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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrPersepolis is the Greek name (meaning “Persian City”) for what was once Parsa, the ancient capital city of the now-extinct Persian Empire. For nearly 200 years, from 518 BC – 333 BC, this was the dazzling home of the “King of Kings”. Today, the ruins of Persepolis still exist 113 kilometers northeast of Shiraz in a small town called Marv-Dasht that is part of modern Iran. It is believed that Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, chose the site for Persepolis but it was the Empire’s third king, Darius I, who began construction of the city and its palaces. He ordered that the terraces be built to rise above the Pulvar River, and serve as a foundation for the uppermost expanse, carved from part of the Mountain Kuh-e Rahmet (the Mountain of Mercy), upon which his city could thrive with a degree of seclusion.
Persepolis was easily defended, due in part to its terraced landscape but also the three walls that surrounded it (the highest reaching 9 meter), its fortified towers, and the 10,000 guards permanently posted there. Because of its remote location in the mountains, travel to the city was almost impossible during the rainy season of the Persian winter when paths turned to mud, and so the city was mostly used in warmer seasons. This is likely the reason why the Greeks were not aware of its existence until it was eventually conquered by Alexander the Great around 330 BC. With such defenses it is impressive that even Alexander was able to overthrow it. But overthrow it he did.
The story of how Alexander took and destroyed the city has been detailed in the works of the ancient historian, Diodorus Siculus. He describes how, as Alexander and his camp reveled drunkenly in their victory, a woman from Athens brazenly suggested that it would be the finest of all his feats in Asia if Alexander would join his people in triumph and set fire to the palaces of Persepolis, extinguishing the famed accomplishments of the Persians and avenging the destruction of the Acropolis of Athens that was burned to the ground at the order of King Xerxes, who lead the second Persian invasion of Greece 150 years prior. They had already slaughtered every Persian man they met and plundered every residence they found, and so in his drunken state, Alexander led them in igniting a fire that consumed the city, reducing it to rubble. Many great religious scripts – painstakingly documented by the Persians in gold ink written on cow skins – were lost forever, along with magnificent works of art. For hundreds of years, the ruins were known only to residents of the area as “The Place of the Forty Columns”, referring to the few ancient columns still intact, until the site was identified as Persepolis in 1618.
What to SeeThe Apadana Palace, built by Darius the Great, was known as a place of stunning beauty. It was the greatest palace in Persepolis, and construction continued for 30 years until it was finished during the reign of Darius’ son, Xerxes. The King received his official guests in a grand hall of 72 columns, 13 of which still stand today. The four entrances to the palace each had a massive staircase wide enough to allow Persian royalty and those of noble birth to descend on horseback without their feet ever touching the ground. Darius ordered that his name and the details of his empire be written in gold and silver on plates to be placed in covered stone boxes in the foundations under the four corners of his palace.
The Gate of All Nations was a grand entrance built to accommodate representatives and dignitaries of the 28 nations belonging to the Persian Empire who traveled to Persepolis to pay taxes and respect to the “King of Kings”. The Gate, built by Xerxes the Great, has these words inscribed above it in three languages: “The King is empowered by God. Submit totally to him for the good of Persia. All nations can live in peace if you are compliant.”
The Throne Hall, built next to the Apadana Palace, is the second largest building on the terrace. Also called “The Hundred Columns Palace”, its construction began under Xerxes and concluded under his son, Artaxerxes. It was originally used as a hall of honor for the Imperial Army and later served as a museum dedicated to the Empire’s history and glory.
The Tombs of Kings consist of three facades carved into a hillside as well as four separate tombs cut into a perpendicular wall of rock on the opposite side of the Pulvar River. These grand tombs, on a similar scale as Mount Rushmore, are believed to serve as final resting places for six Persian kings. Of the three tombs in the hillside, one is incomplete, and the other two are thought to be occupied by Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. The four other tombs are probably occupied by Darius I, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. They are adorned with ornate reliefs carved into the stone such as ferocious lions.
How to Get ThereTake a 45 minute bus ride to Persepolis from the Karandish bus terminal in Shiraz.
If you would like to take a taxi from Shiraz to Persepolis, your hotel can arrange one for you. Settle on a fixed price with your driver that includes waiting time during your visit to Persepolis.
Planning TipsRemember not to walk or climb on the ancient walls. It is forbidden and dangerous.
Bring plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
- Pasargadae is another site of ruins that were once a city even older than Persepolis, built by Cyrus the Great. Here you can see what remains of the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, the Tomb of Cambyses, the Throne of Solomon, as well as two palaces and a grand hall once belonging to Cyrus.
- Naqsh-e Rajab is an archaeological site north of Persepolis. You will see four massive reliefs from the Sassanid Empire carved into the limestone. The first depicts the dynasty’s founder, the second his successor, the third a celebration of a military victory known as “Shapur’s Parade”, and the fourth shows a high priest named Kartir and his sons.
- Naqsh-e Rustam is an ancient necropolis located northwest of Persepolis that lies a few hundred meters from Naqsh-e Rajab. Here, four tombs belonging to Persian kings are carved out of the rock face at a considerable height above the ground.
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Author: epicandrea. Last updated: Apr 19, 2016