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Published: July 17th 2017
Sassanian stone relief.
Drink wine and look at the moon and think of all the civilizations the moon has seen passing by. - Omar Khayyam
Our second day in Iran began a bit earlier, and we were picked up by our guide and his driver to make the journey outside the city to several ancient historical sights – particular highlights for Clement. We began at the Necropolis, the dynastic burial place of four Achaemenid kings, Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xerxes I (from left to right). There are bas-relief renderings of their palace facades carved above the tombs, and the openings lead to funerary chambers, where bones were stored after vultures had picked them clean. All the tombs had been ransacked by the Greeks – a common practice at the time for invading powers – but the tombs themselves, impressively cut into the hillside, as well as some magnificent and instructive carvings, remain to be admired. Eight Sassanian stone reliefs cut into the cliffs depict scenes of imperial conquests and royal ceremonies. Facing the cliff is the Kaba Zartosht, a limestone building which may have originally been a Zoroastrian temple, or perhaps a treasury or minor tomb.
Tombs of Darius II, Artaxerxes I and Darius I.
up was Persepolis, founded by Darius I in 515 BCE as the capital of the Achaemenid Empire and, according to Lonely Planet, the most important archeological site of the ancient Near East. Persian in design but international in its architecture, the palace was added to by subsequent Persian kings for more than 150 years. There are about fifteen major buildings, including the Apadana, the Hall of a Hundred Columns, the Gate House of Xerxes, the Treasury, the Harem and the private palaces of the different rulers. At the head of the monumental double-ramped staircase is the Gate of All Nations, built by Xerxes and still surviving intact. Sacked and burned down by Alexander the Great in 330 BCE and further destroyed by the Arabs, who believed the site to be a former pagan temple, what remains is undoubtedly impressive. Built on the slopes of Mt Rahmat, the city, designed to awe visitors with its scale and beauty, served this purpose most spectacularly during the annual Noruz celebration, when subjects came from across the empire bearing gifts to their kings.
Persepolis justified an entire day and then some but our itinerary dictated an uninspired lunch at Laneh Tavoos Restaurant, followed
Sassanian stone relief.
by a trip to the tomb of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire (550-300 BCE), the first world empire, and the father of Persia, at Pasargadae. Once surrounded by gardens, his tomb, six stone tiers topped with rectangular burial chamber, combines architectural elements of all the major civilizations that Cyrus had conquered. Cyrus was praised even by his enemies for his justness in outlawing slavery and his support of the freedom of religion and culture for the people he conquered. Like all the tombs in the area the building is all that’s left; when Alexander visited in 330 BCE he found the tomb already plundered of its gold sarcophagus and treasure.
In the evening we finally made it to the Vakil Bazaar, the most famous bazaar in Shiraz and one of the most atmospheric bazaars in Iran, which I found to be terrific, although our guide seemed to think that the shopping in Isfahan was preferable. See previous entry for photos. Hundreds of lovely handicraft stores, spice shops and carpet merchants collected under beautifully tiled ceilings, with a few tiny tea shops tucked away for good measure. A wonderful place to linger and explore.
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