Few places capture the imagination quite like Persepolis. Known as ‘Parsa’ to the Achaemenid Persians who built it, the city is known to the West by its Greek name, which means ‘City of Persians’. Creative, those Greeks.
Founded around 518 B.C. by Darius I (whom we saw buried at the Naqsh-e Rostam necropolis) and constructed over the course of the next century or so, Persepolis served as the ceremonial capital for the Achaemenid Empire. Built upon a massive, man-made terrace, the city is approached up a stairway with 110 steps, which symbolize the 110 postal offices of Persia’s postal system–the world’s first. The steps are shallow, presumably so that elderly ambassadors and heads of state could make a dignified entrance to the city.
Once up the stairs, the gates of the city loom. Guarded by massive sculptures of fantastic beasts known as lamassu, the gate is still impressive 2.5 millenia after it was built.
The lamassu consist of a bull’s body, an eagle’s wings, and a man’s face. Each creature signified a specific ideal: the bull was the Protector, the eagle symbolized freedom, and the man represented wisdom. The lamassu were thought to be royal guardians, protecting the rulers of Persia from their enemies.
The huge pillars after the gate are somehow still standing. Each has a base, a shaft, and a flowered cap, all of which are (or were, many have toppled) held together by gravity. Anywhere from 13-17 meters above would have been the wooden ceiling, intricately carved and long since rotted away. With painted tiles adorning the floors, the entryway to the city must have been truly magnificent.
The caps of some of the pillars were carved into the shape of two bulls kneeling back to back. One such cap rests just inside for people to see up close. As mentioned before, the bull was seen as a symbol of protection and was used to represent the Persian empire.
Soldiers lined the alcoves, standing at attention as dignitaries and their entourages filed past. I would imagine they were slightly more daunting and impressive than the one below…
Once inside the grounds, we walked around with our guide, then had some free time to explore. I spent most of my free time looking at all of the amazing stone reliefs carved into the walls and pillars.
One relief in particular stood out. I’d mentioned the movie 300 when I wrote about Naqsh-e Rostam, the burial site of Xerxes I. Those familiar with the movie will recognize the Persian elite military group known as the Immortals. A group of warriors 10,000 strong, their numbers were kept constant–new recruits being added as old members were killed or finished their service.
This relief showed those warriors on either side of a stairwell. It was interesting to learn that the groups to the right and left of the stair were actually of the same soldiers. Persians tended to depict people in silhouette, so the two groups of reliefs showed the right and left sides of the men shown.
In addition to the stone reliefs, there are a number of sculptures throughout the ruins, including ones of griffons and bulls.
Of course, I couldn’t make it through a day at an archaeological site without inflicting some sort of bodily harm upon myself, so I endeavored to take a sweet jumping selfie. It didn’t quite work the first time. The second shot of a three shot burst shows me crashing to the ground in pain after rolling my ankle, but I managed to get in the air for the final shot!
It seemed like we’d barely started exploring before it was time to leave. I wanted nothing more than to stay, but my tour group was leaving. In awe of what I’d just seen and bitter at having to leave it behind, I got in the van. Luckily, the sense of wonder won out.
What did you think of the post? Have you been to Persepolis and, if so, what was your experience like? Let me know in the comments below!
P.S. Today is my 27th birthday. Isn’t it crazy how time flies? I was 23 when I started this blog!