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We watched the sunrise over Persepolis from the car and, just before 8am, walked across to the kiosk to buy our tickets. Needless to say it was sometime after 8am that the shutters lifted and we were able to hand over a total of 40,000 Rials (£1 sterling) for the three of us to enter the site. I benefit from the “Iranian Rate” tickets as an Iranian passport holder but if you visit as a tourist, you will be charged $5 per person! I do get some funny looks when I claim my Iranian rate and at times have to show my passport to prove I am Feri’s wife and not some incredibly rich western woman travelling with a personal guide, but it can be amusing.

The terrace020

Persepolis is built on a large flat outcrop at the foot of the Mountain of Mercy and is about 1,770m above sea level. The terrace itself constitutes a platform about 15m above ground level as you approach the entrance and that in itself is incredibly imposing. You have to crane your neck to see the highest columns against the stark blue sky. The natural outcrop was reinforced and levelled out by using enormous pieces of limestone quarried 40km away and hauled to the site on wooden log rollers. The stones were put into place using ramps, timber scaffolds and frames which held the necessary ropes and pulleys. It must have taken hundreds, if not thousands of men and many years just to build the platform but it was certainly built to last and remains largely intact despite Alexander’s best attempts to raze it to the ground.

The staircase

To reach the terrace and the city of Persepolis you must first negotiate the grand staircase and every one of the 111 steps. Each step is 7m long, 38cm wide and 10cm high. There are in fact, two staircases; twin flights of steps which diverge from the middle of the platform first heading away from each other, then, halfway up, changing direction so that they converge at the top. Whichever staircase you take, the view becomes ever more panoramic as you reach the terrace and from the top, you can see for hundreds of miles across the plain; a great advantage in times of conflict when the advantage of a surprise attack is stripped away from your enemies.

Gate of All Lands

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The first palace that you reach from the staircase is called the Gate of All Lands. It was here that guests sat on large stone benches awaiting their audience with the King. Some of the walls remain as do two of the original columns. The East portal is well-preserved and bears the design of two figures made up of the body of a bull, with eagle wings and heads of bearded humans. The detailed carving  is astonishing.

The Apadana

The Apadana is the largest of the palaces; scholars estimate that it took more than 30 years to build and was in use for almost two centuries. This is where the King of Kings met the nobility and gift-bearers who came from all over the Persian Empire. The remains of the palace still standing suggest that the palace was originally over 20m high and dominated the entire complex. Out of its 72 columns, only 14 remain but even these few that remain give you an idea of how magnificent the palace would have been in its heyday.  A few bases without their columns are still in place, as are the griffin capitals which were destined for the column tops but, for reasons unknown, were never put in place. The griffin is now the corporate symbol of Iran Air.

It is in the Apadana ruins that the best bas-reliefs adorn the staircases and provide an amazing living history of the different nations that visited Persepolis. The carvings show their traditional clothing and the type of gifts that they brought to Persia and the King of Kings and it is fascinating to look closely at each group of delegates and “spot the difference.”

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Next time: We leave Perseoplis and travel to nearby Naqsh-e-Rostam before heading into Shiraz for our overnight stay.

 

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078Once upon a time many moons ago, I was possibly one of the minority who looked forward to our divinity (Religious Education) lessons with eager anticipation. I’m sure that many people remember RE as turgid, irrelevant and with repetitious stories told without much discussion or debate and certainly without the benefit of the associated ancient history which helps put so much into perspective. I was lucky in this respect. Our teacher was the school chaplain who was classically educated and we benefited not only from his knowledge of  Latin, Greek and Hebrew but also his extensive understanding of the ancient history and physical geography so important both then and now in our understanding of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

I fondly remember lessons peppered with wonderful words like Mesopotamia, Euphrates, Persia, and Cedars of Lebanon, Babylon, Medina, Tigris and Elamites. All strangely unfamiliar at first but nevertheless listening intently to the teachings of Reverend Cox, I was able to conjure up visions of what life was like during the period just before and after the birth of Christ. I didn’t know at the time of course, but these lessons are proving invaluable when visiting Iran and the ancient historic sites I bookmark before we travel.

One name stood out; that of Alexander the Great. By all accounts, Alexander was a very young and handsome, gifted and successful soldier who, by the age of thirty, had created one of the largest empires in the Ancient World. Mention Alexander the Great in our house however and this “drunken marauderer” is looked upon with disdain. From a Persian perspective, and having now visited the ancient ruins of Persepolis, I understand why. It was during Alexander’s visit in 330BC, and as a result of a drunken orgy, that the Persian capital city was sacked and burned to the ground. The huge ceiling timbers burned to such a degree that they melted the metal fixings which held the structures together and the result was devastation. The impressive ruins which are left for us to see today were lost for centuries, covered completely by dust and sand, until the 1930’s when excavation started and the amazing relics were revealed.

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I have always wanted to visit Persepolis and on our most recent trip to Iran  we were able to fit this long-awaited adventure into our busy schedule. Being a 6-hour drive south from our home base in Esfahan it was at midnight on the first Tuesday of our holiday that Feri confirmed that everything was “all sorted” (please remember that statement of assurance for a later instalment) leaving Rahmon, our trusty driver whom you know from previous adventures, to load the car. We set off aiming to reach Persepolis for sunrise.

The journey was uneventful and we actually arrived at Persepolis before sunrise which gave us the opportunity to watch the sun come up over the Mountain of Mercy which shelters the ancient pillars and stones. The clear dawn light gave the site a fresh, early morning glow and took the edge off a slightly chilly start to the day.

We made the decision to enter the site as soon as it opened at 8am so we could explore as much as possible before noon. In hindsight this was good thinking as the ruins cover a much larger area than I imagined and there is little refuge from the searing midday heat on the lower plains.

Persepolis is a Greek word for “City of the Persians.” The Iranians however call it Takht-e-Jamshid or “Throne of Jamshid. ” It has also been known as “Forty Minarets” and “A Hundred Pillars.” Whatever its name at a particular time, even in its ruined state the site is truly magnificent and I would love to have seen it in its heyday when it spread over an area of 125,000 square metres. I can only imagine the sheer size of the columns and pillars holding up enormous wooden ceilings carved from whole tree trunks; grand halls which, according to archaeologists and historians, were decorated throughout with black marble, gold leaf, exquisite drapes and no doubt, traditional Persian carpets made especially for the King. The spectacle of visiting peoples from subject nations paying homage to the King, sweeping up the great staircases with their tributes of animals, gold jewellery, fabrics and other precious gifts, would have been a sight to behold.

The words “awesome”, breath-taking” and “overwhelming” cannot convey the true magnificence of the buildings and the stunning carvings and bas-reliefs which have miraculously survived for centuries against all the odds. I will try however to put my experience into words and give you some idea of how remarkable these ruins are and how fearsome and awe-inspiring the newly built site would have been to Persia’s neighbours and enemies at the time.

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Next time….how Persepolis was built, the staircase and entrance through the Gate of all Lands, the Apadana and the amazing bas-reliefs

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