Persepolis

Now an archaeological site in Iran, the ancient city of Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great in 518 BC as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

On an immense half-artificial, half-natural terrace, the great king created an impressive palace complex inspired by Mesopotamian models. The importance and quality of the ruins at Persepolis led to its recognition by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

History

Though evidence of prehistoric settlement at Persepolis has been discovered, inscriptions indicate that construction of the city began under Darius I the Great (reigned 522–486 BC). As a member of a new branch of the royal house, Darius made Persepolis the new capital of Persia (replacing Pasargadae, the burial place of Cyrus the Great).

Built in a remote and mountainous region, Persepolis was an inconvenient royal residence, visited mainly in the spring. The effective administration of the Achaemenian Empire was carried on from Susa, Babylon, or Ecbatana. This accounts for the Greeks being unacquainted with Persepolis until Alexander the Great's invasion of Asia.

In 330 BC, Alexander the Great plundered the city and burned the palace of Xerxes, probably to symbolize the end of his Panhellenic war of revenge. In 316 BC Persepolis was still the capital of Persis as a province of the Macedonian empire, but the city gradually declined in the Seleucid period and after. In the 3rd century AD the nearby city of Istakhr became the centre of the Sasanian empire. Today, relatively well-preserved ruins attest to Persepolis' ancient glory.

In 1933 two sets of gold and silver plates recording in the three forms of cuneiform, Ancient Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian, the boundaries of the Persian Empire were discovered in the foundations of Darius' hall of audience. A number of inscriptions, cut in stone, of Darius I, Xerxes I, and Artaxerxes III indicate to which monarch the various buildings are to be attributed. The oldest of these on the south retaining wall gives Darius' famous prayer for his people: "God protect this country from foe, famine and falsehood."

There are numerous reliefs of Persian, Median, and Elamite officials, and 23 scenes separated by cypress trees depict representatives from the remote parts of the empire who, led by a Persian or a Mede, made appropriate offerings to the king at the national festival of the vernal equinox. Behind Persepolis are three sepulchres hewn out of the mountainside, whose facades are richly ornamented with reliefs.

About 8 miles (13 km) northeast of the main site, on the opposite side of the Pulvar River, rises a perpendicular wall of rock in which four tombs are cut at a considerable height from the bottom of the valley.

This place is called Naqsh-e Rostam (Picture of Rostam), from the Sasanian carvings below the tombs once thought to represent the mythical hero Rostam. It seems from the sculptures that the occupants of these seven tombs were Achaemenian kings; one of those at Naqsh-e Rostam is expressly declared in its inscriptions to be the tomb of Darius I, son of Hystaspes.

The three other tombs at Naqsh-e Rostam, besides that of Darius I, are probably those of Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. The two completed graves behind Persepolis probably belong to Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. The unfinished one might be that of Arses, who reigned at the longest two years, but is more likely that of Darius III, last of the Achaemenian line, who was overthrown by Alexander the Great.