Persepolis, Achaemenian Capital - Introduction
An artist's impression of the palace complex at Persepolis as it would have looked.
Source courtesy: Persepolis3d.com. K. Afhami and W. Gambke
Persepolis (Parsa in Persian) is located in the present southern Iranian province of Fars (Pars) and in ancient Persia. It was the seat of government and summer palace (Susa remained the winter residence) of the Persian Kings from the early 500's BCE until its destruction and looting by Alexander of Macedonia in 330/31 BCE.
The site is popularly (and erroneously) known as Takht-e Jamshid meaning the Throne (or Palace) of Jamshid. Jamshid was a mythical king whose legend is part of folklore and he poet Ferdowsi's Shahnameh.
While the present-day Persepolis / Parsa site is better known for the ruins of the royal palace / administrative complex, the site also contained the town of Parsa that existed adjacent to the palace complex, and which presumably housed the workers at palace complex, soldiers, artisans, crafts persons and other town residents. The town was surrounded by a fortification wall.
The Building of Persepolis
Map of the Persian Capital Cities c. 500 BCE.
Base map courtesy MSN Encarta
At the start of his reign around 521 BCE, Darius I, King of Persia (521-486 BCE) moved his capital from Babylon to Susa, where he started construction on a grand palace. No sooner had the palace at Susa been completed when Darius decided to build a palace complex in his native Pars. While the precise date when the extensive excavation work at the Persepolis site is not known, it is assumed to have started between 518 and 516 BCE.
Darius lived long enough to see a part of his grandiose and ambitious plans executed. His son and successor Xerxes I (485-465 BCE) continued construction and the Persepolis we know was for the main part completed during Xerxes' reign. A foundation inscription at Persepolis states:
“When my father Darius passed from the throne, I by the grace of Ahuramazda became king on my father’s throne. After I became king… I continued work and added to what my father had built.”
Work at Persepolis was completed a hundred years after its start during the reign of Artaxerxes I (464-424 BCE), Xerxes' son and heir to the throne.
A view of the ruins of Persepolis form the hill behind the complex and looking west.
In the background are the plains of the Marv Dasht basin.
Location of the Site and Size
The site is located 60 km northeast of present day Shiraz, at an altitude of 1,800 meters on the eastern perimeter of the broad plain called the Marv Dasht basin. It is close to the small river Pulwar and the east side of the complex butts against the Kuh-e Rahmat or the Mountain of Mercy.
The Palace complex was brightly painted. At any time of the day and especially at twilight, the white-painted columns and gold-toned roof caps must have afforded a spectacular sight from afar.
The relatively small size of the ruins, belies the true scale of the township of Persepolis. The palace was surrounded by numerous dwellings. While there is no estimate of the population, it was in the thousands.
The palace complex is built on top of a 450 m long and 300 m wide i.e. 135,000 square meter terrace, raised between 7.5 to 18 meters off the lower slope.
The terrace is accessed by a double stairway that leads to the Gate of Nations (also called the Gate of Xerxes). To the left of the gate is the Apadana or audience hall.
The principle buildings are identified in the site plan on the right.
Virtual Tour Engine
Reconstructed Model of Persepolis
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
» Page 2: Gate & Hall
» Page 3: Palace
» Page 4: Destruction