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krisek Persepolis - A travel report by Krys
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Persepolis,  Iran - flag Iran -  Fårs
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krisek's travel reports

Persepolis - a Persian gem of the antiquities

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Famous for its splendour, wonderful decorations, carvings and reliefs as well as unusual wooden columns, Persepolis does not look glamorous from the distance. But it strikes with its beauty from up close. Many remain but not the columns.


Persepolis travelogue picture
Although uncertain of its formal status as the capital of the ancient Persian Empire, Persepolis was recognised as one of the most important cities under the reign of several Persian Emperors, including Darius I the Great, responsible for the strengthening (and eventually losing) the Persian rule in the region and the world’s most famous battle ever, the Battle of Marathon. Since Persepolis was so grand and alluring, it has now been generally accepted that it must have been a ceremonial capital of the empire. There were at least three pieces of evidence to suggest that. The first one was the audience hall, the Apadana. It had 72 columns and fabulously decorated walls and stairways. The second one was the Tachara Palace, including the Throne Hall, so carefully sculpted and polished that it dazzled. And finally, the Treasury. It was like a fortress within the city. Now, the city is inscribed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site, an irreplaceable, unique and most important site for the history of mankind. It was included in the list on the second session of the UNESCO Committee, which dealt with the inscriptions.

To see Persepolis was my main objective of coming all the way to the Fars region of Iran. And I am so glad that I did. I thought it would be rather difficult to come there due to a lack of direct public transport. It wasn’t. The city has been a primary item on any tourist itinerary in Iran for years. If a group of tourists comes to Fars, they most definitely visit Persepolis. But even for an independent traveller like me it was very to easy to arrange a ride to see the site. A private taxi hired for half a day from Shiraz to Persepolis (and two other sites in the vicinity - see below) including waiting time came at 250,000 rials (€17), after some negotiation. It was a good value as the ancient city was one hour drive from Shiraz. Entry to the site was only 5,000 rials.

Favourite spots:
The Tachara Palace
The Tachara Palace
The Tachara Palace was my favourite place. It was built southwest of the Apadana and at a level three meters higher than was the private residence of Darius I the Great. The surface of its walls was so finely polished that at some places the stone reflected images, and for this reason people used to call it “the Mirror Hall”. It consisted of a square hall surrounded by a portico with eight columns on the south, two rooms each with four columns on the north and guard-rooms on the other sides. The palace was started by Darius and finished by Xerxes. These two and their accompanying attendants are represented on the jambs of the northern and southern doorways of the main hall in the act of entering and leaving.

The Tachara must have been the most beautiful palace of Persepolis. Many of its original ornaments made of precious stones, were taken by Alexander the Great in 330BC. It wasn’t allowed to enter when I visited. I could only admire it from the main doorway.

What's really great:
Apadana's Eastern Stairway
Apadana's Eastern Stairway
Persepolis’s greatest asset today are the remains of magnificent decorations. So many of them! One of the fantastically preserved is the south wing of the eastern stairway of the Apadana. It shows three registers of sculpted figures. They represent 23 delegations sent by the nations subject to the Persian Empire to present their gifts to the Great King of Nawrooz. Each delegation is led towards the royal seat by a Median or Persian usher. Unlike Assyrian, Egyptian and Babylonian analogies, these delegations seem calm and happy, coming as free and invited guests rather than brought as slaves and forced into prostration in front of the royal throne. The delegations could be identified by their costumes and gifts, and included: the Medes, Elamites, Arians, Arachosians (of Afghanistan), Bactrians, Assagartians, Babylonians, Scythians, Gandarians, Lydians, Cappadocians, Ionians, Parthians, Indians and Armenians. It was amazing to be able to see that! A truly overwhelming sight.

Sights:
Audience relief
Audience relief
The Treasury of Persepolis was built on the south east of the terrace by Darius the Great and enlarged by his son Xerxes. It was a fortress-like rectangular structure, with thick walls and only one entrance at the northeast corner. It was one of the richest in the world, and Alexander the Great reportedly used 3,000 camels and mules to carry off its contents, worth over 120,000 talents of silver. Even so, archaeologists have discovered various objects, whole or mutilated, from this site, including many vessels, statue fragments, eight stone tablets engraved with an inscription by Xerxes, and a number of clay tablets inscribed in Elamite and recording payments to the workers at Persepolis.

The Audience Relief - a huge slab of stone ornamented with an audience scene is one of the two similarly sculpted panels discovered in 1930s at the Treasury (the other was taken to Tehran). They originally decorated the stairway of the Apadana, but Artaxerxes I had removed them for political reasons.

Accommodations:
Xerxes's Gateway, Gate of All Nations
Xerxes's Gateway, Gate of All Nations
There were no accommodation options at Persepolis when I visited. The best options were available in Shiraz. I stayed at the basic Esteghlale hotel. Some rooms had hot shower and one or two also a toilet. Otherwise the Asian-type loos were on the main corridor and instead of toilet paper or a bidet there was a hose connected to the main tap. Rooms with shower were 120,000 rials (€8.25). Nice firm beds and a fan.

Before the revolution, Esteghlale was the only hotel in Shiraz, apparently. It was known as Tourist hotel. Since then, there have been many other options. Popular mid range was Eram, when I visited. It didn’t look very splurgy but the personnel was polite and could organise trips in the area. I only saw the lobby and the restaurant, which perhaps could do with some more thorough scrub. I heard the rooms were the same.

Nightlife:
Persepolis travelogue picture
There is no nightlife in Persepolis anymore. The city closes down at sunset. The gates close and everyone goes home to a little more modern but much less glamorous facilities. I heard that sometimes, the authorities put on a light and sound show after sunset. I could not confirm that and on the days I was in the area, nothing was happening. But I guess it is worth checking if anything is being planned. If it is, then it would be best not to come to Persepolis in the morning, but in the afternoon and snooze around until the light show. Or perhaps continue 50 kilometres north to Pasargadae (another UNESCO inscribed ancient city) and then come back for the show on the way down back to Shiraz. The night show may however attract additional entry fee.

Hangouts:
Artaxerxes II Tomb
Artaxerxes II Tomb
Just above the Treasury, there was a tricky and slippery path towards mysterious rock-hewn structures. They hide the tombs of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. I liked the tomb of Artaxerxes II, because it was slightly closer to Persepolis and offered better views of the city. There was a small platform at the foot of the tomb, which was great for hanging out and just watching the ancient site from the bird’s view. If you brought picnic, this is where to have it! When I climbed it, I had the entire hill for myself. Mind you, I was there early in the morning, and there was hardly anyone at Persepolis at that time. I would imagine that if had come two hours later, I would have had to share my hill with someone else. Anyway, in the morning, the platform was pleasantly shaded by the cliff and the view of the remaining columns of the ancient city casting long shadows was unforgettable.

Restaurants:
A lion eating a horse
A lion eating a horse
There were two cafeterias and one fast food restaurant in Persepolis. I have not tried any. Although I did not take any breakfast that morning, I did not want to waste time. So, I did not even stop for tea. The fast food (Iranian style) outlet was not small and would seat probably 100 people. But I could not try it, since it was not opening until late morning, and by that time, I was already gone. Yet, if one forgot their water, there was a snack kiosk in the visitor centre behind the ticket office, which sold beverages, including rather good canned juices (I did try two), a large selection of interesting energy drinks (sic!) and bottled water. And it was not terribly overpriced.

Other recommendations:
Naqsh-e Rostam
Naqsh-e Rostam
Whilst in Persepolis, one should visit Naqsh-e Rostam and Naqsh-e Rajab, few kilometres away, and potentially also Pasargadae some 50 kilometres away.

Naqsh-es were royal tombs. The Naqsh-e Rostam was wonderful and it overwhelmed me. It featured four tombs carved in the shape of giant crosses inside a rock escarpment. Beneath them fabulous reliefs had been carved in the rock representing battles and the moments of glory. One of the tombs was of the Darius I the Great, who’d started building Persepolis and had been eventually defeated by Alexander the Great of Macedonia, and who had been responsible for the battle of Marathon, from which the modern sport activity originated.

The Naqsh-es were so close to Persepolis that it would be easy to walk over there, however unsafe. There were no walkways and the busy express way was a death trap. Since one would come with private transport anyway, it would be safer and quicker to drive those few clicks. Entry: 3,000; and 2,000 rials respectively.

Published on Friday May 16th, 2008


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Wed, Jun 25 2008 - 10:54 AM rating by bootlegga

Amazing pictures, another excellent report Krys.

Sat, Jun 07 2008 - 12:42 PM rating by jorgesanchez

memorable report

Tue, Jun 03 2008 - 01:25 PM rating by magsalex

Great report on a new destination.

Mon, May 26 2008 - 04:58 PM rating by terje

Persepolis is definately a place I want to go...

Thu, May 22 2008 - 01:03 PM rating by rangutan

Another very special and unusual report!

Sun, May 18 2008 - 07:17 AM rating by mistybleu

Excellent report, with so much information; it really makes me want to visit - and I've never ever considered Iran before. Thanks

Sat, May 17 2008 - 02:50 PM rating by davidx

Bang up to your normal standard. What a wonderful place!

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