Sassanian bridges

The Sassanians: Water engineers.


The Sassanians were not just great fighters it and great artists, they were also great engineers. Some of their bridges are still standing and also an amazing complex of water mills at Schushtar.

Shushtar bridge parkDSC05031

In the year AD 260 the  Iranian king, Shapur the Great defeated the Romans at the battle of Edessa and captured not only the Roman emperor Valerian but also the Roman army, which included a core of talented engineers. According to some 9th century Muslim historians the engineers were then set to work, and their prowess sparked a new phase in Persian architecture.Their main achievements can be seen at Shushtar, a thriving town 40 miles south-east of Susa, the capital of Persia. Here the river Karun flows through a wide plain which would be very fertile if only it was irrigated properly, so the Roman military engineers were set to work to irrigate this plain, so they constructed a canal 50 kilometers long to irrigate this plain.

However the canal needed to be fed, and for this purpose the river needed to be damed; so they built a dam or rather a weir which raised the water level by several meters and on top of the weir they then built a bridge called Band-e Kaisar, or Ceasar’s Dam – sometimes the Bridge of Valerium.The bridge itself over the river has not survived, but the approach stills survives in part revealing typical Roman masonry bound with mortar, a technique completely foreign to indigenous architecture.


It is often said that this engineering prowess was sparked off by Roman military engineers. Following Shapur’s great success at the Battle of Edessa where they captured the Roman Emperor Valerian, they also captured the Roman army, and  according to Moslem historians, they put these conquered soldiers to work and the skills of the Roman military engineers produced a great spring forward in Sassanian architecture. Certainly it appears that a number of other peoples conquered by Shapur were settled within the Empire.

Shushtar bridge ruins DSC05026

The most prominent of these is at Shushtar,  a town some 50 miles south-east of Susa, the Persian capital, on a prime position on the River Karun. Here that they build a bridge, the abutment of which is still standing. Unfortunately the actual bridge has long been destroyed. But the abutment of the bridge still survives with evidence of several phases of building and rebuilding.

Shushtar 500-501In Shushtar itself they also constructed an amazing mill complex where the mills were fed by a hidden water channel hidden along the top left bank in this photo. The tunnels leading down into the cleft runs through the middle of the town. The system remains in use down to modern times and in the 19th century it was recorded that over 40 water mills were still at work utilising the tunnels built by the Roman engineers. In the western Roman world the classic example of water mills is at Barbegal, in the south of France where a bank of 18 mills erected in pairs down the side of a valley fed by a long aqueduct. But this is far exceeded by the engineering achievements at Shushtar.

Shushtar mills looking back 009-11zxShushtar mill big rush DSC05022The great volume of water still flows impressively in the water-mill complex.Shushtar map DSC05019This plan photographed on site shows how the water enters at the top and then runs off through tunnels into the central pool.


Defzul bridge DSC04698Some of these bridges are still in use. This one is at Defzul, an industrial town which is in fact the largest town in south-western Iran with over 1 million inhabitants. Defzul bridge old piers DSC04705This bridge is still in use, though it has been many times renewed, but some of the original peers still survive.



Khoramabad bridge 665-668 redThere are many other bridges built by the Sassanids, many of which remain in use throughout later periods.


Khorramabad bridge 673-5This one, conserved for visitors is at Khoramabad which is halfway between Hamadan and Dezful.

The Sassanians deserve to be better known for their engineering achievements, for though their techniques at the beginning may have owed something to Roman military engineering, the many bridges throughout the country show that the lessons were well learnt and widely applied.



17th July 2017


Taq-e Bostan, Kermanshah


One of the finest examples of this rock art is to be found at Taq-e Bostan, a site in the North of Iran in the suburbs of the large modern city of Kermanshah. This is in a Kurdish area in the Zagros mountains, and originally it was part of the Silk road, one of the penultimate stops before it make its way down from the mountains into the plains of Mesopotamia. It appeared to be a royal hunting lodge of the type often called a ‘paradise’.

Tagh e Bostan 530 - 533 redHere freshwater springs form a small lake which was an ideal stopping off point for the caravanserais,  providing both flat ground and good drinking water. But at the back was a large cliff which provided an admirable advertising bill board on which the Kings of Sassanian Iran could proclaim their successes.

Kermanshah end tableau with stream DSC04525

The earliest was the isolated slab at the far end which shows Ardeshir II (379-383) being invested by his predecessor Shapur II (309-379). To the right is the god Mithras, holding a budle oftwigs to sustain the sacred fire.

Kermanshah end tableau detailDSC04526

Note the figure prostrate on the ground in the border: he is often thought to be the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate, who died while campaigning in Mesopotamia – but he died in 363, while Ardeshir did not become king until 379.


Kermanshah tweo grottoes DSC02993

The main feature, however, are the two  features called either grottoes or alcoves or the classic Persian term of ‘irwan’.The earlier of the two is in fact the smaller and less dramatic showing Shapur II with his son Shapur III, suspended oddly in the air.


Kermanshah main niche DSC04520

The largest however, is the latest which dates to the very end of the Sassanian period and is in two panels. At the top is Khusrow II, the last great Sassanid king (591-628),   flanked by two gods. At the bottom is a mounted knight, though also to be  Khusrow himself, riding his favourite horse Shabdiz and looking very much like the mediaeval knights in armour which appear in Europe half millennium later.

The whole area has recently been done up and laid out in a very enticing fashion. We saw it the day after a heavy thunderstorm when it looked gorgeous: it is at the end of a long approach road lined with cafes and restaurants and is a popular meeting place for the local inhabitants.

The panels are at Taq-e Bostan display well the closing stages of Sassanid art.  Khusrow II was the last great Sassanid king, and barely a decade after his death, the Moslems swept over the Persian Empire and a new era dawns. However the Moslems had little art of their own and Persian art and civilisation conquered the new Moslem world. The finest Persian art is to be seen in the Sassanid-influenced art of the Muslims.





Chogan gorge


There is a very similar situation at Bishapur where outside the city built by Shapur there is a rocky valley known as the Chogan gorge, through which the River Shapur runs, and here the cliffs provide a splendid background for further carvings — which display very similar themes.

Bishapur Chogan Romans general 160+164The main opening tableau once again shows Shapur triumphing over the Romans – clearly this was the big success of his reign, the biggest triumph in Sassanid history.  But the central tableau is set amid scenes of his soldiery standing admiring his triumph –  it’s not unlike the scenes on Trajan’s column in Rome.

Bisapur Chogan gorge Shapur and Romans DSC05168Here is a detail of the central tableau, with Shapur standing by his horse, and the captured Roman kneeling before him.

Bisapur Chogan gorge handing over ring DSC05183And then there is another dedicatory scene, this time showing the God Ahura Mazda handing over the ring of authority to Bahram I  (271 – 274), the son and successor of Shapur I

Bisapur Chogan Grand tableau DSC05171Another large panel shows Bahram II, receiving the submission of the Arab tribes whose thumbs had been removed to prevent them drawing bows again. This is  a large panel curved like a modern television screen – there are hundreds of individuals portrayed.

Bishapur Chogan Romans general 160+164

And finally there is a relief with two rows of figures. At the centre is a King, possibly Shapur II looking rather bandy-legged. On one side there are his warriors, resting on their swords, while on the other side are Sassanid soldiers showing defeated rebels to the King.



11th July 2017


The Sassanians


In the third century A.D, Iran once again became a major power with the rise of the Sassanians. Under their great King Shapur I and also under his successor Shapur II, they became the scourge of the Romans, who, it must be said, in the third century A.D. were at their weakest, when the raging inflation led to a number of short lived Emperors. Two of these emperors came off badly against Persians. The first was Philip the Arab who agreed to pay an indemnity of 500,000 gold denarii – an enormous sum of money, but even worse, his successor, Valerian was actually captured by the Persians, and held prisoner for two years until he died in captivity. These events became the centre of a number of bas reliefs which form a major feature in Sassanian art.

Naghsh e Rostan General DSC05611

One of these is at Naqsh-e-Rostan, which lies just 3 km from Persepolis, and was originally the burial place of the Achaemenid kings where four large rock reliefs are carved into the cliff.  700 years later, the Sassanians, wishing to associate themselves with their illustrious forebears, added 7 further bas reliefs below the Achaemenid originals. One cannot but help feeling that the Achaemenid originals are rather more impressive, but the Sassanian reliefs are the more interesting.

Naghsh three reliefs DSC05614Here we see two of the Achaemenid tombs, beautifully sculpted, with a columned portico with a doorway leading into an inner chamber. But between them at the lower level is the later Sassanian sculpture, showing Shapur on his horse, facing the Roman suppliants.

Naghsh e Rostan Roman emperor DSC03291

The best-known shows King Shapur I triumphing over the Roman emperors kneeling before his horse is the emperor Valerian whom he captured and held prisoner until his death. Behind is his predecessor Philip the Arab who paid a huge indemnity of 500,000 gold denarii to the Persians: here he is seen handing over a bag, presumably of gold coins.

Naghsh Investiture DSC03312

Another carving show another of the Sassanian favourite scenes, an investiture ceremony, where a god is handing over a ring- the equivalent of a crown, to the king. Here we see the investiture of Ardeshir I (226 – 242) (left) who was the first Sassanid king (and father of Shapur the Great). He began as a vassal of the Parthians, but overthrew his masters and established a new dynasty: here he legitimises his rule by showing that he was given his authority by Ahura Mazda (right) the chief god, or ‘uncreated spirit’ of the Zoroastrians

Naghsh Tower DSC05648


The third major feature is a tower structure that is very similar to the tower known at Pasagardae that is considered to be the tomb of Cyrus. This tower is considered to be a generation or more later:  was it perhaps an imitation of the Cyrus monument, perhaps for a later king?

On to Chogan gorge


10th July 2017



The Palace of Cyrus the Great

Pasargadae Approach DSC05666

The approach to Pasargadae with the tomb of Cyrus at the end

Pasargadae is the most important of the other palaces and was in many ways the predecessor to Persepolis. He lies 30 miles north of Persepolis was built by Cyrus the great in the years around 550 BC, that is a generation before the building of Persepolis.

Pasargadae Cyrus tomb DSC05733

The tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae

Today it is best known as being the site of the tomb of Cyrus, a rectangular tomb chamber set above a sloping pedestal,  beautiful in its simplicity and well preserved thanks to Alexander the Great who revered Cyrus and renovated his tomb. Today it is splendidly presented at the end of the long approach. All too often such approach avenues are flanked by shops, but here they are confined to the beginning.

The Palace itself lies a mile or so away – a tourist shuttle bus runs between the two sites. But the Palace itself is to our eyes very odd because it is a garden Palace, consisting of just two main palace buildings, set around a garden.

Pasargadae plan

Plan of the palace at Pasargadae. Enter by the Gate, bottom left and then proceed to the first Palace, which was the main Audience Hall. Honoured guests will then proceed onward turning right at the Pavilion to enter the grand garden. Then, following the pathway round, honoured guests would be received at the private Palace (top right).

It is approached from the opposite end to the present approach, through an elaborate gateway of which the bases of the columns have been marked out (‘Palace H’).






Pasargadae Palace P Assembly Hall DSC05672

The audience hall at Pasargadae where the base of the columns of the main Hall have been reconstructed

This then led to the main Audience Hall,  where the stumps of the columns have been reconstructed.  It appears to have been to some extent, a forerunner of the later Apadana at Persepolis.  Beyond, a path then led into the large garden. A stream or small river ran through the gardens and the water channels which led off have been located, which enable the layout of the garden to be reconstructed.


Pasargadae Palace S Audience Hall DSC05698

The ‘ Private Palace’ (P) at Pasargadae. This is the only Palace where one column still remains standing. But note the two pillars at the left which formed the corners of the Palace enclosure.

On the far side is the other main building, Palace P, which appears to have been the ‘private’ palace where the Emperor would receive his special guests while looking out onto his garden. There is some suspicion that Cyrus never lived to see it completed, and that it was completed by his successor Darius, who then went on to build his own even greater Palace at Persepolis.



Pasargadae from a distance DSC05713

Pasargadae was set on a flat alluvial plain surrounded by mountains, the ideal site for a garden Palace.

But his tomb at Pasargadae remains one of the most aesthetically pleasing of all the early Achaemenid structures, while his concept of a garden palace is one of the tantalising ideals of how a palace should function both as a grand reception area for visitors, and as a place where the emperor could live and enjoy his achievements.

On to Esfahan


8th July 2017



Choga Zanbil ziggurat

The Ziggurat at Choga Zanbil


Choga Zanbil ziggurat

The ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil

Let me tell you about a prehistoric site, a ziggurat called Choga Zanbil, for when I saw it, I was bowled over. I didn’t quite know what a ziggurat was – they are tall mounds with a temple on top — the origin of the ‘Tower of Babel’.  But here was a splendid ziggurat, perfectly preserved, and laid out for inspection. It must be a restoration, I thought. It’s very cleverly done, but surely a bit over the top. How did they really know what it really looked like?  But I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Choga Zanbil is genuine. The reason for its splendid state of preservation is that site was originally ‘destroyed’ in 646 BC by our old friend Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, and as so often, destruction means preservation and realistic. Thanks Ashurbanipal for preserving this site so splendidly for us!

My second big mistake was that I promptly assumed that it must be a multiperiod site, built up as a tell over a long period and then clothed in mud brick to make it into a proper ziggurat. But, wrong again. It was all built by one person, the Elamite king Untash Napirisha. We know it was him because he left behind tile stamps and pottery plaques, glazed blue and green, over 6000 of them, with his name on them. I have been reading up on the Elamites:  the Elamites were a powerful kingdom of the late Bronze Age, the second half of the second millennium BC — Middle Elam is 1500 to 1100 BC. They contemporaries of the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Kassites,  who were always warring with one another, but they were in the southern part of Mesopotamia, most in Iran, on the eastern side of the Tigris, and stretching up into the Iranian highlands.

Chogha Zanbil SW entrance

The south-western approach and stairways. Note in front one of the circular temples where ceremonies could be celebrated at ground level.

But in the middle of the Middle Elamite period, around the 13th century BC, the King of Elam, Untash Napirisha, decided to build a new ritual centre, 20 miles south east of Susa. He was perhaps rather like Akhenaten in Egypt, who decided to move out of Thebes and build a new capital at Amarna, but whereas Akhenaten decided to worship just one god, Untash went to the other extreme, and became an enthusiastic god collector: he collected all the gods he could find, Elamite, Mesopotamian, local gods from Susa and built a temple to all of them; 52 shrines have so far been located, dedicated to 18 different deities. However when he died, Choga Zanbil was given up – there are few inscriptions from his successors, but it still remained a monument important enough to be destroyed by Ashurbanipal in 646 BC.

The ziggurat was built in five steps with a grand entrance to one side. The bottom two steps are well preserved with gateways, galleries and staircases, but it appears that at the top there were two small shrines. The site was built of mud bricks, held together by layers of mud mortar, with tree trunks used as dowels in places. It was faced with bricks in a blue and green glaze in the best Persian style, and in its heyday it must be even more magnificent than it is today.


Chogha Zanbil and enclosure red

The ziggurat itself was surrounded by a broad area bounded by a wall. In this area were many smaller shrines.
(Double click on photo to see details)

But it was not just a temple. It was surrounded by a wide area bounded by a wall, which Ghirshman called the temenos, which contained a number of shrines where the major rituals took place. But I didn’t realise that outside there are two further huge enclosures. Indeed, the outermost perimeter wall is 4 km long and encloses 100 hectares: in it was a royal enclosure in which no less than five palaces have been detected. It was quite a substantial boom town, known as Dur Untash.


Between 1951 and 1961 it was excavated by Roman Ghirshman, a Russian-born archaeologist who became a Frenchman and spent his career excavating in Iran: he wrote the classic Penguin book on Iran, which I purchased soon after it was published in 1954, and I still have my yellowing copy. It was written before he had begun work on Choga Zanbil, but if you want to know what the Tower of Babel really looked like, come to Choga Zanbil.


Following our visit we had a most memorable lunch,


Return to the introduction to the history of Iran

or on to the Achaemenid (Iron Age) site of Ecbatana.


Created: 18th July 2017

Persepolis – the Sculptures

Persepolis – the Sculptures


In the 1930s, the German/American excavators at Persepolis made a major discovery. At the east end of the Apadana, there was another formal entrance which had been covered over and concealed by a considerable overburden and this had preserved the wonderful carvings that lay underneath.

This had been a grand ceremonial entrance, with a flight of stairs up which the peoples of the great Empire came to render their tribute to the Great King, and bas reliefs showing these tribute bearers were carved on the side of the entrance staircase. Nearly thirty different peoples in all were represented,  each distinguished by their traditional clothing and by the gifts that they were bringing. The carvings were for the most part wonderfully preserved and have become one of the great sources of the art of Achaemenid Persians.

Persepolis general view of scaffolding DSC03270Recently a scaffolding canopy has been erected over the carvings to preserve them. Many feel they are intrusive, but the latest arrangements seem not unreasonable and enable one to take some good photographs. Here they are seen from the side, with carvings of Persian warriors on the side flanking walls.


Dominating over the sculptures and acting as ushers to the different peoples were the Medes and the Persians. Both shared equal status as the descendant of Cyrus, and Darius was keen to show that he was the king of both people.

Persepolis soldeirs DSC05508But their dresses were very different. The most obvious difference was in their headgear, for the Persian wore cylindrical hats, often  themselves differentiated to show their varying status: in the photo above, the second and fourth from the right are Persians. The Medes however wore a felt cap forming a semi-circular dome, as in the first and third figures above. Their dresses too are different. The Persians had a flowing pleated robe reminiscent of the Greek peplos or the Roman toga, but the Medes wore a tight-fitting jacket with trousers on their legs. The Persians wore a box on their backs which was presumably a quiver, whereas the Medes had a case containing their bow, with a bird shaped terminal.

Then there was any variety of different nations.



Persepolis Armenians DSC05529

The Armenians

A typical delegation are these Armenians. To the right is a cypress tree – and cypress trees were used to divide up the different tableaux. Then there is a Persian carrying a staff of office rather than a spear, but with a Persian dagger at his waist, and holding the hand of the leader of the Armenians. He is followed by a horse and at the rear is one of the most admired figures, holding a vase with elaborate handles which can be identified as being typical of the vases found in northern Iran.


Persepolis Assyrians bringing sheep DSC03284









Assyrians with sheep

These sheep are much admired – they apparently form the gifts of the Assyrian delegation

Persepolis Lydians 534-5 levels

The Lydians

This is the Lydian delegation, identified by their Lydian hats. They carry a variety of objects, the first one holds two vases, the second two bowls, the third two metal armlets or wrist bands, while the rear is brought up by two men with a two horse chariot.


Persepolis Scythians 287-6


These are clearly Scythians, marked by their pointed hats. They again bring a horse, while the first man carries a torc or neck ring. The next two carry Scythian clothing while the man in the rear is offering a pair of Scythian trousers.

Persepolis Parthians asnd camel 548+550Parthians

Here are the Parthians, bringing as their special gift a two humped camel


Persepolis Ionians 542-544 redThe Ionians

Finally, these are the Ionians, the Greeks from Asia Minor who had been conquered by  the Persians and had become one of the subject peoples. The first three are bringing bowls containing no doubt food delicacies or rich spices or perhaps ointments. The middle pair bring clothes or blankets while the last two are bringing apparently balls of wool.

Persepolis Bull and Lion DSC05514Lion and Bull

Finally, we show an example of one of the most common motifs of the sculpture at Persepolis, the Lion biting the hindquarters of a bull. This is a very common motif at Persepolis, a scene that is repeated many times, and if we could interpret it, it  might possibly provide a clue as to just what Persepolis was.

The trouble is, there are rather too many palaces in Persia at this time. The chief town, the capital as it were, was Susa, in the low-lying south-west corner of Iran, pleasantly warm in winter but stifling hot in the summer but long established as the leading town in the area.  In the North there was a Town there are original capital of the Medes, this that became the summer Palace, being cool in the summer, frozen in the winter. Then there was the saga de the Palace built by Cyrus the predecessor to derive us 50 miles to the north of Persepolis and clearly replaced by Persepolis and then there was the Palace at so what was the function of Persepolis?

An answer may possibly be given by George Cameron, the American scholar who read and published the tablets found in the Treasury. He pointed out that in the tablets, the Treasury was known as the Treasury of Parsa. Now Parsa means Persian, but it is not used for the Persian Empire as a whole, but rather refers to the Persian homelands, the area around Persepolis from which the Achaemenid family, or rather the tribe to which Cyrus the Great, the  founder of the Persian Empire, belonged. Parsa is a slightly vague term – it did not correspond to any of the satrapies or administrative districts into which the Persian Empire was divided. Susa was not part of Parsa, and one suspects that  Persepolis was to some extent an exercise in trumpet blowing by Darius, a reminder to Susa that Parsa, and Persepolis was the place that the Persian royal dynasty came from. Persepolis was therefore essentially a tribal Palace from which the Parsa trumpet was blown, with an underlying burp to Susa, perhaps only at specific times of the year.

The favourite suggestion is that celebrations took place at the Nawruz  festival, which is the Iranians New Year, which takes place at the spring equinox around March 21st. The Nawruz ceremony – Nawruz is a good Indo-European word, Naw being ‘new’ and ‘ruz’ being ‘lux’ or light is today the major annual holiday in Iran – the equivalent of our Christmas Day – and Iranians would like to see it as being the time being celebrated at Persepolis.

There is no direct inscriptional evidence for this, but It is often suggested that the Lion biting the Bull has an astrological significance and that the Lion could represent the New year seeing off the Old year.  Did the Palace at Persepolis celebrate its major festival at the spring equinox, ushering in the New Year, celebrating the triumphs of the Persians,  at the place that was the origin of their great empire?




Persepolis – the Palaces

Persepolis – the palaces

Persepolis Darius palace 440-1 redLeading off from the Apadana and were several palaces. The best preserved is that of Darius, otherwise kniown as the Tachara. It is currently closed to visitors, but a good impression of its appearance can be seen from the outside.

Persepolis procession of guards DSC05434

At the front is a staircase with some fine carvings representing the Royal guard carrying spears resting on their big toes, while at the side Persepolis priests bearing offerings DSC03236there are priests carrying offerings. However, it appears that this extension was mainly built or rebuilt 170 years later by Artaxerxes III.




This plan, courtesy of Wikipedia, comes from the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1913, before the major excavations carried out in the 1930s.

The Gateway of All Lands is bottom left, then to its right (bottom centre) is the Apadana, with the Palace of Darius to its right.


Persepolis harem_museum DSC05471


To the east of the palaces was a building, often identified as the harem or women’s quarters. This was reconstructed by the American excavators in the 1930s and is now used as a museum and offices, but it gives good if garish indication of what the buildings probably looked like originally.

Persepolis Treasury 460-1 redOn the south east side of the complex was one of the most important buildings, the Treasury. This does not seem very spectacular today, but this is where the treasures rendered to the king by the subject nations were stored. Following its capture by Alexander, its treasures, which according to Diodorus Siculus included 2,500 toms of gold, were all carted away.

The excavations in the 1930s also uncovered a valuable cache of over 750 clay tablets. These were written in the Elamite language and record the wages and other expenditures paid to labourers and officials.



Persepolis 100 columns general DSC05490In the north-west corner of the site there is another major building called the Hall of 100 columns, containing 10 rows, each of 10 columns. This lies parallel to the Apadana and like it faces north, and it clearly forms a an alternative, perhaops even a rival to the Apadana. However, in date it is a generation later, having been begun by Xerxes and completed by his successor, Artaxerxes.

Persepolis 100 columns side DSC05505However, none of the columns survive, though there is a fine gateway and niches along the walls. Is it perhaps a quirk of fate that it is the fortuitous survival of the 13 columns in the Apadana that gives it a unique appearance and has made it into the renowned site that it has become today.

One of the most spectacular sites at Persepolis is the stairway that leads back up into the Apadana. This is decorated with superb carvings.


On to these carvings


June 2017




In the sixth century BC, the Persians established one of the greatest empires the world had ever seen. Although centred in Persia, the empire stretched from the Aegean right through to India, while the influence was enormous. The Persians are generally known in the West today from the Greeks who were their enemy  so our image of the Persians is not altogether unbiased. To the Persians, their military failures in Greece and who were past their attempts to take over the Greek mainland prefer Persians. This was merely a minor setback and their Empire stretched from the Aegean Sea through to India. And in this empire, the most splendid palace was that at Persepolis.

Persepolis Approach 601-603 redPersepolis was built as a new foundation by Darius the Great,  and enlarged by his successor Xerxes. However, 200 years later it was destroyed by Alexander the Great, following his conquest. Where this was done deliberately,  or by accident in a drunken orgies is still debated,  but for the archaeologist, this has the fortunate byproduct that the site has been extremely well-preserved following its destruction. There are no later buildings and so today it is one of the greatest monuments of Iran, and one of the best examples in the world of what an ancient palace looked like. What, then, is there to see?

The Palace was built on an artificial platform based on a spur of the hills that can be seen in the background. However on three sides a huge wall was built to support the platform. Channels were then cut in the platform to provide a very elaborate water supply.


Persepolis Approach stairway

Here we see the majestic staircase that leads up onto the platform. It goes up in two stages, and would have formed an impressive entrance for visitors.


The Gate of All Lands

Persepolis Gate of All Lands gerneral DSC05396At the top was a very impressive gateway known as the Gate of All Lands – the name is given in an inscription by the Emperor Xerxes who completed the building of this gate.

At either end were two majestic gateways, and between them there was a lofty hall supported on four pillars, three of which are still standing and can be seen in the photo. The two on the left are original, but the one on the right was reconstructed from fragments in 1967: ironically it is now the taller one as it has been reconstructed to its full height, and one can see that unlike Grecian columns, which are surmounted by a modest size capita, Persian columns tend to have an elaborate three stage capital of floral decorations surmounted by a pair of bulls back to back on which the beams that formed the roof would have rested


Persepolis Gate of all lands DSC03213Here is a detail of the inner gate to gate, supported on two majestic lions which had wings and also bearded human faces. Such lions are based on Assyrian prototypes, but note the rear legs of the right-hand lion which are shown in motion. revealing the fluidity of Persian art, compared to the static poses of Assyrian lions.


The Apadana


Persepolis Apadana 390-3 redThe main building of a Persian palace was the Apadana or reception hall, where the king received tribute from the different parts of his kingdom. Here we see the Apadana of  Persepolis  from the North as would be seen by a visitor coming through the Gate of All Lands.

The Apadana is set on an elevated platform approached by a fine decorated staircase.

There is a second entrance from the East (that is to the left) which has the famous carvings which are covered by the low scaffolding which can just be seen.

The central hall had a roof supported by 36 columns in six rows of six, but there were also porticos on three sides which each had two rows of six columns, so there were 72 columns in all.

Persepolis apadana 404-8 redI had always assumed that the columns were all reconstruction and had wondered at the logic of their distribution. But it seems that all save one are original. It would appear that in the destruction of Alexander the Great, the walls of the Apadana were all demolished, but some of the pillars supporting the roof were left standing.

When they were first painted by European travellers in 1619, twenty columns were still standing. In 1694  this had been reduced to seventeen, and by 1841 to thirteen, all of which are still standing today, though in the late 1970s, a reconstructed column was added.

Persepolis 419-421 redHere is a view of the Apadana looking to the North East, showing the hills in the background on the spur on which the Palace was constructed. In the distance to the right is the tomb of Artaxerxes, while in the middle right is the scaffolding covering the eastern entrance.

Surounding the Apadana were the palaces and the other ancilliary rooms of a major ceremonial centrre


On to the Palaces . . .



June 2017


The Bridges of Esfahan

Abbas the Great was not only a great builder of mosques and gardens, but also a great builder of bridges. There are three famous bridges across the River Zayandeh built by Abbas and his successors, two of which we see here.

Estefan Se-o-se Pol bridge DSC06387 This is the Si-o-se Pol or thirty-three arch bridge built by Abbas the Great at the end of his grand new avenue the Cahar Bagh Avenue, which means four gardens. It was constructed from 1599 – 1602 and named after the man who supervised its construction Allah Verdi Khan. It always looks at its best in the evening when we saw it magically illuminated.

Esfahan Se-o-se bridge road DSC06377
The bridge was a wide bridge with busy traffic, though today it has been pedestrianized. It became the main approach to the city along the new avenue where a caravanserai was built, now a grand hotel, the Abbasi, where we stayed.







Estefam Se-o-se bridge banks DSC06379








The bridge is a popular attraction. Here in the evening crowds line the banks just sitting enjoying themselves and admiring the bridge.
Estefan Khaju general DSC06566

The finest bridge of all is the Khaju Bridge, the most beautiful and well planned bridge of Esfahan. The bridge also acted as a dam: sluice gates between the piers close the canals raising the water level upstream so that large reserves could be collected for irrigating the fields.



Estefan Khaju bridge as weir DSC06550The bridge also serves as a weir and a dam. When the sluice gates between the piers were closed the water level upstream was raised so that large reserves could be collected for irrigating the fields.

Estefan Khaju bridge for cuddle DSC06548

The niches on the road level form a convenient nook for canoodling with your girl friend.








4th June 2017

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