Persepolis or Takht-e Jamshid is among the most magnificent ruins in the world. As one of the greatest wonders, it holds an important and symbolic part in the ancient world. Persepolis was founded by Darius I (in 518 B.C.) to be the capital of the Achaemenid Empire in Persia. This complex of Palaces is a great testimony of the rich history of Persia. In 1979, the Ruins of Persepolis became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Stay with us for more information about one of the most visited attraction in Iran.
What is the significance of Persepolis?
Persepolis was the center of government of the Achaemenid Empire. Its grandeur shows that it was designed to host grand ceremonies for international affairs. The whole design of this palatial complex was based on Mesopotamian models. Yet, the Achaemenid art style of architecture for this complex is unique and one of a kind. Military quarters, the treasuries, and the reception halls and palaces are the main parts of this city complex. Although Persepolis was burned in flames and left behind for centuries, it never lost its magnificence. After all, magnificent buildings have magnificent ruins. In this article, we will get into the history, different parts, and the best time to visit the ruins of Persepolis.
The History of One of the Most Ancient Civilizations
For understanding the rich history behind Persepolis we should take some steps back at the history. There are some evidence that before Persepolis there used to be a prehistoric settlement around this area. But the world famous Persepolis was founded by Darius I in 518 B.C as the capital of Achaemenid Empire. Persepolis is also called Takht-e Jamshid. However, the ancient name of this site is ‘’Parse’’. You can see this name inscribed in cuneiform on king Xerxes’ triangular inscription on the Gate of All Nations. Aeschylus (the great Greek playwright) used the name Persepolis for this complex in fifth century. Now let us get into the history that shaped the magnificent Persepolis. It is worth mentioning that we cannot explore the rich history of this grand empire in one post.
Achaemenid Empire before Persepolis
Achaemenid Empire was initially founded by Cyrus the Great base on a humanistic world view. This Empire also base their culture and religion on Zoroastrianism. As one of the first Persian empires, the history of this empire is full of conflicts, conquests, and legends.
Darius the Great & Persepolis
Now, we move on to the time that Darius the Great finally gained the throne. By doing so, he wanted to restore his kingship to the Achaemenid house. As mentioned before, it was around 518 B.C that Darius took interest in replacing the earlier capital which was Pasargadae. He decided to build his Palace and fortification on the side of a holy mountain which was Kuh-e Raḥmat (Mercy). Accordingly, he did major astrological estimations to plan the structure and different parts of Persepolis. During his reign, the complex consisted of The Apadana, the Palace of Darius I, and the Council Hall. Later on, his son Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE) and grandson Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 BCE) completed and added to the grandeur of Persepolis.
Alexander the Great’s Conquest of Asia
It was during the reign of Darius III that Alexander invaded the city and burned the palace of Xerxes. The invasion of Persepolis by Alexander the Great happened after years of Greco-Persian wars and conflicts. Interestingly, the Greeks did not know of such a site until Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire. After conquering the city, Alexander set a great fire that crushed the city under its ruins. It was not until 1931 CE that the city rose again under professional excavations. Today, Persepolis is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. Many visitors come to this site to explore the remains of one of the most ancient civilizations. Below, we will introduce different parts, palaces, and remains of Persepolis. Each part of this ancient site has a great symbolic and authentic universal value.
Walking Through the Map & Different Parts of Persepolis
Every part of the Persepolis Complex is special in terms of their setting, materials, and forms and design. All the palaces and elements of this site comes in perfect harmony. That is why, this archeological site bears the greatness of Achaemenid Empire. Below, we will be walking through this complex from its northwestern entrance forward.
What to Expect Before Entering Persepolis
The main material that is used in the construction of Persepolis is grey limestone and mud-brick. The remains of Persepolis range from symbolic columns to different kinds of wall reliefs and inscriptions. Interestingly, the number of columns, ratios, and everything else has a symbolic or special architectural quality behind it. The columns are topped by sculptures of animals that represent power. The stone reliefs are another major attraction of different parts of the complex. These bas and high reliefs are precise in details and have symbolic value. Some of the most interesting reliefs in Persepolis are:
- lotus flower which is most likely the symbol of Goddess of water and wisdom, Anahita
- people of the twenty-three worldwide nations bearing gift for the Achaemenid king
- The immortal Army of Javid
- Bas-relief of a Bull (symbol of Moon) fighting a lion (symbol of Sun). It should be mentioned that the symbolic reading of these reliefs could differ in different sources.
- The Methodological statues of creatures such as Griffins( half lion and half eagle)
With these in mind, let us walk the steps that Achaemenid kings and courtiers walked 2500 years ago.
The Persepolitan Stairway
At the entrance, there are two stairways to the complex of Persepolis. These dual stairways were a masterpiece of symmetry. They have 111 wide and short flights of stairs. These stairs would have led the guests in the most graceful way to the huge Gate of All Nations. Also, on the north western part there is a small gate that leads the guests to the complex. This was for those who prefer not to take the steps.
The Gate of All Nations
The world famous Gate of All Nations used to be the entrance to a palace with the same name. This Palace was a receiving hall for several guests of all ethnicities. Today, the main remaining part of this palace is this unique Gate. On the sides of the gate, you can see two huge sculptures of winged men. There is also two sculptures of stone bulls with human heads. On top of the gate a saying from the prophet of Zoroastrianism (Ahura Mazda) is written in cuneiform. The saying translates as:
‘’All the beauties in your eyes were laid down by Ahura Mazda’s will’’
The Apadana, the greatest Palace of Persepolis
The Gate of all Nations lead the visitors to one of the greatest and most magnificent Palaces in Persepolis. This Palace was for hosting different ceremonies such as Nowruz celebrations. Also, ambassadors from different nations were received by the king in Apadana Palace. Some of the most notable Remains of Apadana Palace are as below:
- On the stairways, you can see the stone reliefs of people of different nations bearing gift for the Achaemenid king.
- The eastern, western, and northern terraces of Apadana Palace each have specific patterns. On the columns of the eastern Terrace, there are sculptures of two-headed lions.
- The Central Hall of the Palace was 20 meters high. This would have given it a majestic look for receiving more than 10 thousands guests. The columns of Apadana Palace have floral carvings with two-headed stone bull
- There are also patterns of cedar, palm, and lions that have methodological and ceremonial symbolic value.
Trachara (Palace of Darius I)
From the south eastern stairways of Apadana Palace, you can reach Trachara Palace. This palace is known as the Palace of Darius I. on its entrance there is an inscription which translates as: “I Darius, built this Trachara.” Notably, Trachara Palace was one of the first parts of the whole complex of Persepolis. Trachara Palace faces the sun and has highly polished grey stones. That is why its visitors can see their reflection on its walls. For this reason, the Palace is also called the house of mirrors. Some of the most eye-catching parts of this Palace are:
- The stairways with reliefs of lambs and different kitchen wares
- Stone reliefs of soldiers and lions and bulls fighting on the walls of the southern courtyard
- inscriptions in three languages (Elamite, Persian, and Babylon) by King Xerxes
- A central hall with two square rooms leading to a terrace
Hadish is one of the most mysterious Palaces in Persepolis. This Palace was built on a high ground. Also, its name, Hadish, translates as a place in height. Hadish Palace was the personal Palace of King Xerxes. On the entrance, you can see King Xerxes’s relief wearing a crown. From its southern terrace, you can have an amazing view to the Marvdasht fields. On the southwest of Hadish Palace, the Ruins of H Palace is visible.
Harem of Xerxes I and the Queen’s Palace
This Palace was built under the order of Xerxes I in an L shape. The Harem is on the southern part of the personal Palace of Xerxes. There is a small entrance through which strangers would have not been allowed to pass. All the reliefs in different part of Persepolis have patterns of the king with his soldiers. But in this palace, you can see the king with the head (eunuch) of the Harem. Today, a part of this building is used as the museum. The museum holds a collection of Achaemenid Seals, parts of sculptures, burnt curtains of Persepolis, jewelries, and more.
The Central Se-Dar Palace
The Se-Dar Palace is the central Palace of Persepolis. The name of this Palace translates as ‘’ Three Doors’’. According to its name, this was a palace that provided access to other parts of Persepolis. Also there are evidences that this palace hosted informal meetings of the king. On the staircase of Se-Dar Palace, you can see reliefs and carvings of Persian Nobles.
The 100-Column Palace
The Sad Sotun Palace is the second largest Palace in Persepolis. The name of this palace translates as 100-column Palace. This palace is 4,300 square meters with 100 columns. These 10 in 10 columns make a perfect scenery of a foursquare hall. Today, the only remaining part of this palace are the base of the 100 pillars.
Other Parts of Persepolis
- Showra Palace which was the council palace
- A Stone Pit with 26 meters of depth in the north eastern part of the Treasury building
- The tombs of Ardashir II and Ardashir III, the king of the Sasanian Empire in the heart of Rahmat Mountain
When and where can I visit Persepolis?
Persepolis is open from 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM during the first half of the year (spring and summer). During autumn and winter, it is open from 8 AM to 6:30 PM. Persepolis is close on Islamic holidays. Interestingly, in some times of the year, there is a show in Persepolis. In this show, the history of Persepolis is retold in Persian with sound and light effects on the ruins. You can catch this show every night during Nowruz which is from 21 March to the first day of April. Also, from 22 July to22 September, the show goes on every Thursday and Friday night.
The Location of Persepolis
As for the location of Persepolis, it is located in 50 kilometers of the northeast Shiraz in the Fars Province. The best way to get to Persepolis is by using the online Taxi Apps. You can also visit Persepolis on your way to Shiraz. For you Shiraz trip, you can rent a car or have a driver guide through Travelopersia to get around.
Attractions near Persepolis
The many ruins, gates, Palaces, and museums that are a part of Persepolis complex can take hours to explore. Yet, if you are interested to visit more of the highlights of Achaemenid Empire, here are 3 must-see nearby attractions:
- Naqsh-e Rostam or Necropolis (within 12 kilometers)
- Naqsh-e Rajab (within 6 kilometers)
- Cube of Zoroaster (within 10 kilometers)
For more information about these magnificent sites, you can check out our blog’s posts.