The grandeur and magnificence of Persepolis are known throughout the World. This was a mighty metropolis, the Imperial capital, embodying the tradition of kingship for 2,500 years.
The royal splendor, glory, and majesty of ancient times are reflected in the stones of this colossal monument. It is truly representative of the character of the race which made it. For nearly 400 years many scholars have dedicated their lives to the study of Persepolis, deciphering the messages carved on its walls and writing its history. Quite recently unearthed clay tablets have shown that Persepolis was not built by slave labor as it had been previously believed. Persepolis owes nothing to Greek art, for the Acropolis, pride of Greek architecture, is of a slightly later date. It can be argued that Western civilization as we know it today is the direct outcome of the knowledge and culture accumulated here in the form of thousands of books, destroyed by Alexander of Macedon after they had been translated into Greek.
Who made Persepolis
Let us begin with a little history. J.H. Life, Director of the City of Liverpool Museums says: Considering the tremendous role which Aryan man has played in world history, how unfamiliar to us (his western descendants) are his origins and the lands that were the cradle of his race. Hebrew, Greek, and Roman civilization are absorbed, more or less, by the Western man with his mother’s milk; the vast Iranian panorama in which his ancestors arose and flourished seems as remote to the majority as the moon.”
It was here, probably in the plain of Marvdasht, that those early ancestors of world civilization, the Persians, started their culture. At Persepolis itself, pottery excavated in the last 30 years has disclosed an early civilization before 4,000 BC. Susa, Ecbatana, Elam, Pasargadae, and Persepolis are mighty cities, sounding in the ear an echo of past glories.
But the spade of the archaeologist must yet bring further fuller and better evidence of the interchange of culture in the centers of that remote past….. The Aryan race, the ancestor of Western man, comes to the fore around 1,000 B.C.
Legend of Persepolis
In the Persian language, Persepolis is known as Takht-e-Jamshid”, that is the Throne of Jamshid the mythical King of Persia. Jamshid, whom some scholars identify with Yama of Indian lore is not the Master of the Kingdom of the Dead as Yama is, but the founder of many Persian customs and traditions including No Ruz, the Persian New Year. The Persians believed that Jamshid lived and that he built the original palaces at Persepolis, which later the historically known kings, Darius and Xerxes, completed. More complete research may yet justify this claim, for the plain of Fars (Parsa), is rich in archaeological treasures, and recent years exciting discoveries have been made at Fasa on the Shiraz-Bandar Abbas road and a Neolithic village near Persepolis has yielded, among other things, the Sign of the swastika. The Achaemenian eagle was found in Persepolis and is believed to be the prototype of the Simurgh, the legendary bird of Persia.
When to see Persepolis
Persepolis can be visited at any time of the year unless there is some unusually severe winter weather. The best time for a visit is spring and early summer. The high season is at the time of the Persian new year holiday ( Nowruz ) from March 20 to April 5.
Persepolis locality history
In the shadow of the Mountain of Mercy a little more than 30 miles (50 kilometers) to the north of Shiraz, the present capital of Fars Province, stand the Great Platform and the Palaces of Persepolis. Whereas Pasargadae was the Royal capital of Cyrus the King of Persia, Persepolis was the Imperial Capital, the great metropolis from which his descendants ruled the mightiest empire the world had yet seen. The greatest of these monarchs and perhaps the greatest administrator, organizer, lawgiver, and statesman the ancient world knew, was Darius I, Darius the Great. Many inscriptions in Persepolis in particular two large ones on the southern wall of the Platform, testify to the fact that Darius started this imposing complex of palaces, porches, and courts. Ironically enough although so much was lost the fact that thereafter Persepolis was more or less buried under its ash and debris and left deserted, led to the preservation of many treasures.
I am Darius, the Great King, King of Kings, King of lands peopled by all races, for long King of this great earth, son of Hystaspes, the Achaemenian a Persian, son of a Persian…
The great platform
Three major types of buildings can be observed on this platform:
1) The royal court, audience hall, reception rooms and quarters for foreign visitors during
2)Residential palaces of the king, the queen, the crown prince, and the household.
3) Administrative buildings and offices, treasury, stores, stables, etc.
The grand staircase built as part of the platform itself-was the only access from the valley below to the palaces at least for official purposes. Servants, watchmen, guards, employees of the court, tradesmen and minor officials had other suitable entrances in the south and south-east of the platform.
Two stone tablets on the Southern wall of the platform indicate that this huge construction was conceived and executed by Darius I, who also built the Hall of One Hundred Columns, his private apartments, the Queen’ s palace and started the main Hall of Apadana.
The grand staircase
Richly caparisoned horses climbed these magnificent steps. A beautiful double flight of stairs leads to the top of the stone platform of Persepolis. These steps, that have withstood the ravages of time and the tramping feet of millions of visitors for 2,500 years, in their time echoed to the din of the hooves of hundreds of richly caparisoned horses climbing their gentle gradient and bringing in solemn ceremonies the King of Kings back to his palaces… Resounding to the blare of bugles and trumpets these steps also witnessed the arrival of distinguished guests; for lesser visitors, vassal kings. Representatives of subject nations carryıng heavy gifts, these steps were the ceremonial way to the presence of the Great King. Here again, massive blocks of stones were used; five steps each about 15 inches (37.5 cms.) deep, 23 feet (about 7 meters) wide, and only 4 inches (10 CM.) high, have been cut out of a single block of stone. There are 69 steps in each flight leading to the first landings (every 192 square yards in the area) and a further 42 steps take the Visitor to the area right in front of the gigantic Porch and Entrance Hall of Xerxes.
The porch of Xerxes
Directly opposite the top of the Grand Staircase is the Entrance Hall and the Porch of Xerxes, guarded at each entrance, to the west, and the east by bas-reliefs of colossal winged bulls. The two on the west side facing the stairs looking towards the green plain of Marvdasht and the two on the east look towards the hills. These winged bulls stand on pedestals about 5 feet above the level of the platform and reach a height of about 15 feet. Those facing west nave some sort of animal countenance but as a result of vandalism, they are now disfigured. Yet enough of the design remains to show the powerful muscles and bones, the proud glory of the epoch, and the fine execution of the mane and tail. The figures on the eastern Side have raised wings and human faces, but these again have been badly damaged. It is difficult to photograph these bas-reliefs in their complete form without a wide-angle lens.
It will be observed that the eastern doorway franked main Hundred Columns, the western doorway to the man staircase leading up from the valley, while a third but quite plain doorway leads to the staircases of the Apadana Palace. This is going back in time for the Apadana Palace was constructed by Darius the Great and it was only later that the Porch and Entrance Hall were built These were constructed by the son of Darius, Xerxes I and near the top of one of the pylons is a trilingual cuneiform inscription stating that: The Portal of Al as Nations was constructed by Xerxes. Before crossing the courtyard to the staircase leading up to the Apadana Palace it is worthwhile turning back to look at the two remaining fluted columns (there were originally four) that supported the roof of the Entrance Hall, which covered an area of 725 square yards (625 square meters). Some scholars state that this Hall was a waiting room where visitors could rest and the remnants of the stone benches support this claim. Other archaeologists assert that the space was too narrow for so many visitors flocking to the Palace for the New Year (No-Ruz) festival. But undoubtedly the Porch was the triumphal gateway and envoys from tributary lands marched through it to offer their gifts to the Great King enthroned in the state in the Apadana Palace.
With doors covered with gold, heavy curtains of gold-lace, the gold accouterments of warriors, the heavy smoke rising from the incense burning in silver braziers, the beautiful capitals of the gracious fluted columns, and probably with the sound of music and chanting in the air, the Apadana Palace must have been the quintessence of pomp and royalty.
Today, after 2,500 years, the Apadana Palace in majestic ruins is still extraordinarily impressive and a place to appraise, appreciate and remember. Imagination alone can enable us to reconstruct this lofty building in its original form. Just how much wealth, luxury and labor was lavished on this audience hall no one can ever tell. No doubt the material and workers for the palaces of Persepolis, notably the Apadana, were collected here also from the four corners of his empire. It is now quite clear that the construction work was not done by slave or forced labor but that each worker was paid according to his skill in silver, wine, and meat. That Darius the Great started this palace is certain. Two of the original four foundation tablets in gold (33 x 33 x 1.5 cms.), that was discovered in 1933 and can be seen in the Tehran Museum of Archaeology, weighing nearly 22 pounds (9.6 kilograms) each, testify the fact (see page 7). Here again, after Darius, Xerxes, his son, finished his work, decorating this building with the finest examples of carving and adding his inscriptions on the staircase. It is up to these steps that we approach Apadana after crossing the central court and glancing at the square water tank hewn out of a single block of stone. The floor of the Apadana Palace is about 4 meters higher than the main platform of Persepolis and is approached by two flights of stairs. These two staircases to the north and east of the Apadana Palace bear on their façade the most skillfully executed friezes and bas-reliefs. Not only do they have great artistic merit but they are also a record book of the costumes and races of the world of 2.500 years ago. The cuneiform tablets carved on these polished stones complete this in detail. But before describing these friezes let us have a general idea of the ground plan of the Apadana Palace. This Palace consisted of a Main Audience Hall (4) 65 x 65 yards – 4,225 square yards (60 x 60 meters 3,600 square meters flanked on the north, west, and east by porches (4e.4f and 4g), four service rooms (41, 4, 4k and 41) at each corner and two side porches or guard rooms (4m and 4n) and several vestibules or ante-chambers (4h) which connected the Audience Hall with Darius’s Private Palace the Takara (8) and the Crown Prince’s Palace, the Hadish (9) completed the design. The roof of the hall and porches was supported by 72 slender and graceful columns about 65 feet in height. The columns in the hall had square bases, while the columns in the porches had round bases. Pietro Della Valle who visited Persepolis in 1621, says that 25 columns out of the original 72 were standing, but they were reduced to 19 in 1627 (Herbert) and 17 in 1698 (Kamfer) and these were still in position in 1763 when Niebuhr saw them. But 56 years later in 1821, Kerr Porter counted 15; by 1828 two more columns had crumbled and now only thirteen columns remain.
The central palace
Next to the southernmost steps of the grand staircase of Apadana, another beautiful but Smaller staircase merits attention. The carving on the walls shows Persian and Median officers in gay attitudes. A variation of the lion-bull design is seen on either side and the steps lead up to a porch in front of the Main Hall to the south of which is another porch and then an open court. Yet another artistically designed and finely decorated staircase connects this Palace on the east to the Palace of One Hundred Columns while more staircases give access to the Queen’s Apartments, the Hadish, and the Takara. It is conceivable that the King coming from his Hadish would see the leaders of the audience-seekers first in the Central Palace before proceeding to either the Apadana or the Hall of One Hundred Columns. It is also suggested by some scholars that this palace was a private audience hall, a sort of antechamber to the great Palaces of State, and a place where intimate guests such as the Commander of the Army, or members of the royal family, were entertained. Other scholars have called this palace “The Council Hall “ and the classical name for it is The Tripylon. It iş particularly interesting to note that no representation of subsidiary people or tributary nations is seen in the carvings in this palace. Persian and Median nobles in informal attitudes are depicted on the wall of the staircase leading up to the hall. There are many forms of these friezes and bas-reliefs in Persepolis: many are in ceremonial strain, some depict religious rites, others glorify the monarch showing him fighting lions and demons single-handed. Others are in a more relaxed mood and show hunting scenes and a more domestic picture. The Achaemenian artist reflected the character of each building in the stone friezes. Thus the Apadana Palace as the official audience hall bears the images of subject nations; the palace of Darius being his private apartment bears on its walls figures of attendants carrying towels. On the stairs of the Central Palace, we see Persian officers in conversation and it would seem that this Palace was used for less formal occasions than the Apadana or other great halls of state.
The main entrance to this Palace was, however, from the north through three magnificent doors the Tripylon, hence the classical name of the Palace.
Tachara, Palace of Darius
It is situated on the highest part of the Platform and consists of the Main Hall with a porch and staircase and several ante-rooms. In these rooms, beautiful carvings are showing the King in the act of leaving the palace with attendants carrying towels, royal whisk, and incense burners.
Inscriptions: The windows of the palace look towards the south. The main entrance and approaching staircase were originally on the south side, the western staircase was added later by Artaxerxes who commemorated the fact in an inscription. .Darius himself had no inscription in his private palace except for eighteen deeply chiseled identical cuneiform lines repeated on the Window frames reading:
Structure of stone-built in the house of Darius
Xerxes, his son, has left a long trilingual inscription on two shafts of the southern porch stating that the Tachara was built by his father Darius. Various inscriptions in Arabic characters were carved under the windows of this palace at much later periods.
CARVINGS: The most interesting carvings in this palace on the balustrade of the western and southern staircases which show representatives of various satellite nations carrying goats, gazelles, and vessels as gifts for the King. The south porch of the
Takara had also a ﬁne balustrade with carved designs.
Hadish, Palace of Xerxes
It was the custom of the Achaemenian Monarchs to move from Ecbatana in the highlands of Media to Persepolis in the early part of the year. There the Kings of Kings passed a few weeks of uncrowded holiday in their private palaces, the Hadish or the Tachara, before celebrating the Persian New Year ceremonies which began on March 21. (March 22, leap years).
Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes had their separate palaces on the south—a western quarter of the Persepolis platform. The Hadish (literally a “dwelling place“) is the name given to the private palace of Xerxes. As Crown Prince and supervisor of the construction work at Persepolis, he was entitled to a palace of his own. But it seems that either the quality of the material used in the construction of the palace was inferior or the ﬁre that destroyed Persepolis was more intense here, and very little remains of the palace. The ﬁgure of Xerxes and his attendants, much in the same manner as in the Takara, are carved on the doorways. Here, for the ﬁrst time in history, we see the name of a King chiseled on his robe. The balustrade of the southern balcony had stone carvings, some of which have recently been uncovered.
The Palace of Artaxerxes
Immediately to the west of Hadish and on the western corner of the platform, can be seen the remains of a small building known as the Palace Of Artaxerxes. The building is a total ruin and no coverings or inscriptions have been found to Show who made this palace. It is, however, traditionally believed that this palace was built for Artaxerxes I who reigned from 465 to 424 BC. This Monarch is referred to by writers of classical times as “Longimanus’” or “the long-handed” during his reign he suppressed a revolt in Egypt and added Cyprus to the Persian Empire.
The Queen’s Apartments
Where did the ladies of the Court, the Queen, her entourage, the ladies in waiting, the children and their nurses, the servants, the cooks, and the maids live on the Persepolis platform? The extensive buildings to the south of the Hadish and on the south end of the platform housed the royal household. Women’s part in Achaemenian life. Either because of the dignity and privacy allotted to women in ancient Persia or because women did not play a conspicuous role in the life of the court, there are no statues or carvings of women in Persepolis. Only a small cylinder (now in the Tehran Museum of Archaeology) has been found which shows the head of a woman. It was found in one of the avenues skirting the platform on the mountainside: This cylinder, very delicately carved, shows the head of a woman wearing a complicated headdress with a veil and a heavy four-row necklace. No mark on the inscription can identify her.
“Accumulated riches estimated at 1,200,000,000 gold Frans “
No ﬁtter description than the above passage quoted from Diodorus Silicus can give the reader an idea of what the Treasury of the Great Kings of Persia was like. The extensive buildings, to the east of the Queen‘s Apartments. are now desolate and empty. The debris of centuries has only recently been cleared away from this area known as the Treasury. Though it has been estimated that the treasures of Persepolis were worth the fantastic sum of 1,200,000,000 gold Frans nothing of material value has been found here. Many interesting points of history which had hitherto been obscure or at best were only surmise, were clariﬁed by these tablets. The most important of these points is that the Great Kings of Persia never tyrannized their subject nations nor did they use slave labor for the building of Persepolis.
The Hall of One Hundred Columns
The last and the largest of all the buildings on the Persepolis platform is the magniﬁcent Hall of One Hundred Columns, the Audience Hall of the Great King who is still portrayed on the entrances to this palace. For 2.500 years these unparalleled bas-reliefs have shown Darius ﬁghting the Four Destructive Divs (evil spirits); for centuries friends and foes, admirers, conquerors, adversaries, and travelers have gazed in wonder at this huge hall. The conception of a Hall of such vast dimensions was a staggering undertaking in that day and age. It was, without doubt, famous throughout the great Empire of which it was the center. A thick layer of cedar ash found during excavations shows that this great Hall was destroyed by ﬁre. At the beginning of this century, systematic excavations began and in some localities, such as the east of this palace, up to 20 feet of debris had to be removed. In and around the Hall of One Hundred Columns up to 9 feet of soil was shifted. Little by little the general design of the Palace and the Entrance Hall (17m) came to light.
The 32 Column Palace
Store Rooms, Servants’ Quarters
On the east side of the Hall of One Hundred Columns all along the foot of the mountain, is a series of buildings which, because they were constructed of sundried bricks, collapsed long ago, their general design coming to light only after extensive soil sifting. Of these, the most important is the building known as the 32 Column Palace. The design and position of this building suggest it may have been an ante-room where attendants and servants of visitors to the Palace could wait for their masters. Further south, walls of the sun-dried brick, traces of barrel rooﬁng and the design of the place suggest that the Royal Stables were situated here. To the north of the 32 Column Palace is another building probably used by chariot drivers, harness keepers and other
Bank House, Records Office
At the extreme north-eastern corner of the platform and all along its northern edge are some more remains of buildings constructed from sundried brick.