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!
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It’s always fascinating to visit your blog. Both the words and the photos. Of course, the movie 300 will always be clear to me. Fascinating that you get to be where we only read about and watch in the movies. That preserved era seems a gazillion years away:-).
Right? It must’ve been so different then.
Your pictures are amazing. Like last time I’m a bit envious that you got to witness such a magnificent piece of history. Can you believe they’re still standing strong after so many centuries? It’s a bit mind boggling to see.
Seriously! Anytime something is that old, I think my brain shorts out. I just can’t fathom how something that old can still be around. Absolutely amazing.
You really have visited some interesting places post-Korea. I really how rich in original history this place is…with the stone carvings and what not. A place like that is so different from this crazy busy, modern day life!
Definitely! I would’ve loved to have feasted in Persepolis, haha. No one would’ve been on their phones…
As always, your post has great photos and your words convey great imagery as well. I really want to visit this part of the globe and your posts always make me eager to go ASAP!
Hope you make it there, Laura! It’s a pretty awesome place 🙂
It looks like the Greeks knew what’s up. There’s Persians there so let’s call it The City of Persians. 😉 The ancient Greeks had a great sense of humor. Happy Birthday and I enjoy your photos! 😀 I’ve always wanted to venture to more distant lands!
Yeah, it seemed like a pretty apathetic attempt at naming something. Gotta love the Greeks, haha.
I love and look forward to reading the next entry to your blog. When I took Art History, we read and learned about the same sites you visited. It was an interesting class and love that you have visited places that I’ve only read about in history books. I hope to go some of the sites you have visites. Surely beautiful photos are quite remarkable and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.
That’s awesome, Charisse! I’m sure it would be even more special for you, having been a place you’ve studied before. I hope you get to visit someday!
First, Happy Birthday! And wow, the photos you took capture Persepolis beautifully. You have been giving me the itch to explore this part of the world sooner than later! Especially since there is such a rich history behind these places as well. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Megan! I really want to go back to Persepolis and spend more time there… it was such an amazing place!
Those ruins are gorgeous and really make my imagination start to wander at just how Persians lived back then. Society must’ve been flourishing in that one spot that you are visiting now, only deserted. This was a great read. Thanks for sharing.
Brandon Fralic (@bsfralic)
What is it about ruins that we find so intriguing? I suppose it’s the knowledge that once, long ago, this place was a bustling city full of people leading normal lives. Eating and drinking and sleeping and loving and hating, just like we do today. The ruins are their legacy. Perhaps we hope that one day, hundreds of years down the road, future generations will look back on the 21st century with the same awe and wonder that we have for Persepolis.
Or maybe it’s just that ruins are certifiably epic.
Thanks for including selfies to lighten the mood – especially the jump fail!