Persepolis was for me the most interesting place we visited in Iran. A summary of its history:                                                    Persepolis is the Greek name, the original name was Parsa. In modern Persian it is called Tahkt-e Jamshid. I lies 60 km north from Shiraz, so there is where we started. The oldest date they have found on buildings is 516BCE, but the building or construction went on for a century longer. Then Alexander came in 330BCE and took Persepolis without much fight. First he looted the treasury and whatever valuables he found and Plutarch claims he loaded 20 000 mules and 5000 camels with his loot. Then a fire broke out, accident or arson by Greek soldiers and Persepolis’ history was over only 210 years old.

One of the first Europeans to visit the place and see the significanse and report it was a Dutch, Cornelius de Bruijn in 1704. He made some drawings from the place. Here is proof he really was there:


A lot of “old” visitors in addition to Bruijn have carved their name on a ruin close to The Gate of All Nations and here is the most famous I found,

Persepolis2                                                                                                                                              It is Henry Stanley the journalist who also found Dr. Livingston in Africa with the words: “Dr.Livingston I presume.” See also the year on the top, 1810. So the place was well known but archeological excavation started in the 1930s by the Oriental Institute , University of Chicago.


Map of Persepolis. The Gate of All Nations top left.

Persepolis lies on a terrace 10-15meters above the flat plain to the west. To the east is a mountain that also is part of the terrace. It was a special mountain for the old Persians and is called Kuh-e Rahmet , The Moutain of Mercy.

The terrace is partly natural and partly manmade. There is a retaining wall around three of the sides varying in height from 5 to 13 meters. It is made with rocks, some big and some smaller but completely without  cement. To make the terrace almost flat they chopped rocks from the mountain to the desired level and filled up the depressions.

The place is 125 000 square meters so there is a lot to see. What I remember best are The Gate of All Nations, the quality of the reliefs and the carvings at the stairs up to the Kings reception hall.

To get up to The Gate of All Nations we went up spectacular stairs, there are two of them symmetrical from the plain and up to the plateau. Each stair has 111 steps and the difference in height from step to step is only 10 cm. This so that the visitors could climb the stairs with grace and dignity.


You see The Gate of All Nations to the left. This is the west gate, there is also an east gate.

Persepolis4DSCF1973                                          The east gate with the best preserved statues      The west gate, east gate in the background.

The details were so clear


There were reliefs on a lot of the ruins and here are some of them:


DSCF1987                                                                                              This is a theme we saw on many ruins. We were told it a symbol of the battle between winter and summer, Some say it also a battle between the sun and the moon (day vs night)


The entrance to the palace from east was again  double stairs, On the sides were impressive reliefs showing representatives from all the tribes in the Persian empire coming with gifts.

Persepolis8                                       Here are Babylonians and Lydians  two of all together 23 tribes

Persepolis9                                                           Leading the prosession of each group was a Persian and a representative from the tribe and they walked hand in hand. To me that was a sign that the Persian wanted peace with them and respected them as equals.


It was a special feeling to walk around in Persepolis on stones that were put there 2500 years ago, looking at “products” that were made so long ago. Some of them were so fresh as they were made recently.


All sources say that Persepolis was built by Darius and Xerxes. I am convinced neither Darius nor Xerxes carried a single stone, used a single hammer or chisel. Thousands of “ordinary” people did that and I really hope the rulers followed Cyrus’s promises about no slavery. Inscriptions also show that workers from all over the empire worked on the site, probably specialists.

So I end up with mixed feelings. I am amazed and impressed by the site, the size, the style, the columns, the reliefs and so on. Then my second thought is : at what cost, not money but in human suffering and lives. So I come back to the same question: The dilemmas of power.


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