Here is another version from the Apadama.

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Up on the top of the mountain, above the tombs, a modern visitor was commemorating his visit in the usual way.

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The museum is, to be honest, a bit basic, but it does house some nice objects.

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I wanna go again 🙄

 

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