Persepolis, the Necropolis and Pasargadae

14 November 2018 

Persepolis, Pasargadae and the Necropolis, are archaeological sites in southern Iran dating back to 2500 years ago, where ancient ruins, precious bas-reliefs, detailed inscriptions and rare finds tell the story of the Achaemenid Empire in ancient Persia.


Persepolis is located about 40 kilometers from Shiraz, in central/southern Iran, and was a ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid empire about 2500 years ago. The vast archaeological site, protected by UNESCO, tells lot of stories about Persian kings and ancient Persia, through bas-reliefs of exquisite beauty, inscriptions on stone largely deciphered, archaeological finds found on spot and ruins of huge buildings.

The main buildings in Persepolis are the Gate of All Nations (magnificent entrance to the city), the Apadana (used by Darius the Great for audiences), the Tachara (perhaps the residence of Darius the Great, or a structure used for ceremonies), the Hadish Palace (whose function remains controversial), the Palace of 100 Columns (used to receive important people and delegations), the Treasury (perhaps only an archive where numerous documents were found) and the graves dug into the rocky side of a hill. Instead, a building used as a museum, houses a series of finds of inestimable historical value that fortunately escaped the various robberies.

Findings and documents indicate that the first remains of Persepolis date back roughly to 515 B.C., with the first buildings built under the dominion of Darius I. This emperor made Persepolis the capital of Persia, capital which was however more ceremonial rather than residential. The city was built using predominantly gray limestone, a very dark stone that once polished it become almost black and shining like a mirror (in the museum visitors can see how the stone actually appeared in the past). The destruction of Persepolis occurred after the invasion of Persia in 330 BC. by the army of Alexander the Great, who put Persepolis to fire, literally burning all the wooden parts of the buildings (above the ruins was in fact found a thick layer of ash, probably resulting from the burning of large logs) but only after having stolen everything that could be taken away, including precious decorations made by gold.

A few minutes drive from Persepolis, the Necropolis is a series of monumental tombs carved directly into the rocky side of a mountain and surrounded by precious bas-reliefs, engravings and decorations, very useful to archaeologists to reconstruct some of the more salient events in the history of ancient Persia.

A further 40 kilometers from Persepolis and 80 from Shiraz, there are the ruins of another ancient city: that of Pasargadae. Although the site is not in a good state as that of Persepolis, it worths a visit especially because it houses the monumental tomb of Cyrus the Great, dating back to 530 BC.

How long time is necessary to visit Persepolis? To visit Persepolis, the Necropolis and Pasargadae, we recommend a full day using Shiraz as base (alternatively, you can visit Pasargadae when you are on the road between Shiraz and Yazd/Isfahan and leave Persepolis/the Necropolis for the next day). But now let's see some photos of Persepolis and of the other sites.

Persepolis gate Lamassu
Gate of All Nations Main gate to Persepolis
Our tour to Persepolis begins crossing the Gate of All Nations, a large structure used as an entrance, consisting of 4 columns and 2 doors decorated with bas-relief of Lamassu (figures of deities) and a series of inscriptions in ancient Persian, designed to underline the power of the empire.
Persepoli panorama
From a nearby hill we can see all Persepolis from top, including the Gate of All Nations just crossed, the ruins of the Apadana Palace, the Tachara Palace, the Palace of 100 Columns and the Treasury (of which only the basement remains).
Door in Persepolis
King Ahuramazda

We visit the Palace of 100 Columns, also called Hall of a Hundred Columns, crossing a large access doors on the northern side, decorated by bas-relief showing King Ahuramazda on his throne, with a row of soldiers supporting him.

Persepolis ruins Persepolis
Persepolis ancient city Palace of 100 Columns
Hall of a Hundred Columns Ruins of Persepolis
The Hall of a Hundred Columns has a base of 70 meters per side and is the largest palace in ancient city of Persepolis. During the first excavation works, it was found that the ruins were covered by a thick layer of ash coming from cedar wood, which is why it is almost certain that Persepolis was destroyed by fire, probably as a result of the attack by the army of Alexander the Great, although not all historians agree on this version of the facts. Today the only ruins belong to bases of columns, capitals and load-bearing walls, all decorated with detailed bas-reliefs.
Bas reliefs in Persepolis
Persepolis bas-reliefs are known for their incredible realism, fine details and excellent state of conservation. Although dating back to 2500 years ago, these shapes are so realistic, that seem to take their own life.
Persepolis bas relief Bas reliefs in Persepolis
Bas reliefs Persepolis Bas reliefs Persepolis
Persepolis bas reliefs Ancient inscriptions
The Apadana Palace, built under Darius the Great, is surrounded by walls completely covered with marvelous bas-reliefs depicting Medes and Persians, lotus flowers, cedars of Lebanon, camels and other animals. Originally these walls were probably all black and shining like a mirror, as still faintly visible on small portions of the figures. Another bas-relief shows instead a text written in ancient languages and entirely deciphered, which communicates important facts useful for reconstructing the history of Persepolis.
Apadana Apadana Palace
Palace of Apadana Columns in Persepolis
Of the internal parts of Apadana Palace we can see today only a few columns (originally they were 72, but only 13 remain erected), as well as fragments of capitals. The Apadana Palace was probably used by Darius the Great for official audiences.
Basement of the columns
Capitals in Persepolis

These photos show the bases Apadana's columns and what remains of the capitals, fallen to the ground, depicting large heads of a lions.

Persepolis Persepolis Iran
Archaeological site in Iran Tachara
Archeology in Iran Tachara Palace
Not far from Apadana Palace, we find the ruins of Tachara Palace, also known as Darius Palace. The bas-reliefs carved on the side of the staircase show a rather recurrent figure in ancient Persia: a lion that eats a buffalo, symbol of the summer that chase away the winter. Other bas-reliefs show Medes and Arachosians bringing gifts and items normally used during ceremonies (reason for which it is believed that this structure was perhaps used for ceremonies), while other sculptures depict guards and inscriptions.
Hadish Palace Palace in Persepolis
The Hadish Palace had instead a central hall consisting of 36 columns of stone and wood, coming from huge cedars logs of which, due to the fire that destroyed Persepolis, there is nothing left but just traces of ash. The bas-reliefs show royal processions with Xerxes I accompanied by servants who support a drape, but the exact function of this palace and its many rooms largely destroyed, still remains rather mysterious.
Monumental tomb Tomb of Artaxerxes

Behind Persepolis, along a steep side of a hill, there are two monumental tombs carved directly into the rock and decorated with amazing bas-reliefs. These should belong to Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III, successors of Darius II of Persia.

Persepolis museum Black stone Persepolis
The Persepolis museum houses important archaeological finds of inestimable value, which allowed historians to understand lot more about this ancient city. The bases of the columns have been cleaned and polished to make them look like how they probably were 2500 years ago, that is, blacks and with almost mirror-like surface.
Stone manuscript Stone documents in Persepolis
In the basement of the treasury, a palace of which almost nothing remains, thousands of manuscripts have been found, some of which have been deciphered. This has made possible to determine that Persepolis was not built by slaves, as was normal for most ancient cities of other great civilizations, but by workers who were regularly paid for their job. In fact, the stones engraved in the second photo are the paychecks, complete with names and amounts paid off.
Hooks to fix stones Golden decorations
Ancient coins Modular pipe
A series of precious finds stored in Persepolis museum in Iran, like the iron hooks used to tie the stones together, the gold decorations that adorned various parts of the buildings (almost totally disappeared after robberies), ancient coins and even a modular pipeline.
Persepolis Necropolis Triumph of Shapur I
Tombs in Persepolis

Not far from the ruins of Persepolis, we find Naqsh-e Rostam, an archaeological site known as Necropolis of Persepolis, where there are 4 monumental tombs of the great Persian kings Darius I, Xerxes, Ardashir I and Sapore I.

These Achaeid tombs are carved directly into the rocky side of the mountain, elevated above the ground, and are also called "the four Persian crosses" due to the shape of the facade.

The graves have inscriptions and bas-reliefs of high artistic and historical value, among which stands out the "Triumph of Shapur I" depicting the victory of King Shapur I on two Roman emperors (Philip the Arab who begs for mercy and Valerian shown on his knees).

Bun Khanak

At the center of Persepolis Necropolis there is a beautiful building called "Bun Khanak" which was initially thought to be a temple of fire, but subsequent studies suggested that it is instead a funerary chapel that housed various niches.

Cyrus the Great tomb
Pasargadae is a city located 40 kilometers from Persepolis and 80 from Shiraz and was founded by Cyrus the Great in 546 BC. as the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The most famous monument of this archaeological site is the tomb of Cyrus the Great, built on 6 steps leading to the niche. Although there is no evidence that this tomb really belongs to Cyrus the Great, the Greek historians agree that this was the belief of Alexander the Great, who paid homage to the monument after destroying Persepolis.
Pasargadae The conservation conditions of Pasargadae are not optimal and only the ruins of a few structures remain, such as the basement of the audience hall. A column that has remained relatively intact, shows a large compartment where the next boulder was inserted to improve the stability of the building.
Joint in the stones
Ancient water duct
The ruins of water pipes that run through the city of Pasargadae.
Inscriptions by Cyrus the Great Columns
Ancient deciphered inscriptions testify that this was Pasargadae, the city of Cyrus the Great, while an examination of the fallen columns shows the system of joints used to consolidate the structure.
Pasargadae ruins
Another building, on the edge of the city of Pasargadae, was probably a funeral chapel, because it was very similar to the Bun Khanak observed at the Necropolis.

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