Persepolis – The ceremonial city of King Darius

Beautiful reliefs in Persepolis take you back in history

Gate of all Nations, Persepolis Iran.

Gate of all Nations, Persepolis Iran.

Persepolis, the name has a mythical timbre and captures the imagination. For over a year we have planned a trip to Iran and looked forward to visiting the ancient city of Persepolis. We start early in the morning in a minibus with a private driver and guide and drive north from Shiraz. We drive across fertile plains where they still grow wheat. After an hour a mountain range is popping up in the horizon. The closest mountain is Kuh-i-Rahmat or Mount of Mercy. The mountain was sacred to the Persian rulers who build Persepolis on a shelf at the foot of the mountain, as far back in time as 520 years BC. Persepolis is the Greek name of the city and means City of Persia. The original name would have been Parsa. It is believed that this surely was a ceremonial capital, partly to entertain guests.

An avenue is leading up to Persepolis, Iran.
An avenue is leading up to Persepolis, Iran.

We arrive Persepolis in a light drizzle and there are few other tourists on the huge parking lot only a few hundred meters from the famous city. A powerful sight meets us when we wander up against Kuh-i-Rahmat and recognizes the two major stairs that runs along the crumbling wall up to the plateau where the city is situated. Huge boulders are forming a wall and on each side long stairs runs along the wall and up to the Gate of all Nations, Xerexes Gateway. This is a fabulous monument and it is only when you have climbed all the steps that you really get an idea of how impressive the meeting with Persepolis must have been for people at that time. Two big bulls, fabulous carved out of stone, towers over you and it is completely incomprehensible to understand how they for 2,500 years ago could manage to mount these great monuments.

My first impression is a huge devoutness to the history that this place represents. It is so beautiful and so incredibly big, but at the same time the characters’ details are so intricate that it is hardly possible to understand. We often make mental pictures of places we have wanted to visit for a long time, my pictures were tall pillars with horses on top and endless colonnades spread out on a mountain plateau. The reality was so much more. The pillars were impressive, but the biggest surprise was all the beautiful reliefs that are incredibly well preserved.

Some of the reliefs in Persepolis, Iran.
The great lion relief in Persepolis, Iran.

Our guide tells us that the reliefs were originally polished so they got completely black; they were so shiny that they reflected like mirrors and pillars and figures were painted in bright colors. We walk devoutly through the area and our guide is like an unstoppable Reference book and can obviously the story in and out. We are eager listeners, yet I know that there is so much I will forget tomorrow. I concentrate on enjoying the atmosphere, the beautiful art and dream about how everyday life could have been here around 2,500 years ago.

“Women and men received equal pay for equal work”. I wake from my fantasies and listen to the guide who continues to tell about how life was here before. “We know this with certainty,” she continues. “When the new laws were adopted, they were written down and sent out to all parts of the kingdom, to every Governor. Pregnant women were given time off with pay and could be home with the children for a period. The women was strong and free in this society, “says the guide. I sense sadness in her voice; you can not exactly say that about the position of women in Iran today. I wonder why this story, this fantastic history cannot inspire the rulers in Iran today. But today, women here are not supposed to be visible.

Persepolis Iran.
Persepolis Iran.

Persepolis was founded by king Darius the 1st and served as ceremonial capital from year 550 to 330 BC. Already in 1979 Persepolis was put on UNESCO World Heritage List. The French archaeologist André Godard worked with the excavation of Persepolis in the 1830`s. According to Godard they dated findings back to the year 518 BC. Persepolis was built on a natural ledge on the hillside at the foot of Kuh-i-Rahmat. King Darius built a huge palace complex inspired by Mesopotamia. We know it was Dario because of an inscription found on the southern part of the plateau. Before construction could start, the landscape was shaped so that the plateau became a more distinct terrace as the foundation for the city. At that time, there were three other capitals in the kingdom and they all had different functions.

Persepolis is divided into three areas; military area, treasury and reception area and finally the residential areas consisting of large palaces. The ruins show that the palaces were built in dark gray marble. Fifteen columns still stand today. Alexander the Great destroyed Persepolis. He burned down the city and looted the treasury in the year 330 BC.

Persepolis Iran.
Persepolis Iran.
Persepolis Iran.
Persepolis Iran.


Nekropolis / Naghshe Rostam

Necropolis is situated just a few kilometers from Persepolis and the name means the city of Death. Necropolis is a burial place northwest of Persepolis. The oldest parts are dating back to approximately 1000 years BC. Four tombs belonging to kings of Achaemenid dynasty is here. The tombs are carved out in the mountain and the entrance to each tomb is at the center of the cross, the shape of the mountain excavation is like a cross.

The king was put in a sarcophagus inside the grave. One grave is identified as the tomb of Darius I. We know this for sure because of an inscription in the mountain.

Nekropolis / Naghshe Rostam in Iran.
Nekropolis / Naghshe Rostam in Iran.


Naqsh-e Rajab:

Naqsh-e Rajab is an archaeological excavation site just a few hundred meters from Necropolis. Along with Nekropolis, this constitutes a center for Marvdasht culture. The site consists of 4 reliefs on the mountainside dating back to the Sassanid era.

The fire temple at
The fire temple at Necropolis, Iran.
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