Islamic Republic of Iran
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|Founded by Darius I in 518 B.C., Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid
Empire. It was built on an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, where
the king of kings created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian
The importance and quality of the monumental ruins make it a unique archaeological site.
Persepolis (Greek, “City of the Persians”), one of the ancient capitals of Persia, was established by Darius I in the late 6th century BC. Its ruins lie 56 km (35 mi) northeast of Shīrāz, Iran. Darius transferred the capital of the Achaemenid dynasty to Persepolis from Pasargadae, where Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, had ruled.
The construction of Persepolis began between 518 and 516 BC, and continued under Darius’s successors Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I in the 5th century BC. Known as Parsa by the ancient Persians, it is known today in Iran as Takht-i Jamshid (“Throne of Jamshid”) after a legendary king. The Greeks called it Persepolis.
At its height the Persian Empire stretched from Greece and Libya in the west to the Indus River in present-day Pakistan in the east. The many nations under the empire’s rule enjoyed considerable autonomy in return for supplying the empire’s wealth.
|Each year at New Year’s --still celebrated in Iran on the
first day of spring -- representatives from these nations brought tribute
to the king. The Persian kings used Persepolis primarily as a residence
and for ceremonies such as the New Year’s celebration. The actual
business of government was carried out elsewhere, chiefly at Susa and
Ecbatana. Ecbatana is known from the Bible, Book of
The site of Persepolis consists of the remains of several monumental buildings on a vast artificial stone terrace about 450 by 300 m (1,480 by 1,000 ft). A double staircase, wide and shallow enough for horses to climb, led from the plains below to the top of the terrace. At the head of the staircase, visitors passed through the Gate of Xerxes, a gatehouse guarded by enormous carved stone bulls.
The largest building at Persepolis, the Apadana (audience hall), stood to the right of the gatehouse. Archaeologists estimate that it could accommodate 10,000 people. Massive stone columns supported the Apadana’s roof; 36 were interior columns and another 36 supported verandas on three sides of the building. Thirteen of these 72 columns remain standing today. Each column rose nearly 20 m (66 ft) high and had vertical channels called fluting carved into it to emphasize this height. At the top of the columns were capitals elaborately decorated with plant forms, scrolls, and double-headed animals. The animals supported wooden roof beams on their backs. Traces of paint found on column bases and other remains suggest that the room was originally brightly colored.
Monumental staircases decorated with elaborate sculpture in relief (raised) led to the Apadana, which stood on an elevated platform. The relief sculpture depicts the ceremonial procession that took place when representatives from the conquered nations brought gifts to the king. The procession is led by Persians and Medes, the peoples whom Cyrus the Great united to found the Persian Empire.
After them come delegates bearing gifts: The Elamites bring lions, the Babylonians a Brahma bull, the Lydians bolts of cloth, and so forth. Because the east staircase lay buried beneath ashes and rubble for centuries, its delicately carved relief sculptures remain in excellent condition today.
Next to the Apadana was the Throne Hall, the second largest building at Persepolis, where the king received nobles, dignitaries, and envoys bearing tribute.
| An enormous throne room, 70 by 70
m (230 by 230 ft), occupied the central portion of the Throne Hall. It is
also known as the Hundred-Column Hall after the 100 columns that supported
its roof. These columns were made of wood, and only their stone bases
survive. Eight stone doorways led into the throne room. Carvings on the
sides of the doorway depict the king on his throne and the king in combat
with demons. The Throne Room was begun by Xerxes and completed by
The Treasury stood next to the Throne Hall. This enormous building served as an armory and a storehouse for the tribute brought to the king on New Year’s from the subject nations. It also held booty taken from the nations conquered by the Persian Empire. Archaeologists identified the building as the Treasury from relief sculptures found in it. These sculptures depict envoys appearing before Darius, who is seated on his throne. The envoys raise their hands to cover their mouths in a gesture of respect as they approach the king. Darius’s son Xerxes stands behind the throne.
Palace and Living Quarters
Beyond the Apadana lay the Palaces of Darius and Xerxes. The Palace of Darius was reached by stone stairways decorated with carvings of servants carrying animals and food for serving at the king’s table.
| Carved reliefs also decorated the stone jambs of doorways. The
subjects depicted on these jambs include the king fighting lions, servants
bringing towels and ointments to the king, and attendants shielding the
king with umbrellas and flywhisks. A number of the stone doorways are
still standing. The Palace of Xerxes was nearly twice the size of the
Palace of Darius and had similar carved reliefs on stairways and
doorframes. Living quarters for the king and separate quarters for the
women and the servants stood next to the palaces.
Persepolis was destroyed slightly less than two centuries after it was begun. Alexander the Great of Macedonia plundered Persepolis and then set it afire in 330 bc. He needed 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels to carry away the treasure looted from Persepolis, according to Greek biographer Plutarch. Persepolis was eventually abandoned, and it lay buried beneath ashes and rubble until its rediscovery in 1620. Although many people visited Persepolis in the next centuries, excavation of the ruins did not begin until 1931, under the direction of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 halted this work. The Iranian Archaeological Service continued the excavation and restoration of Persepolis after the war.
At Naksh-i Rustam, some 6 km (4 mi) northwest of Persepolis, are the Achaemenid royal tombs where Darius I, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes I are buried. Rock-hewn tombs in the mountain slope behind Persepolis were built for later members of the dynasty, including Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III.
Please note that the history of Persepolis and Bisotun are closely connected.
Sources and links:
Other World Heritage Sites in Iran (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Iran for further information about the individual properties.
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Revised 08 aug 2006