Persepolis is located on top of a rock, its back to Mount Rahmat from the east (perhaps this name is derived from Mount Mehr (Mitra). Historical evidence shows that this mountain’s importance and sanctity has roots in ancient periods) and from the north, south, and west, inside the Marvdasht plain in Fars province with an area of 14,000 sqm, in a quadrangular shape. This structure is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful ruins of the ancient world.
The original name is Parseh (the most incorrect name ever given on Persepolis is the Greek word Persepolis, which means Persian city. This word shows that the Greek did not have the slightest knowledge nor visited this complex and only heard about its glory from far, from tourists of their homeland, and for this reason, this magnificent and large Achaemenid palace was considered a city (which was built next to the city of Parseh). The same name is written in Xerxes’ inscription on the wall of the nations’ gates and the Elamite inscriptions found in the treasury and fort of Persepolis. Also, throughout history, other names have been used for this place, among which we can mention the names of Sad Sotoon (100 pillars) and Chehel Minaret.
Regarding the name Takht-e Jamshid, it is worth mentioning that it is a name that the post-Islamic historians have attributed to the palace of the Akhaemanid kings, and this reason is that due to the disappearance of written documents in the several invasions that the country faced, they were not aware of the ancient and authentic history of Iran. In stories that were carried from generation to generation by word-of-mouth, this magnificent structure was thought to be a fortress and the throne that Jamshid (the legendry king) built. Because the structures were built with heavy and huge stones on a platform, and moving these stones were thought to be beyond human ability, therefore they thought this structure was built by demons who were prisoners of Jamshid. And this term remains today.
This masterpiece of art and architecture of the ancient era began in 512 BC and continued to be built until 450 BC. Darius the Great and his son Xerxes Shah and his grandson Ardeshir I each played a significant role in constructing Persepolis’s glorious buildings. Darius’s goal, founder of Persepolis, was not to build an official and political capital. Persepolis was a national and a sacred shrine, dedicated to a particular purpose: to create a permanent base for the celebrations of the spring or Nowruz, in which by using all the sources available, plentifulness and productiveness was requested from the heavenly powers.
Mary Boyce writes on this subject: The various features of the buildings and statues have led some scholars to think that Persepolis was a holy city.
Takht-e Jamshid is like a long prayer uttered by the stones; it is an Achaemined dream of new days and a new life realized in the stones. In his book “Persian Mythology,” John Hinnells writes; “Persepolis palace was rarely used and among the remaining artifacts, there is little or no evidence that it was a center of administrative purposes. Persepolis seems to have been a center for ceremonies, an annual celebration platform where the Achaemenid Empire’s nations gathered to pay tribute and demonstrate their loyalty to the king. Ambassadors of the unions marched through the staircases that could be climbed on horseback through the palace gates and along the walls of the congress, which were said to be a symbol of the Holy Mountain, and entered the palace of Sad Sotoon. Takht-e Jamshid has a special connection with the national Nowruz celebration. This concept is not only motivated by mythological narratives, but also according to archeologists one of the reasons for building this structure was to celebrate Nowruz together with all the tribes under the Achaemenid flag who had high regard for this Asian festival. Representatives of the nations would hand over their gifts which were symbols of their land’s civilization, to the most symbolic structure of the ancient world, which symbolized the Nowruz celebration.
In this place the formalities and the extensive ceremonies for Nowruz were carried out by exhibiting the blessings, plentifulness and abundance of human necessities and offering them to God, and a harmony was established
Professor Arthur Upham Pope writes about the actual use of the Persepolis structure: “In Persepolis, whose real name is unfortunately still hidden, religious ceremonies were held, especially Nowruz. In this place the formalities and the extensive ceremonies for Nowruz were carried out by exhibiting the blessings, plentifulness and abundance of human necessities and offering them to God, and a harmony was established between this world’s desires and the eternal forces’ achievement. The primary intention for building Persepolis was to create an excellent example of heaven on earth. Its amazing splendor and heavenly beauty gave irresistible power to the people’s wishes and prayers and encouraged the Gods, with the help of the abundance exhibited in the Nowruz ceremony, to spread this abundance all over the world.
In an invaluable research, the late Yahya Zaka proved that in a specific spot in Takht-e Jamshid the spring equinox and the beginning of the new year were sighted, during which the Nowruz was celebrated in the presence of the different nations that had come to the palace.
In addition to the construction of Persepolis; According to thousands of clay tablets found in the Elamite language, all the workers who worked in Persepolis, regardless of gender (women also worked in its construction; every woman who gave birth to a child, in addition to receiving a salary and vacation, received a bonus ) and nationality. They had insurance and received and enjoyed a fair salary.
This magnificent complex was used for 200 years and was inhabited until Alexander of Masodonia conquered and built it in 332 BC. An unofficial story says Alexander conquered Iran because his mistress provoked him in revenge for the burning of Athens by Xerxes. It seems that the fire started from the palace of sad Sotoon. Photographs of Persepolis petroglyphs and structures were first taken during the reign of Naser al-Din (the first person to photograph historical monuments was Luigi Pesce).
Persepolis has different sections which are:
- Gate of All Nations
- Apadana Palace
- Tachara (palace)
- Hadish Palace
- Three Gates Palace
- Sad Sotoon Palace
- Harem and Museum
- Unfinished Gate
- Place of Soldiers
Gate of All Nations
A grand two-way staircase with 111 steps of low height (since special guests and prominent officials could pave the path to reach the platform by horse) was built upto the platform.
This amazing staircase was built during Xerxes’ reign and end at the entrance to the complex’s first structure. A magnificent building surrounded by gates known as the gateway of nations (ambassadors of nations of imperial Iran first arrived there and then went to other palaces) this magnificent gate is made in imitation of Sargon II citadel in Khorsabad (Dur-Sharrukin).
Three gates in the east, west, and south are the entrance and exit of this palace. The east and west gates are adorned with beautiful and majestic designs. On either side of the west are two large bulls guarding this gate. In the eastern part of the palace, the situation is the same as the western gate, with the difference that instead of guard cows and gatekeepers, large creatures with a human head, the body of a bull, and eagle wings have been carved to hold the walls of this gate on their backs. The mythical winged creatures used at the Gate of the Nations are called Lamassu (winged cowman), which was influenced by Assyrian art.
The art of Achaemenid carving is a fusion of power, dignity, and elegance; the bas-relief of Persepolis, like the Assyrian artworks, is composed of shallow bas-reliefs but has an entirely different nature. Artworks of Persepolis have a symbolic aspect, and the Assyrian artworks have a narrative element. Xerxes’s gate Lamassus adapted from Assyrian, except that the Assyrian Lamassus has five legs, which the extra leg induces opposite movement; But Persepolis Lamassus are more symmetric.
On both sides of the stone walls of the two eastern and western gates, inscriptions are written in cuneiform in three languages: Elamite, Old Persian, and Babylonian. The theme of these inscriptions shows that this auditorium was built in the reign of Xerxes.
Xerxes had inscribed: A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created heaven, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Xerxes king, one king of many kings, commander of many commanders. I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king of all countries and many men, the king in this great earth far and wide, the son of Darius, an Achaemenid. King Xerxes says: by the favor of Ahuramazda this Gate of All Nations I built. Much else that is beautiful was built in this Persepolis, which I built and my father built. Whatever has been built and seems beautiful – all that we built by the favor of Ahuramazda. King Xerxes says: may Ahuramazda preserve me, my kingdom, what has been built by me, and what has been built by my father. That, indeed, may Ahuramazda preserve.
Apadana is the largest and most magnificent palace in Persepolis. The word apadana means general audience. The best and intact bas-reliefs of Persepolis belong to Apadana Hall.
Details show that the subject nations’ delegates were given audience in Apadana palace after passing through the nations’ gate. This palace is the most important building of Persepolis in terms of location, size, columns, various capitals, and other decorations built on a high point of the plateau.
The construction of Apadana began in 515 BCE by Darius the Great’s order and ended 30 years later during the reign of Xerxes. The palace consists of a central auditorium and three porches on the north, west, and east sides, which had 72 columns. (Of course, there are only 13 columns left now)
A characteristic feature of the Achaemenid architecture compared with other neighboring civilizations and lands is the columns’ outlay; examples of these can be seen in Ziwiye’s utensils’ ornamental.
Apadana Palace’s columns are the tallest columns of Persepolis with a height of more than 19 meters with two-headed cow capital. Still, but the most beautiful and important part of Apadana should be considered its eastern porch. Like the two west and north porches, this porch has an area of 1,500 square meters and had twelve stone columns, and the capitals of this palace are made in the shape of a double-headed lion. The most important part of the porch is its staircase, which was protected from destruction by being buried under the debris caused by collapse of the ceiling of the east porch. These stairs can be divided into three parts: north, south, and center. In the northern part of the eastern staircase, which according to the inscription, must have been built in Xerxes’ reign, there are three rows of bas-reliefs. There is a group of spearmen, all alike, at the beginning of all three rows. In order after them, Mirakhorans (head of stables) and special crews carrying the king’s equipment. At the end of this row, two royal wheels in motion are carved. In the second row, in the lower row of Mirakhoran, two rows of Iranshahr elders are depicted. Every other wore Persian and median clothes, and they are moving towards Apadana Palace in a friendly manner, while speaking to each other.
The southern part of the eastern staircase of Apadana can be considered as a document indicating the status and vastness of the Achaemenes Empire. Twenty-three groups of delegates of the nations under the Achaemenid government have been carved in this part (symbolizing the 23 provinces of the Achaemenid Empire) who bring gifts and offerings to the king. In front of each group, a porter who wore Persian or median clothes took the leader’s hand and led him to the emperor.
This is a magnificent document of one of the most prominent and controversial reliefs of Persepolis; A relief in which all the groups and officials of the delegates of all the lands, each ruled under the Achaemenid empire’s flag, one by one entered the general audience section of Persepolis, with great calm and contentment. In this regard, John Hinnells believed that these groups’ movement was not a show of self-expression of wealth but performance in front of the God of this land’s fertility.
Nowruz has another connection with the seasons because this celebration accords to the celebration of “Rapithwin.” On this basis, we believe that the portraits of the various delegations of the ancient world in Persepolis indicate that all the delegates of the imperial lands had participated in Nowruz, a great and international celebration and that his royal presence characterized this national and eastern celebration. They offered several gifts to the king for this celebration, which had more moral value than material value. Each of these gifts was a symbol of the art and product of the land through which its delegate introduced and recognized his civilization to other representatives and the emperor. It was during this celebration that the emperor prayed to God that this land survives famine, lies and enemies. Also, in these reliefs, they attempted to depict portraits of all the delegates with their native clothing and weapons and the gifts they have brought.
These gift bearers are:
First, the Median brought a jar with a few wineglasses, a dagger, an armband and attires; the Elamites with bows and swords, a female lion with two cubs; the Armenians with horses and dishes; the Parthians with several wineglasses, horses and animal skin; Babylonians with silver and gold bowls, textile and cows; Lydians with bowls, armbands and wheels with two horses; Zarangians or Drangians with dish, camel and animal’s skin, Syrians with dishes, leather, textile, and mouflon, Bactrian with clothes and camel, Gandarian with cow and spear and shield, Arians with dish and camel, Sagartian with cloth and horse, Sogdian with the dagger, armband, axes and horses, Indians with gold powder, donkeys and axes, Scythians or Thracians with spears, shield, and cow, Libyans with two-wheeled cows and Arabians with dishes, ivory, and giraffes. If the general opinion is correct that the nations’ representatives came to the capital to participate in the Nowruz celebrations, then we should agree that the king’s choice of this time of the year to give audience to the subordinates is worth pondering. According to Heidemarie Koch, the delegations are moving forward with joy and free will, and there is no sign of disappointment or force. By studying the artistic symbols of Persepolis, we find that this ancient structure was neither a city nor a military base as assumed by the west, but it was built with religious and symbolic motives for holding the two most important celebrations of Nowruz and Mehregan. In these two celebrations, especially on Nowruz, the king welcomed all the subject lands and cities under the Achaemenids’ rule.
We see a scene of a lion fighting and defeating a cow in Apadana’s steps and many bas-reliefs from ancient times. Many experts consider this symbol as a prominent sign of the art of Mithra, and this battle is, in fact, a symbol of the Mithraic worldview season. The most apparent motive in this regard is the famous symbol of Mithra, i.e., the cross or symbol of the sun engraved on the leg of the lion. The lion symbolizes the sun and the god of the sun and represents heat, and the cow symbolizes the moon and represents winter and cold. This symbolic expression conveys this awareness to the viewer that this place is where they celebrated spring and the ending of winter. It refers to the passing of cold and the victory of heat, which is the emergence of spring and the return of nature, resulting from the battle between heat and cold and the manifestation of Nowruz and spring.
The late Ferdowsi said:
When the sun scratches the back of the cow
Voice of the larks can be heard from the plain
Cypress tree bas relief
Various bas reliefs of flowers and plants, including Cypress trees, in the full view of Persepolis (Apadana), have a clear indication of greenery and the birth of nature and spring growth. In this regard, professor Pope believed that “the temples and gardens are the final examples of this Achaemenid sacred city,” and late Mehrdad Bahar called it a holy garden with stone trees. It deserves here to be reminded of Dr Badrolzaman Gharib’s words, referring to the famous prayer of Darius in Persepolis: “Persepolis is a prayer recited by the stones, it is a hymn in worship of the great God who created the earth, the sky, the people and the joy to bless and increase this beautiful land and good people, to keep it in peace and away from evil and unrest, which is born from lies.”
Indeed, many architectural structures of Persepolis are reminiscent of Persian gardens and nature: the columns signify the tree. In this structure, the gate’s capitals and the porch are a symbol of the sacred palm. And the collar of the capitals is a sample of its withered leaves. “The cypress, the symbol of Ahuramazda, and the palm, the symbol of Mithra and the lotus, are the symbol of Anahita, carved in specific places in Persepolis, and express their beliefs and respect for this Ahuraian gift.” The old cedar tree can still be seen in the sacred and religious places of Iran. Trees, especially cedars and thousands of flowers and plants that symbolize the sun, are seen as a decoration in Iranian art and architecture. It was out of respect for the trees and arboriculture that the Iranians were able to create paradise on this land.
The palaces built-in Persepolis were of two styles, and each had its usage: public palaces and private palaces. Tachara is one of the private palaces of Persepolis, which was built in the south of Apadana. Tachara can be considered as one of the first palaces constructed on the plateau. This palace should be called Darius’ private palace. As it is read in Tachara inscriptions and in idioms used by the people, it was called the auditorium of mirrors (due to the use of polished, smooth and well-carved stones). Tachara and Tazar in the ancient Persian language mean winter palace. The building, unlike the Palace of the Sad Sotoon, as doors face the sun. Perhaps, for this reason, some have considered this palace to be a winter palace, but there is no specific reason to prove it.
This palace s rectangular in design with a length and width of 40 meters *30 meters. It has a 12-column central auditorium with small side rooms and two square-shaped rooms in the north, with four columns and were attached to narrow and long side rooms. There is also an 8-column porch to the south that joins the two side rooms. The pillars of this palace, like other private palaces, were made of wood, which burned completely in the fire said to have been caused by Alexander, and only its stone pillars remain. (It should be remarked that the columns of public palaces are all stone, but in private palaces, wooden columns are used.) Carved reliefs on the staircase walls and the palace also show the servants holding the kitchen utensils and dishes inwards and facing the inside of the palace. These servants have also been portrayed with median and Persian clothing; some have beards and mustaches, some have no beards or mustaches, which are thought to have been the second group of courtiers. We also see soldiers carrying the inscriptions carved by Xerxes. The theme is as follows: “according to the will of Ahuramazda this (Tachara) was built by Darius Shah – my father. May Ahuramazda and other gods protect me and what I did and what my father, Darius Shah, did.”
This inscription proves that the southern part of Tachara was completed in the time of Xerxes. The palace gates are also embedded with Darius and his crew’s depictions and reports of the battle of the king and the lion, or a demonic animal. The decorations on Darius’ carving (such as earrings, collars, crowns) were made of gold and jewelry and placed in stone. Above the south gate, where the king is shown leaving the palace, is a cuneiform inscription that says: “Darius, the great king, king of kings, son of Vishtaspa from the Achaemenid descent that built this Tachara”. On the palace walls we see inscription from later historic eras, the oldest of which belongs to the Shapur II Sassanid and in the Sassanid Pahlavi script.
Xerxes’ private palace is built on a high hill southeast of Persepolis. This palace is named Hadish according to an inscription carved on the stone wall on its northern porch. The text of this inscription says: Xerxes, the great king, says “I built Hadish upon the will of Ahuramazda. My Ahuramazda and other gods protect me and my country and what I have done.”
This palace is bigger than Darius’ Tachara palace. It has a central auditorium with 36 columns believed to be made of wood, a 12-column porch to the north, a narrow porch to the south, and several small rooms to the east and west. It is close to 2550 square meters. The palace was severely damaged, and its stones were probably damaged in Alexander’s fire due to not being very strong, and the head of the rocks, windows, and gates was broken.
At the two south and north gates, Xerxes and his servants are holding umbrellas, towels, and flappers is carved, and on the doorways of the east and west chambers, a special court crew is carved holding a firebox, perfumers, and towels. A noteworthy point in this palace is decorations inside the windows and a catch on some of the windows. These reliefs include crews carrying something on their shoulders or hands and goats and hunt in some windows. But in the west of Hadish Palace and a little lower (south of Tachara courtyard) the remains of several rows of foundation of pillars are seen which should be belonging to a building’s diagram. The northern wall of this building is made of same stone cutting as the southern wall of the courtyard of Tachara palace, and it seems that this building had a 100 sqm auditorium with pillars and some rooms and a porch on its sides.
Some excavators have related this building to Ardeshir from the inscriptions between the wall drawings. Yet, some disagree with this theory due to the type of construction and foundation of the palace, which sometimes does not resemble Achaemenid fortification. Since the wind always blows from the south to the north and the south of Hadish Palace is open and higher than the more southern palaces, the breeze coming out of the opening in the middle of the auditorium acted as a natural air-conditioner. Like most other palaces of Persepolis, there are many reliefs and inscriptions in this palace’s gates that belong to Xerxes.
Central palace or Council Hall
In the center of the royal pavilion, we see a small rectangular palace called the central palace because it is located among Persepolis’ other palaces and is the connection between these palaces. This structure leads to other palaces through three gates (multi-corridors), and for this reason, it is also called the Three Gates Palace.
On the palace’s east door, 28 delegates of the Achaemenid nations are engraved, holding Aurangzeb. Darius the Great is sitting on the throne, and his crown prince Xerxes is standing behind him. Perhaps this relief’s existence confirms that this palace was built in Darius’s reign (but some evidence related to the type of carving and architecture that is more beautiful and advanced than the Darius period’s palaces may prove that the palace was built in the reign of xerxes, or more likely, Ardeshir I). Above Darius’s head, we see a famous figure that is often seen in Persepolis’ palaces. This relief is a combination of a winged orb. A human figure (probably the king) in the middle of its ring is raising his right hand in worship and prayer. The other hand has a ring. Some have suggested this relief to be Ahuramazda.
For various reasons, and according Heredotus, the Iranians never painted or carved their gods or gods’ images. Since Ahura Mazda was a god in that religion, this hypothesis cannot be cited. Perhaps the best interpretation would be to call it (Far-e Kiyani) the power of a king, as it has a special meaning in our myths; as the guardian and approver of the government and its legitimacy.
In the northern part of the palace, there are two-sided stairs that lead to the eastern courtyard of Apadana Palace. This staircase has unparalleled beauty and elegance. On the staircase walls, Iranian nobles and aristocrats are carved, whose prominent position can be recognized by their clothing and behavior. The exterior surfaces of the stairs are also decorated with images of archers (median and Persian). Perhaps the drawings on the walls are stairs tell for themselves the purpose of building this palace. These carvings exhibit the country’s nobles and the government officials who are amicably and in a counseling mood climbing the stairs. It seems that these officials visited this palace for counseling and conferring about national and governmental affairs and therefore this palace is also called the council hall. The palace consists of a central auditorium and two north and south porches. The palace’s main auditorium has a little over 240 square meters with four stone pillars with elegant and unique capitals that support the ceiling. The capitals on the pillars were in the shape of a man with cow’s body, which perhaps due to the type of use of the palace, which was a place for thought, thinking, consultation and conferral, this capital could have been suitable for these occasions. The ceilings of the north and south porches were each raised with two stone pillars.
Ladies’ Palace and the Treasury of Persepolis
No carvings of the woman or women who lived in the pavilion can be seen in the reliefs of Persepolis. Undoubtedly, due to high respect and dignity given to women during the Akhaemenid period, a special palace was allocated to them. From the type of architecture and walls surrounding one of Persepolis and its single small entrance from the northwest, it is assumed that this was the palace of the ladies in Persepolis. Tourists now visit part of this palace as the Achaemenid Museum of Persepolis, designed and restored by Ernst Herzfeld based on the original designs. According to the inscriptions found from Xerxes in this palace, we can consider that this building was built in the reign of Xerxes.
But, on the east of the ladies’ palace and on the southeast of Takht-e Jamshid, we can see the ruins of a structure consisting of an auditorium with 99 pillars and one parlor with 100 pillars and a number of rooms and corridors and open courtyards, altogether measuring 1,385 sqm. This area is known as the treasury of Takht-e Jamshid. On the east of the treasury (east of the 99 pillar hall), one the wall of its porch, reliefs of two beautiful and interesting assemblies of Darius in an official ceremony, and crown prince, Xerxes, were affixed. One of them which was more exquisite and outstanding was transferred to the museum of ancient Iran.
At present the other assembly is being kept in its own place. It is thought that this assembly previously belonged to another spot, which may have been the northern staircase of Apadana, and later moved to this spot and was the general audience of Xerxes.
In the assembly, the king is dressed in an official attire, sitting on an adorned chair with a royal scepter in his right hand and a lotus flower (this design can be found all over Persepolis; it is the symbol of peace and friendship, taken from Cyrus’s philosophy: conquer hearts, not nations). In his left hand is a lotus flower and a beautiful stool under his feet, which have been carved with great precision and elegance. Standing behind the king is the crown prince holding up his right hand, which is assumed to mean he is inaugurating the general audience and in his left hand a lotus. Behind the crown prince two noblemen of the court are standing, one of them holding a royal towel, and the other carrying the king’s bow, archer and ax. Behind two of the northern guards can be seen. One of the Median nobles, has his hand close to his mouth as a gesture of respect, and is reporting to the king. There are two censers in front of him, which are located and connected to the censers’ body by a delicate chain. Two Persian spearmen stand behind him.
Sad-Sotoon Palace (Throne Auditorium)
The second most expansive palace in Takht-e Jamshid is Sad-Sotoon (100 pillars) palace. It is situated in the east of the palace courtyard. With about 4,744 sqm, one hundred stone pillars with a height of 14 meters, it is the largest and most spacious indoor auditorium of Persepolis. According to Professor Schmidt, it was the largest indoor hall of the ancient world. As written on an inscription in this auditorium by Ardeshir I, discovered by Hertzfeld, construction was started by Xerxes and completed by Ardeshir I. The inscription is as follows: “Ardeshir Shah says, Xerxes, my father founded this house. Approved by Ahuramazda. I, Ardeshir Shah, fulfilled and finished it.” Analysis of the throne auditorium design shows that this auditorium has 8 doorways: two in the north and two in the south, also 4 relatively small doorways in the east and west.
At the northern doorway for each pilaster 5 rows in each of which 10 Median and Persian soldiers are carved alternatively, with weapons and military equipment, on top of which is the throne of the king. In each of the 10-man row 5 soldiers are standing on the right and 5 on the left, facing each other and looking into the space in the middle.
Above these officers is scene of general audience where Ardeshir I is sitting on a throne and two censors are placed before him. A man, dressed as a Median, is standing behind the king, holding a cane and showing respect to the king by holding his hand in front of his mouth, and behind him a man is standing dressed as a Persian, and holding a censor. Three more men are standing behind the king, one of whom is a eunuch in a Persian attire, holding a flapper above the king’s head, and a towel in his other hand. The second is a man dressed as a Median, carrying shards, axes and boys of the king. The last one is a Persian soldier holding a spear. Both northern doorways are decorated with these carvings.
But, southern doorways show representatives of subordinate nations lifting the royal throne. On each side of the doorway 14 representatives of subordinate nations are depicted (both sides of the doorway had upto 28 representatives), wearing their own country’s clothes, cap and decorations, and carrying the royal throne. On top of this relief Ardeshir is sitting on a throne, and a eunuch with a towel and a flapper in his hands is standing behind him. These depictions are repeated in both the southern doorways. We can also see the king in battle with a mountain cow and a roaring lion.
Dr. Kourosh Salary, Professor and Researcher in History and Culture