Firuzabad Fire Temple

About a one hour (60 km) drive south from Shiraz is Firuzabad, a small town in the province of Fars, Iran. The town is in a very dry and hot low-lying region, which makes it about at least 5 degrees Celsius hotter than Shiraz. Originally, the city was called Gur, which was destroyed by Alexander of Macedonia. Centuries later, the location was taken over by the Sassanians, who formed the Sassanid dynasty. The province of Fars, Iran was the birthplace of two dynasties 1) the Achaemenids founded by Cyrus the great and 2) the Sassanians founded by the Ardeshir son of Papak.

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At the center point of the town of Firuzabad is an ancient fire temple, the temple is 30 meters high and circular in its architectural design. There is debate amongst historians about when and why the temple was built. Some mention the site as a fire temple built by the Sassanids, others believe it to have been a palace built by Ardeshir during the late Parthian or Sassanian times.

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The conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great in 330 BC did not fully destroy the temple however.

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The palace/temple of Ardeshir over looks a small lake fed by a rich spring. The placement of the lake is really miraculous, given that Firuzabad is so hot and dry. The color of the water is amazing as well, it’s so bright and clear that you can see right to the bottom of the lake. The water from the lake was used to feed the city of Gur.

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 It is believed that a Persian style garden surrounded the lake and the palace.

DSC01222 The arched entry way was built later in the Parthian era, it is a design found mainly in Sassanian palaces. Some homes in Firuzabad have this style architecture as well. As you walk into the palace, you immediately see these very tall doorways which lead to a large 44 foot archway built in 224 AD, the throne room can be entered through this gate.

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Within the palace there are many small doorways that are all built with the similar style arch.

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One of the doorways connecting two of the large rooms, the doorways measure about 20 feet tall.

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The throne room is a large majestic room with the height of a three story building. What is amazing about this room is that there are still remnants of plaster left on the walls which depict patterns from the Achaemenid dynasty.

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There are a couple of tall rooms within the palace that have dome style ceilings with open holes at the top. This is believed to have been the throne room. I believe that if the palace was actually a fire temple, these ceilings were made to function as chimneys.

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The palace used to have multiple stories as is obvious from the stairway built off of the entrance of the building but they have been destroyed. All that remains of the upper floors is the beginning of a stairwell and remnants of the walls.

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A panoramic view of the outside of the temple. As can be seen, the side walls of many of the rooms are completely gone and so are most of the ceilings. Much of the structure still remains after eighteen centuries, which is really amazing given its age and the battles it has withheld.

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The image above is very amazing (best for last!). Driving from Shiraz to Firuzabad, you drive through and by a lot of tall mountains. On some of these mountains are carvings from the Achaemenid and Sassasin periods. I took this picture out of the window of a moving car using a zoom lens so it is a bit blurry but it is carved high up on the mountain and is about 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It is a carving from the Sassanian dynasty and portrays the coronation of Ardeshir I, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty.

Naqsh-e Rustam

Naqsh-e Rustam is an ancient “graveyard” about 12 km from Persepolis. PSA: we arrived here a couple of minutes after 6 PM and unfortunately the gates were closed so I had to view the tombs from behind the gates and managed to snap some quick photos.

The oldest site at Naqsh-e Rustam dates back to 1000 BC. At the site, there are four Achaemenid tombs that belonged to Achaemenid kings. The tombs are carved out of the rock in the mountainside at a considerable height above ground. The tombs are known as the “Persian crosses” and the entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross. In the chamber within the tomb, the king was buried in a sarcophagus.

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One of the tombs is explicitly identified as belonging to Darius I the Great. The other three are believed to be those of Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. The tombs were looted following the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great.

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Persepolis

 

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Persepolis is one of the oldest and most famous historical sites that stands in Iran and is definitely one of the most impressive.

 During the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 BC) over 2000 years ago, Persepolis was the capital city of the Persian Empire. In Persian, Persepolis is called “Takhte Jamsheed” (the throne of Jamsheed) and is literally translated to “city of Persians.” The historically famous ancient ruins display Achaemenid style of architecture. It is believed that Cyrus the Great (“Koorosh” in Persian) chose the site for the city, but it was Darius (“Daryoosh”) who was responsible for building the palaces.

Darius ordered the construction of the Apadana Palace and the council hall (the Tripylon) and its surroundings. It was during the reign of Darius’s son Xerxes the Great (“Khashayar”) that the buildings were completed. The buildings at Persepolis include mainly military headquarters, treasuries, and reception halls.

The city of Persepolis was destroyed by Alexander the Great after he invaded Persia in 330 BC in revenge for the Persian king Xerxes destroying the Greek city of Athens.

If you want to visit Persepolis, you have to do a day trip and visit Pasargad and Naghshe Rostam (post to come) all in one day. Persepolis is also located about 2.5 hours away from Shiraz and only about 43 km from Pasargad.

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The “Persepolitan” stairway is a grand staircase that leads up to the main palace. The staircase is double sided and built symmetrically on the western side of the Great Wall.

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“The Gate of all Nations” consisted of a great hall with its entrance on the western wall. A pair of bulls with the heads of bearded men, Lamassus, stand by the western threshold. Another pair, with wings and a Persian head (Gopat-Shah), stands by the eastern entrance, to reflect the Empire’s power.

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Achaemenid griffin at Persepolis.

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 Engravings of people bringing gifts for the king.

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 Engravings at Apanada hall depicting Persian soldiers wearing the rectangular hats and Median soldiers wearing the circular hats. Medians, or Medes, were ancient Iranian people who lived in North-west Iran who spoke the Median language.

DSC01099 DSC01107Persian and Median noblemen in friendly conversation, bringing gifts for the king.

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DSC01110An engraving on the Bas-relief of Persepolis on the grand staircase depicting the Zoroastrian tradition of Nowruz (new year): a bull (symbolizing the moon), fighting a lion (symbolizing the sun) which represents the beginning of Spring.DSC01081About a 15 minute hike up into the mountains from Persepolis’s main palace ruins lies the tombs of the kings of Persia during the time of the Achaemenid. 2 or 3 of these tombs within the mountain exist, and it is believed that kings such as Xerxes and Darius are buried within these mountains. I took the panoramic views of Persepolis from the top of the mountain.

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One of the most impressive features of Persepolis are the tall columns that have stood the test of time and war. One would wonder what sort of technology existed in 500 BC that allowed for the creation of these gigantic stone columns. 15 of the pillars are still intact today. You can tell how tall the pillars are by comparing them to the people at the bottom of the photo.

Pasargad (Tomb of Cyrus the Great)

Pasargad was the capital city of the Archaemenid Empire built by the Emperor Cyrus the Great (~559 BC), and is also the location of Cyrus’s tomb which is a very significant archaeological landmark in Iran. Pasargad is close to the ancient landmark of Persepolis (43 km away) and also naghshe Rostam (post of both to come). We visited all three places in one day since they are about a 2.5 hour drive from Shiraz; it was a whole day of events!

The tomb of Cyrus the Great is the most important landmark in the ancient city of Pasargad. Today it is guarded by at least 5 on-site guards, a glass fence, and security cameras. The entrance into the grave is from the back side of the monument. The tomb has six broad steps leading to the sepulcher; the chamber measures 3.17 m long by 2.11 m wide by 2.11 m high and has a low and narrow entrance.

Today in Iran, Cyrus the Great still serves as a hero by a lot of citizens and is looked up to by some as a prophet like figure. He was a strong defender of human rights and was a very kind person as well as a strong leader.

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Cyrus has been a personal hero to many people, including: Thomas Jefferson, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and David Ben-Gurion.[84]

In scope and extent his achievements ranked far above that of the Macedonian king,
Alexander who was to demolish the empire in the 320s but fail to provide
any stable alternative.

—Charles Freeman in ‘The Greek Achievement'[85]

The achievements of Cyrus the Great throughout antiquity are reflected in the way he is remembered today. His own nation, the Iranians, have regarded him as “The Father”, the very title that had been used during the time of Cyrus himself, by the many nations that he conquered, as according to Xenophon:[86]

And those who were subject to him, he treated with esteem and regard, as if they were his own children, while his subjects themselves respected Cyrus as their “Father” … What other man but ‘Cyrus’, after having overturned an empire, ever died with the title of “The Father” from the people whom he had brought under his power? For it is plain fact that this is a name for one that bestows, rather than for one that takes away!

The Babylonians regarded him as “The Liberator”.

The Book of Ezra narrates a story of the first return of exiles in the first year of Cyrus; for this, Cyrus is addressed in the Jewish Tanakh as the “Lord’s Messiah”. Glorified by Ezra, and by Isaiah, Cyrus is the one to whom “the LORD, the God of Heaven” has given “all the Kingdoms of the earth”.