Day 67 (1): The rise and fall of the great Persian empire

Persepolis Travel Blog

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buying a ticket for Persepolis
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Michael (Australia), Bas (Netherlands), Pooya (Iran)

Persepolis. A name that is almost synonymous with the ancient Persian empire and one of the things that first sparked my interest in the country. I must admit that I had been a bit disappointed with Iran so far in terms of ancient relics. I had expected there to be more, much like my trip to Syria and Jordan three years ago. However, the Romans never got this far east and whatever great cities there may have been in the Persia of old were all but destroyed by the Arab, Mongol and Timurid invasions. Persepolis is in fact the only major site in the country that (sort of) survived these three invasions.
First view of Persepolis
Probably because the city had already been crumbling to dust for at least 1000 years before the Arabs came.

After my failed attempt to organise a tour with 7 people to the site, we had decided to do the trip with just two others. Bas is a Dutch guy I had been in touch with for a few weeks, but hadn't met until now. He is hitch-hiking his way east and would be travelling pretty much the same route as me (though as it later turned out he had to change his plans and travel to India via Dubai). We met up with him and Pooya, his CS host, at the bus station. Pooya had arranged for a taxi (a Paykan, or course) to drive us to Persepolis and back and stop at some more sights on the way as well.

Though we had left for Persepolis first thing in the morning, by the time we got to the site the sun was already too high in the sky to make any decent photos.
Xerxes' Gateway (Gate of all nations)
The disadvantage of travelling in summer...

Legend has it the site of Persepolis was chosen by the son of ancient Persia's most beloved king, Cyrus the Great, but it wasn't until the 6th century BC that a city was actually built at the site. The place was the capital of the Persian empire for more than 150 years. The demise of the city came when Alexander the Great stampeded through this place on his way east and burned the place. (there is still debate whether the fire that destroyed the city was started after drunken accident or a deliberate revenge of Persian king Xerxes' sacking of the Acropolis of Athens years before).

Entrance to the site was incredibly cheap. Only $ 0.50, the same price as every other government-run site in the country. While this seems great news for visitors, it is actually a very bad thing.
Bas, Bart, Michael and Pooya at Persepolis
Though the site is regulated by the government, it doesn't receive any government funding. Pooya told us that the Supreme Leader visited the place a few years ago, but he “didn't like it”. After all, it pre-dates Islam, so as far as the Leader is concerned it is not of interest to the Iranian people. I think we should be lucky it still exists, it would not surprise me at all if the Iranian government would decide to destroy the site.

So this means that what little money the foundation has to operate and maintain the site comes from either private donations or from UNESCO. That this is not enough to hire enough ushers to prevent people from scratching their names in the ancient monuments (or worse). So instead they closed off almost half the site for visitors, in an attempt to protect it for future generations.
Apadana staircase


Despite this inconvenience, what is left to see here is nothing short of stunning. Though most of the buildings have collapsed and rubble has been cleared from the site to leave lone columns of the Apadana Palace standing, the famous staircase to the palace has remained largely intact. Bas-reliefs on the side of staircase depict the arrival of delegations to meet the king on three tiers (the royals on the top level, and the two ancient Iranian rivals, the Persians and the Medes, on the two tiers below). I don't think there is anything like this elsewhere in the world. While the Romans may have left stunning monuments dotted around the Mediterranean, to my knowledge there is no other piece of art from this age that is so well-preserved as these bas-reliefs.

Another terrific monument is the Gate of All Nations, or Xerxes gate.
Apadana staircase (with Pooya becoming a genuine tourguide)
You know, Xerxes, that giant gay man from that movie a few years ago? Turns out that when not killing Spartans he was actually quite the diplomat, establishing some sort of United Nations for 23 befriended nations known at the time.

We spent much longer wandering around the site than planned. We had agreed with our driver to spend 2 hours at Persepolis, but when the two hours were up, we hadn't even seen half of it, so we asked Pooya to call the driver and convince him to wait an extra hour (all for a small extra fee of course)
Part of our slow process was in fact caused by Pooya, who acted like a genuine tour guide by telling us all sorts of interesting facts about the place (and more so about Iran after the fall of Persepolis).
 
After we had seen enough of Persepolis (and the heat was forcing us to retreat to some shade, something which is horribly absent from the site) our driver took us to two more places nearby: Naqsh-e Rajab and Naqsh-e Rostam.
Naqsh-e Rostam
Especially the latter was quite stunning. Both places are tombs  of ancient kings and Naqsh-e Rostam is believed to be the final resting place of Darius I & II, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I. Their tombs lie (or lay, as the graves have long since been robbed) in Petra style chambers hewn into the soft rock.

We were back in Shiraz just after midday and had a nice lunch with the four of us, after which we went our separate ways again.
 
edsander says:
Looks like a genuine highlight indeed. The artwork reminds me of things I've seen on the Nile cruise.
Posted on: Jul 18, 2010
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buying a ticket for Persepolis
buying a ticket for Persepolis
First view of Persepolis
First view of Persepolis
Xerxes Gateway (Gate of all natio…
Xerxes' Gateway (Gate of all nati…
Bas, Bart, Michael and Pooya at Pe…
Bas, Bart, Michael and Pooya at P…
Apadana staircase
Apadana staircase
Apadana staircase (with Pooya beco…
Apadana staircase (with Pooya bec…
Naqsh-e Rostam
Naqsh-e Rostam
buying a ticket for Persepolis: a …
buying a ticket for Persepolis: a…
Xerxes Gateway (Gate of all natio…
Xerxes' Gateway (Gate of all nati…
Xerxes Gateway (Gate of all natio…
Xerxes' Gateway (Gate of all nati…
Xerxes Gateway (Gate of all natio…
Xerxes' Gateway (Gate of all nati…
Apadana Palace
Apadana Palace
Columns of Apadana palace
Columns of Apadana palace
Apadana palace
Apadana palace
Apadana staircase
Apadana staircase
Apadana palace
Apadana palace
Apadana staircase
Apadana staircase
ancient scriptings
ancient scriptings
Apadana palace
Apadana palace
Apadana staircase
Apadana staircase
Apadana staircase
Apadana staircase
Tomb of Ataxerxes II
Tomb of Ataxerxes II
Tomb of Ataxerxes II
Tomb of Ataxerxes II
Panaroma of Persepolis
Panaroma of Persepolis
The beaked horse-creatures, a symb…
The beaked horse-creatures, a sym…
getting back to our taxi (of cours…
getting back to our taxi (of cour…
Naqsh-e Rajab
Naqsh-e Rajab
Kaba Zartosht
Kaba Zartosht
Reliefs at Naqsh-e Rostam
Reliefs at Naqsh-e Rostam
Persepolis
photo by: Vlindeke