The center of the great Persian Empire, ceremonial capital of the Achaemenians and the showpiece of Achaemenian art, Persepolis (Capital of Persia, in Greek) is a historic site in Fars Province, 60 km to the northeast of Shiraz by road, for which the Iranians have got their own name: Takht-e Jamshid (The Throne of Jamshid), Jamshid being the first, probably mythical, ruler of Iran. It is 420 km south of Esfahan and 835 km south of Tehran on a first-class asphalt road. It can be reached by air through Shiraz international airport.
The most important source of our knowledge on ancient Iran, its various royal buildings, – palaces, audience halls, treasury, store rooms, stables, etc. were built, as indicated in an inscription carved on stone, during the reign of Darius the Great (521-486 BC) and by his command, and further developments made under Xerxes I, Artaxerxes, Xerxes II, Darius II, Cyrus II, Artaxerxes II and III, and Darius III (336-331 BC), the whole process taking about one hundred and fifty years. This magnificent court was the summer residence of Achaemenian emperors and their official reception quarters.
Access to the platform is by a monumental double ramped ceremonial staircase, carved from massive blocks of stone (five steps are carved from a single block seven meters long), and shallow enough for the most important guests to be able to ride up on their horses. The stairs were closed at the top with gates whose hinges fitted into sockets in the floor, seen at the top of the left or northern flight. The staircase landing is L-shaped; a corner of the platform jutting into it, reducing its surface by one-forth. This is functionally irrational, but serves a religious purpose, since it forms with the edge of the platform and the Gate of All Nations a ziggurat symbol in bird’s eye view for god to behold.
The Gate of All Nations
At the head of the staircase is the Gate of All Nations, built during the reign of Xerxes I. It impresses with its massiveness. Its Four Corners is oriented to the four cardinal directions; the entrance is through the western doorway. It is guarded at east and west by vast bull-like colossi closely akin to the bull figures of Assyria.
The Apadana Staircase
It is well worthwhile to spend all available time studying the eastern staircase of the Apadana. Better preserved, the reliefs are full of religious symbolism as well as being a record in stone of the New Year’s procession. The staircase is best divided into three portions, a central, a northern, and a southern panel. The northern panel shows the reception of the Persians and Medes, the more interesting southern panel the reception of the subject nations. Recent restoration of the palace showed that the original plan and layout was of much more primitive type, the monumental double staircase being added later. It is still undecided if the Apadana was not built over an older cyclopean platform of the type erected by the early Achaemenian kings in Masjid-e Suleiman.
Peoples under the Persian Dynasty
Kushyia (Ethiopians), with closely curled hair and Negroid features, carrying a vase and an elephant tusk and leading an okapi. Putaya (Libyans), escorting a kudu with long curved horns, and horse-drawn chariot. Zranka (Dranjianians), including a lancer with a shield and a long-horned bull (some believe these are Arachosians, mountain folk from Kerman region, and cattle breeders). Arabaya (Arabians), with textiles and a dromedary. Skudra (Skudrians), lancers carrying shields, and a horse led by soldiers who wear classical type Thracian helmets.
The Asagarta (Sagartians), wearing tasseled caps (like those of the Capadoicians and Armenians), two of which are fastened under the chin like Balaclava helmets, Sogda (Sogdians), or as some believe Chorasmians, holding a short sword, bracelets and axes and leading a horse.
An unfinished palace of Artaxerxes III lies across the courtyard to the south, and to the east of the Tachara, on the highest part of the platform and, like all the palaces, standing on its own terrace, is the main hall of the Hadish (literally, a Dwelling Palace), Xerxes private palace which can be reached by a staircase from the courtyard.
The central hall of the Hadish with its 36 columns, approached by the northern porch with 12 columns, is surrounded by small chambers on the east and west, and has five doorways whose portals depict Xerxes entering or leaving the palace, accompanied by attendants.
North of the Hadish is Tripylon, the small Central Palace with its three entrances. The bas-reliefs on the main double staircase on the north depict Persian and Median guards with, on the inner surfaces, still other attractive reliefs of Median courtiers and nobles on their way to a banquet. There was another staircase on the south side of the Hadish, now moved to the National Museum of Iran. On the portal of the eastern doorway Darius is shown on his throne, supported by representatives of 28 countries, and Xerxes the crown prince stands behind. The Tripylon was certainly not a palace; it was either the main hall giving access to other palaces, or a kind of military headquarters.
Hall of 100 Columns
To the east of Tripylon and the Apadana and immediately to the north of the Treasury, is the largest edifice on the platform the Hall of One Hundred Columns, measuring 70 x 70 meters in area, covered with some three meters of soil and cedar ash when it was first partly excavated by Motamed od-Dowleh Farhad Mirza, governor-general of Fars, in 1878. It was used for the reception of the delegations of the subject peoples and collection of their tribute. It is the most functional building in the complex; it shows the psychology of Persian statecraft at its highest. The king entered the palace through the side door, positioned himself on the throne in the center of the hall, and surrounded by the nobles and the staff of the treasury.
Museum is reached through the southern gate of the 100 Column Palaces. It contains not only objects found in Persepolis but, in the right-hand galleries, prehistoric pottery and artifacts from nearby mounds including Tall-e Bakun, and on the left early Islamic exhibits from Istakhr. On leaving the Museum turn sharp right and follow the outer wall of the Museum until you come to a small covered recess with several office doors. In the wall of this recess are two panels of Achaemenian tile, which, though faded, show the vivid colors used. The entire palace was similarly covered in colored tiles or painted.
East of the Museum, at the foot of the mountain face, is a self-contained complex of halls covering over 10,000 Square meters, including two large halls whose roofs were supported respectively by 100 and 99 wooden columns, and which is believed to have been the Treasury begun by Darius. Stone and clay tablets in Akkadian and Elamite found here gave details of exact wages in cash and in kind, paid to the men who built Persepolis, proving that this gigantic undertaking was constructed by free, paid labor, in contrast to contemporary monumental buildings in other countries where slave labor was the rule.