While Europeans were swinging from the trees and bashing each other with clubs, there was the Persian empire. At its height, it spanned India in the east to Bulgaria (just north of Greece for the geographically inept). It was huge, extremely cultured and civilized. The Persians were known for being benevolent invaders, choosing not to oppress and not to integrate, but rather respect and maintain cultural identity where possible. For those of you that are familiar with the biblical stories, King Darius (Daniel and the lions den), King Cyrus (the king who let Nehemiah rebuild Jerusalem's walls) and King Xerxes (the king in Esther), I'm sure you have noticed that the kings were benevolent. The Persians also perfected the postal system and were able to deliver mail from India to Europe in fifteen days (mail from Australia to my home in China still takes more than 15 days!).
Alas a not-so-benevolent and slightly barbaric invader, Alexander the Great, burned the place down. Story has it (not fully accepted as official) that when he captured Persepolis, he tried to sit on the royal throne, but being short, his feet didn't reach the floor. Somebody laughed, and this so enraged Alexander that
he gave the order to raze the place. Regardless of what happened, it is a fact that Alexander completely ruined what was a beautiful palace.
Persepolis also has modern day significance. It was here that the last Shah of Iran held an immensely opulent party to celebrate 2500 years since the Persian empire. Dignitaries from more than 60 countries were invited and entertained in extravagance from the government coffers. This so enraged the Iranian people and the celebration was one of the straws that broke the back of the camel that ushered in the 1979 Iranian revolution and Imam Khomeini.
Today there is still plenty to see at Persepolis, though some degree of imagination is needed to bring it to life. It helped that we had seen some of the restored/painted pieces in the Louvre, so being able to contextualize those further helped build a mental picture. Our guide Ali proved invaluable here, and I would highly recommend visiting with somebody knowledgeable or you may leave feeling underwhelmed. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of impressive structures, but Persian history is something I guess most of us aren't aware of and thus relying on the lonely
planet to bring this place to life isn't going to work.
One of our favorite parts of Persepolis was the entry gate which is in great condition. We were blessed with a pure blue sky and so photos came out awesomely. There was also the ceremonial palace which was used in antiquity to celebrate the new year. Dignitaries from over 60 countries would travel from around the empire bringing gifts. The remains of the palace still have carvings showing these folks, each in their own style of clothes and bearing unique gifts. There are also many carvings hidden in doorways that you likely wouldn't notice unless walking around. These are well preserved due to being shaded from the elements.
Finally on the far corner is a visually uninteresting treasury but interestingly was where tablets were discovered that proved that the Persians were super advanced in workers rights. The tablets showed that Persians did not use slaves but rather paid salaries, had equal salaries between men and women, and even provided fully paid maternity benefits. Didn't expect to find that in Iran!
After Persepolis we made a small detour to visit Nashq-e Rostam, a royal necropolis (tombs of
dead kings). Some pretty famous guys including Darius and Xerxes are buried here, together with other kings from the great Persian empire and the Sassanid empire (an AD Persian empire). There are many really well kept tombs carved into the side of a mountain set in the midst of nothingness. Very picturesque. There are also numerous carvings all in pristine condition, including a really impressive carving around the corner showing one of the kings stomping on the head of defeated kings and receiving a ring of power from Ahura Mazda (God in Zoroastrianism).
For lunch we headed back to Shiraz for a customary meal of kebabs and stews at the Shiraz bazaar. The afternoon was then spent exploring the bazaar area as well as the nearby mosque. They were nice, but nothing spectacular compared to what we saw later in Iran.
At night we headed to a restaurant we had seen near the Quran gate for a meal of dizi. Dizi is a special stew that's meant to be eaten in a special way. Its confusing as a tourist because when they first lay it on the table, you have no idea what to do. The restaurant staff
Nashq-e Rostam - Necropolis near persepolis
Nobody knows what this was for. It could have been a fire temple.
didn't speak any English, so we basically mimed our way through it trying to figure out the right way to eat it. Unfortunately the right way to eat dizi includes smashing, dipping, scooping and pouring, and none of those gestures make a lot of sense when you are miming. We figured it out in the end thankfully because we remembered there was a mention of this in the lonely planet. For reference, what you're meant to do is scoop the soup out into a bowl and eat it with bread. You then use a big metal smasher thing they give you to mush up the stew (which contains lamb and beans). Since the soup has all been taken out, you're left with a fairly thick sludge which is yummy though not beautiful.
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