About 518 B.C Darius the Great (486-522 B.C.), who ruled over a world empire with solid cultural institutions and a great number of civilized nations of the ancient world, decided to found Parsa (Persepolis) in the heart of his empire, to serve as a symbol of his power and also as a magnificent setting for celebrating the great national and religious festival of Nowrooz (" Iranian New Year's Day"), which normally coincided with the Spring equinox (on 21st March). To do so, he first ordered a terrace platform at the foot of the mountain called Mehr (Persian name for kindness) to be built up as a smooth surface on which various residential and official palaces were to be setteled. The partially rock-cut and partially filled in terrace platform covered an area of 125,000 square meters with a height of 12 meteres above the surrounding Marvdasht plain. On this terrace platform, Darius started the building of several structures: a private palace (the Tachara), a large audience hall (the Apadana), and a treasury. Work on these and other structures continued for some fifty years, well into the reign of Artaxerxes I, and even then alterations and additions continued till the end of the Achaemenid period.
The original name of this new capital was Parsa (called after the national name of Parsa meaning "Persians"), which is attested in some of the clay inscriptions of Persepolis. This gave the Greeks the idea of calling it Persepolis, a popular name for "The city of the Persians". The Iranians have called it in more recent times Takht-e Jamshid meaning "the Throne of Jamshid" (Jamshid is the most glorious mythical king of the ancient Iranian epics and religious history, which many cultural innovations such as founding of the Nowrooz festival are attributed to him).
Persepolis was Iranian in design and ideological symbolism but international in artistic execution and details of architecture and sculpture. It is for this reason that one can see similarities with the art of ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians and lonians that all served the Persians as subject nations. The structures on the terrace platform consisted of private residences, audience halls, a vast treasury and a series of fortifications. The most characteristic feature of these buildings was a square central column hall surrounded by adjacent guard rooms or porticos. This type of colonnade was typical of Iranian architecture, earlier and less developed examples of which are known from Hasanlu (Azerbaijan) and Tepe Nushi Jan (near Hamadan). The entire Persepolis complex was provided with an efficient system of drainage, piped waterways, and flood outlets. Each structure had a certain function. Some were audience halls, others were private residences, others still guard rooms and treasure houses. There were also two rock-cut tombs hewn in the Mount Mithra (Mehr) to the east of the terrace. A series of fortification and parapets protected the site. The structures were ornamented with sculptured reliefs and glazed bricks showing scenes suited to their functions. The complex served the Persian royal house until 330 B.C., when the "Great fire" caused by Macedonian army destroyed it.
This grand double-flight staircase on the northwest of the platform leads up to the terrace. Each flight has 111 steps, each 40 cm deep, 10 cm. High, and nearly 7m, wide. Both flights have been prepared from huge blocks of stone (some forming four to six steps) and are provided with crenellated parapets symbolizing the whole terrace as a citadel on the outer side. It was a deliberate device to allow the nobles to climb up with ease in their magnificent attire and with dignified movements while conversing with one another.
The «Gate of All-Lands»
This palace on the northwest of the terrace was built by Xerxes (66-486 B.C.), who calls it in the trilingual inscriptions carved on its door jambs "The Gate of All-Lands". Its square hall (612 square m.) contained four columns (of three still standing one has been reassembled from many fragments), each 5/16 m. in height, and three doorways each of which had a height of 10 meters. A stone bench of black stone turning around the interior walls of the hall provided seat for the royal guests while waiting for the permission to get into the main courtyard of the Apadana. The doors of the western and eastern doorways are ornamented with the sculptured representation of "guardian figures" which for the western door are guardian bulls and for the eastern doorway toward the mountain are in fact composite animals, each having the body of a bull, wings of an eagle, and the crowned head of a bearded man. Above each sculptured figure is engraved a cuneiform inscription in three versions: Old Persian, Elame and Neo-Babylonian. All 12 copies give a single text by erxes who praises the Lord Ahuramazda and then states: y the grace of Ahuramazda I built this "Gate of ALL-Lands". Much other good (construction) was built in this (city) PARSA (persepolis), which I built and which my father built Whatever good construction is seen, all was done by the favor of Ahuramazda.
Tombs of Artaxerxes II
This rock-cut tomb in the mountain overlooking the northeastern corner of the terrace is attributed to Artaxerxes II, but the evidence for this is not absolutely conclusive. Like other royal tombs at Naqsh-e Rostam, on the top one sees the Great King standing, a bow in hand, in front of his royal fire. Above are shown the moon and a winged-man. In reality it represents the Royal Fortune (Farr-e Kiani) of the Persian king, without which no sovereign could rule. The middle of the scene is ornamented with the figures of representatives of the subject nations carrying the royal throne. On either side of the entire representation are seen senior officials, some of them in the attitude of paying homage. The lower section shows a palace with one door, a symbol of the other world. Inside are six rock-cut sarcophagi were embalmed bodies of the king and his nearest relatives were deposited. In front of the tomb were several chambers for guardians and priests who performed sacrifices and rituals in honor of the dead. The outline and foundation walls of these rooms have been restored. This and other royal tombs at Pasargadae and Naqsh-e Rostam contained valuable treasures which were looted after the collapse of the Achaemenid empire.
Tombs of Artaxerxes III
This royal tomb cut into the mountain overlooking the southeastern corner of the terrace is attributed to Artaxerxes III, but the evidence for this is not also absolutely conclusive, the exterior appearance closely resembles the other royal tomb at Parsa.
A chain of mud brick fortification once protected Persepolis on the north and east sides. Remnants of which are still found in those areas. The chain cosisted of a corridor-like passage with very thick walls to the northeast of one can still trace the mud brick fortification which once protected that part of the citadel. It consisted of corridor-like passage with very thick walls and tall towers. Below there was street running along the foot of the hill and buttressed by fortification wall. Between this street and unfinished gate, the Hundred column Hall and the Treasury there were guard rooms mainly built of mud brick. Weapon and other martial equipment found here indicate that this area was used by garrison of Persepoils. Possibly, the street nearby was used by royal charioteers and dignitaries who rode on horseback.
The rock-cut well
This well has been cut into the bed rock to a depth of 26 meters. Its opening measures 4.70 by 4.70 meters. It is a masterpiece of rock-cutting technique. Evidently it had a double purpose. One, it served as a reservoir for drinking water or even for irrigating gardens on the terrace. Second, it was an outlet for rain water, for it was linked to moat which took the rainwater from the mountain to the plain below and prevented the eastern part of the terrace of flooding. Drinking water for Persepolis was brought from a spring emerging some kilometers north of Parsa.
The (Army Street)
This street which is 92 meters long and nearly 10 meters wide, links the Gate of All-Lands and the "Unfinished Gate" and the north portico of the Hundred Column Hall. On either side of the street stood thick mud- brick walls provided at 7 meters intervals with stepped niches where the guards would have stood during ceremonial occasions. The narrow rooms to the south of the street were guard-rooms, and those on the north side were used by workers and masons. Here some fragments of unfinished works have been found.
The "Audience Relief"
This huge slab of stone ornamented with an audience scene is one of two similarly sculptured panels discovered in 1930s here in the Treasury. The other and much better preserved panel was taken to Tehran and is now housed in the Iran National Museum. They originally ornamented the center of the Apadana stairway facades and symbolized the apex of the Nowrooz festival when the Great King received the dignitaries and gift-bearing delegations depicted on the two wings of the same stairways The "Audience relief" shows the Great King (Xerxes, not Darius as is usually assumed) enthroned in front of two incense burners, the scepter of royalty and a lotus flower in his hands, and receiving a senior official (the Chiliarch), who, clad in the Median costume, is slightly bowing and in the act of reporting to the Great King. Behind the monarch stand the crown prince, a eunuch chamberlain, and Xerxes' weapon-bearer. Two pairs of lance-bearers in the Persian dress flank the scene. These panels were originally in the center of the Apadana stairway façade sand symbolized the apex of the Nowrooz festival when the Great king received the dignitaries and gift-bearing delegations depicted on the same stairways. But they were removed to this site with an unknown reason but certainly later in Achaemenid period.
The "Harem of Xerxes"
This structure to the east of the Tripylon and the Hadish is the palace known as the Harem (Residential palace for Xerxes Family). The central hall and a number of rooms of this palace were restored in their original form by Ernest Herzfeld in 1930s, and now house the Museum of Persepolis, the library and the offices of the administrators of the site. The main hall of the palace (now the museum) is a square chamber with 12 wooden columns. The floor rests on the bed-rock cut smooth from the mountain and bears traces of red plaster coating. The hall's entrances are to the south and north, and both are ornamented with the figures of Xerxes and his attendants. Other doorways leading to adjacent rooms are decorated with the representations of a hero in the Persian dress fighting monstrous animals symbolizing evil powers.
The treasury of Persepolis
The treasury of Persepolis was built on the south east of the trace by Darius the Great and enlarged by 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 reportedly used 3000 camels and mules to carry off its contents, worth over 120,000 talents of silver. Even so, archaeologists have discovered various objects, including many vassels, 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 eagle griffin (Homa)
These two eagle-griffin capitals are mounted on short pillars for their preservation. They were discovered here, to the north of the "Army Street", in 1954. Originally they must have been intended for use in a structure, but it seems that they were rejected and left here either because they were defective and unsuitable or because the architects' taste changed and this type of capitals found no favor. In fact they are not used at Persepolis but a Persian bowl found in Turkey is decorated with eight of them proving that they were used elsewhere. It may be mentioned that people call this eagle-griffin Homa, which in Iranian tradition is regarded as an auspicious bird, and for this reason adopted as the symbol of the Iranian national airline.
The One Hundred Column Hall
This hall in the northeast of the terrace is known as the Hundred Column Hall. It is the largest chamber in Persepolis, and measured 4,800 square meters. It was built by Xerxes and completed by his son Artaxerxs I. Its roof was supported by one hundred (10 x 10) columns of fine black stone each over 14 meters high. Evidently, this was an audience hall where the Great King received the military officers of the empire. The hall was provided with 8 doorways. The two opening into the north portico are sculptured with an audience scene and fifty Median and Persian lance-bearers. Those in the south wall depict an audience scene with the royal throne carrying by the representatives of the subject nations. The other doorways opening to guard rooms are decorated with the figures of a Persian hero fighting against monstrous creatures. The north portico was provided with 16 columns, one of which is restored in its original form. On both sides of the portico are huge guardian bulls. The residential area to the east of the palace thought to have been the garrison.
The Unfinished Gate
The remnants of this gate planned north of the north portico of the Hundred Column Hall indicate that the structure was left incomplete. Here roughly worked stone slabs intended for column shafts, bases and capitals are scattered on the ground and doorway pillars stand partially erected. These relics give us clear indications about the methods of construction (which employed wooden scaffolding) and sculpting (which started from the top and worked downward) at Persepolis. The mud brick fortification which once protected Persepolis on the east and north can still be traced in the northeastern corner an archive of some 34,000 clay tablets inscribed in Elamite were discovered which record the activity of the officials of the empire (specially payments to workers, messengers, priests and dignitaries) while Persepolis was being built.
The Apadana Palace
The Apadana is the largest and most magnificent palace of Persepolis. It was started by Darius the Great but finished by his son Xerxes. It served as an "audience hall" where the Great King received the nobles of the empire and the gift-bearing delegations of the subject nations during the Nowrooz festival. It consists of a spacious square hall with 36 columns each 65/19 m. in height, and three porticoes, each with 12 columns of similar height but with bell-shaped bases, on the north, west and east. The audience hall had thick walls (32/5 m. thick) with a core of mud bricks surfaced with glazed bricks of varied colors. Six doorways, each provided with wooden doors covered with ornamented sheets of precious metals, gave access to the inner hall. Four towers, each with three stories, protected the hall on its corners. The enormous roof rested on massive beams placed on the shoulders of double-headed bull capitals, and vertical shafts of bricks covered with tar(natural bitumen) prepared inside the walls and linked to underground channels served as an efficient drainage system.
The Tachara Palace
This charming structure built southwest of the Apadana and at a level 3 meters higher than it, was the private residence of Darius and is called the "Tachara" in the inscriptions. The surface of its walls is so finely polished that at some places the stone reflects images, and for this reason people used to call it Theme Hall". It consisted of a square hall (originally with 12 wooden columns covered with varicolored gypsum plaster) surrounded by a portico with 8 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 but finished by Xerxes. These two and their accompanying attendants are represented we jambs of the northern and southern doorways of the main hall in the act of entering and leaving. In each case the ornaments (ear-rings, armband the beard and the crown) had been made of precious metal and set into the stone but they were looted by Alexander army in 330 B.C. A double- flight stairway ornamented with the figures of servants or priests and vessels and even live animals leads from south court up to the southern portico.
Later, Artaxerxes III (36-356 B.C.) constructed a small staircase on the western side of the palace and ornamented its facade with gift-bearing delegations.
The Tachara may be regarded as a museum of the history of the calligraphy, because its walls bear inscriptions of various ages: cuneiform texts by Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes III; Middle Persian texts by Sasanian scribes, Koofic and later Persian writings of e Buyid kings, Saljuqid and Timurid princes and Safavid and Qajar governors.
The Hadish Palace
This badly ruined palace on the south of the terrace was built by Xerxes, who called it in one of its inscription the "Hadish."It was the private palace of Xerxes and traces of the Alexandrian fire which devastated it can be seen everywhere. It is built on the highest level of the terrace and in some areas the surface of the floor cut from the bed rock and the underground drainage hewn inside it are perfectly visible. It consists of a main hall with 36 columns surrounded by a portico with 12 columns on the north, several guard-rooms on the east and west and a long corridor on the south. Two staircases lead from this corridor into the residential area and the "Harem of Xerxes" situated 7 meters lower than the level of the Hadish. The doorways of the palace are ornamented with the sculptured figures of Xerxes and his attendants. Additionally, the jambs of its windows are uniquely ornamented with pictures of animals and servants.
The Tripylon ("Council Hall or the Central Palace")
This palace is thought to have been used by the Great King for holding council with his most senior officials. It was started by Xerxes and evidently finished by Artaxerxes I. Located in the center of the Persepolis complex, and provided with three doorways (hence the name Tripylon), this building was closely linked to most of the palace on the terrace. It consisted of a main hall, a portico to the north, and two long ante rooms on the east. The roof of the hall was supported by four columns with capitals in the shape of double-headed man-bulls. The jambs of the northern and southern doorways were each ornamented with the figures of a king and two attendants. However, on the jambs of the eastern doorway were shown the king and crown prince under the spritual winged figure or the Kingly Fortune and they are in a symbolic way being carried on a monumental throne into the hall by the representatives of 28 subject nations. A double flight of stairs masterfully sculptured with the figures of the great nobles of the empire, in Median and Persian costumes, links this north portico with the Apanada courtyard. Some think that this centrally located palace had a cardinal function in astronomical and calendar considerations of the ancient Persians.
South wing of the eastern stairway of the Apadana
This southern wing of the Apadana's eastern stairway shows three registers of sculptured figures. They are 23 delegations sent by the nations subject to the Persian empire to present their gifts to the Great King on the occasion of Nowrooz. Each delegation is led towards the royal seat by a Median or Persian usher. Unlike Assyrian, Egyptian and Babylonian prototypes, 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 identification of these delegations is based on their costumes and gifts. They are recognized as follows: Top row, from right to left: 1. Medes are nine members and bring horses, clothing, armbands and vessels; 2. Elamites are six members and bring bows, daggers and a lioness with two cubs; 3. Arians (Heratians) are four members and bring vessels, a two-humped camel and animal skin; 4. Arachosians (of Afghanistan) are four members and bring gifts similar to those of the Arians; 5.Egyption delegation which of just the lower preserved part we can infer they are bringing a bull. 6. Bactrians are four members and bring bowls and a two-humped camel 7. Assagartians (of the Yazd region) are five members and bring a horse and Median type clothes.
Middle row, from rights to left: 1. Armenians are three members and bring a horse and an amphora with beautifully carved handles formed as eagle-griffins; 2. Babylonians are six members and bring clothing, vessels and a humped bull or Zebu; 3. Assyrians are eight members and bring vessels, clothing, a lambs-skin, and two rams: 4. Pointed-hat Scythians are six members and bring armlets, a stallion and Median clothing; 5. Gandarians of the Kabul valley are six members and bring a humped bull, a shield and two lances: 6. Amorgian Scythians (the Hauma-venerating Sakas) are five members and bring two short swords, armlets, a stallion and battle-axes.
Lower row, from right to left: 1. Lydians are six members and bring two deliately carved amphoras with handles shaped as winged-bulls, bowls, armlet with masterfully shown griffin-shaped ends
sed chariot; 2. Cappadocians are five members and a two horsed chariot; 2. Cappadocians are five members and bring a horse and Median robe and trousers; 3. Lonians are eight members and bring decorated vessels, balls of wool 4. Parthians are four members and bring a two-humped camel and highly decorated bowls 5. Indians of Sind are five members and bring bags (of gold dust or species), battle axes and a wild ass.
Five delegations are shown on the oblique facade of stairway show five delegations.They are, from top to bottom: 1. European Scytrhians are four members and bring a stallion, a shield and four lances; 2. Arabs of Jordan and Palestine are three members bring a robe with embroidered hem and a camel; 3. Zarangians of seistan are four members and bring a bull, a lance and a shield; 4. Lybians are three members and bring a two-horsed chariot, a kind of antelope called greater kudu and two lances; 5. Ethiopians are three members with a giraffe, an elephant tusk, and a covered vessel.