15 April 2017

Impressions and Images of Iran: The Achaemenid Empire's Capital in Persepolis

Persepolis is one of the many highlights of my visit to Iran. I went there one day by joining a tour which I arranged from my hostel. So one morning, I woke up early, ate breakfast early, and met my group who then drove us about an hour north out of Shiraz, to Persepolis. Persepolis is the capital of the Achaemenid Empire: Cyrus the Great chose the location, but the palaces weren't built until the time of Darius I in 520 BC. And when the Achaemenid Empire finally was destroyed in 330 BC by Alexander the Great, it was Persepolis that was destroyed the last, with Alexander the Great burning the whole complex to the ground.

You enter the whole complex by passing through the Gate of All Nations, also known as the Gate of Xerxes. From the very beginning, multinationalism and ethnic diversity is emphasized. The Achaemenid Empire spanned a large geographical area in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and therefore there were plenty of ethnic groups that were subject to the empire. These different ethnic groups were visually depicted in the sculpture, which you will see later.

The Achaemenids depicted ethnic groups rather vividly: apparently there is a difference between long-bearded men and short-bearded men. The direction also matters: everyone is facing the entrance of the palaces: so whenever everyone is facing right, that means the entrance was to the right, and vice versa. This illustrates how various ethnic groups from all over the empire all come to the palace.

There are several palaces in Persepolis, constructed next to each other. They are in various states of ruins. Some have pillars still standing, others have just the foundations. I must say that I benefited from the tour guide who basically made these stones alive.

By the way, the last two pictures depict the homa, or a Persian griffin. It symbolizes Iran such that the Iranian national airline Iran Air has that as its logo.

Finally, I climbed the small hill overlooking the whole complex, which provides an aerial overview of the area. You can see how massive the complex is. Also, behind the hill is a carved tomb, similar to those in Naqsh-e Rustam, and archaeologists believe this is the tomb of Artaxerxes II.

Archaeologists definitely would have a lot of fun working in Iran, as there are just so many sites that have historical value. If ever you visit Iran, this is a place that is definitely a must-see.


  1. Amazing. As usual, it's hard to tell from your picture, but was it busy? It always looks like you're the only soul around!

    1. Zhu,

      For Iranian standards, it is. I mean, Iran isn't the most popular destination, so definitely there's less people here than in the Acropolis of Athens, for example. That said, almost everyone who visits Iran for the first time as a tourist will most probably visit Persepolis, and yes, while I was there there were many people too. I just was good in hiding them from my camera. In other words, it was relatively busy, but not oppressively so unlike in European top sights.