Suggested prior reading:
Iran has four Azerbaijani provinces: West & East Azerbaijan, Zanjan and Ardabil. To their north lies the independent nation of Azerbaijan, a previous Soviet Republic. All five come together to form the Greater Azerbaijan region, a region that includes Lake Urmia and the Northern Zagros mountains.
The name Azerbaijan derives from the Middle and Old Persian Adar-badhagan and Atur-patakan. The Old Persian name is in turn derived from the Avestan atere-pata cf. Farvardin Yasht, meaning protected by fire. The region is known for its continuously burning natural gas fires which to the ancients must have seemed like the miraculous phenomenon of an ever-burning fire - a symbol of special importance in Zoroastrianism. In ancient texts, Azerbaijan was known as the land of fire and burning hillsides.
Greater Azerbaijan would have been situated between the twelfth Avestan Vendidad nation of Ragha (today's Rai near Tehran) and the sixteenth nation of Ranghaya (the upper Tigris-Euphrates region).
» Surakhani Fire Temple in Baku, Azerbaijan
» Ani Fire Temple in Ani, Turkey
Lake Urmia Region & Zoroastrian History
Lake Urmia (also spelt Urmiyeh, Urumiyyeh, Urmiye, Urmiya, Urmiah, Urumiah, Oroumiah or Ormieh) lies in the northwest corner of present-day Iran, close to Iran's present border with Turkey and Iraq. The lake also sits on the border between the Iranian provinces of West and East Azerbaijan.
Medieval Iranian literature (catalogued by A. W. Jackson in Persia Past and Present and Zoroaster, the Prophet of Ancient Iran), strongly links the region around Lake Urmia with Zoroastrianism - so much so, that they make Urmia the birthplace of Zoroastrianism. These assertions lend credence to the notion that Urmia was home to the ancestors of the southern Persians - early Persians who were the bearers of the torch of Zoroastrian heritage.
|Lake Urmia salt deposits|
Lake Urmia (Persian, Daryacheh-ye Orumieh), is Iran's largest lake with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km2 (2,000 mile2). It is a relatively shallow lake. At its deepest point, it is 16 m (52 ft) deep.
In the early 1930s, it was called Lake Rezaiyeh after Reza Shah Pahlavi. In the late 1970s, after the Islamic revolution, the Government of Iran reverted to calling the lake by its previous name - Lake Urmia.
Lake Urmia's ancient Persian name, however, was Chichast (meaning glittering), a reference to the glittering mineral particles suspended in the lake water and its shores, a result of the lake's very high salt content. In the medieval times the lake came to be known as Lake Kabuda, meaning azure in Persian.
Urmia at Aryan Trade (Silk) Roads Junction
|Historic Trade Route Through Iran|
The Silk Road
One arm of the Aryan trade roads (the Silk Roads) went west from Balkh (Bactria) in Central Asia, through Marv, Nishapur and Rai, skirting the Alborz / Elburz mountain range (that runs along the southern shores of the Caspian), to present-day Tabriz just east of upper Lake Urmia. From there one branch of the route proceeded into Cappadocia or present day Turkey. Another branch ran south along the Zagros mountains to present-day Isfahan. If at some point in history, Urmia was home to the predecessors of the Persians, then it would be along the southern branch of the trade route that the Persians migrated south towards Susa and Anshan, finally settling in the land we now know as the province of Fars in Iran.
The trade road that ran from Khorasan & Balkh (Ariana / Aria) to Babylon and Susa - from the northeast to the southwest of present day Iran - was in medieval times called the Great Khorasan Road. One arm of the road ran through Ecbatana (Hamadan) and Kermanshah, beside the rivers Qareh Su and Diyala to Babylon. This could have been the route for Median (as well as Persian) migration.
Assyrian King Shamsi-Adad V (822-811 BCE) left behind inscriptions that mention raids east into Median lands. His armies crossed the Kullar mountains (the main Zagros range) and entered Messi on the upper reaches of the River Jagatu where they captured a large quantity of cattle, sheep and a number of two-humped Bactrian camels. The capture of Bactrian camels is significant as they were widely used by Aryan traders.
» Additional offsite reading (pdf file): Lapis lazuli and the Great Khorasan Road by Y. Majidzadeh at Persee.fr.
Lake Urmia / Azerbaijan / Zagros Historical Sites
The Lake Urmia region has a wealth of archaeological sites that were home to some of the most advanced Neolithic communities known. Archaeological excavations of settlements in the Lake Urmia area have found artefacts that date from the Neolithic (New Stone) age, that is, from about 7,000 BCE. A number of these settlements were destroyed in the Iron Age around 800 BCE, a dating that coincides with records of devastating Assyrian raids in the region.
The Ash Hills of Urmia
There are sixty-four ash hills scattered around Lake Urmia - a dozen or so within the immediate vicinity of the city of Urmia - each hill rising from a small natural elevation. The hills were said to have been formed from ashes from ancient fire shrines and are called 'hills of the Fire-worshipers' by the local people, though there is no surviving evidence of fire shrines. Professor A. V. Williams Jackson writes in his book, Persia Past and Present, "The hill of Degalah, close to the city (of Urmia), was one such ash-hill. It was three or four hundred yards long, nearly as broad, and a hundred feet high... and easy to examine, since it had been excavated all over by the neighbouring farmers, who had lately taken to using the ashes to fertilize their fields and make saltpetre with." He was informed that within local memory, stone buildings had stood on the hill, but they had all been pulled down to build the local village.
Professor Jackson also informs us that another ash hill called Lakki was located seventeen miles north of Urmia and that six miles east of Lakki was the ash hill of Termani. In Jackson's time, the Termani cone-shaped mound was still fairly intact and 'the outline of an old building's foundation could be traced on the ground nearby'. The remaining stones from the ruined building were large enough to make the villagers wonder how they could have been moved into place. They remarked that in the 1880's, after a shaft had been sunk into the hill, a large image was discovered buried in the ashes. The local Muslims destroyed this statue, believing it to be an idol. Jackson observed that the ground around was the mound strewn with potsherds.
|Lake Urmia Site Map. Base map courtesy Microsoft Encarta|
In addition to the ash hills there are other artificial hills that jut up from the surrounding plain called tepes or tells. A tepe is often an ancient settlement or citadel covered over the ages by soil.
Hasanlu is the largest of the historical sites that include the Neolithic sites of Pisdeli Tepe and Hajji Firuz, the Bronze Age and Iron Age sites of Ziwiye and Dinkha Tepe, as well as the sites of Qalatgah, Agrab Tepe and Dalma.
Between 1979-1985, the site of Qalaichi Tepe (7 km. north of Bukan) was plundered on a massive scale before it could be officially excavated. Some glazed bricks discovered as a result of the illegal excavations, found their way into antique auction rooms and were subsequently purchased by foreign private collectors and museums such as the National Museum of Tokyo, Ancient Orient Museum of Tokyo, and Middle Eastern Cultural Center of Japan.
East of the district capital of Miandoab near the village of Jan Aqa Bulaqi and at elevation 1612m are the ruins of a fort built on a rocky ridge overlooking the eastern Plain of Miandoab and the banks of the Simine Rud river. The fort was built in the form of a 150m long rectangle, with double walls separated by a metre wide corridor. The fort had two gates and seven square towers along the southern wall.
The present village of Jan Aqa lies on the ridge to the west. To the east is Gover Qale Si, the ruins of the ruins another Mannaean fort.
|Hasanlu Aerial View|
|Hasanlu Topographical site map|
|Hasanlu from west|
Hasanlu is an ancient settlement located close to the southern shore of Lake Urmia in the Solduz Valley of present-day province of West-Azerbaijan, in the northwest of Iran. Hasanlu sat on the cross roads of the trade routes that ran east-west and the route than went south along the Zagros mountains. Hasanlu dominated the small plain of Solduz in the Qadar River valley.
|Hasanlu jar 9th cent. BCE|
Hasanlu dates from about 7,000 BCE, (the Neolithic era or New Stone Age). It was occupied continuously until its destruction around 825 BCE following a devastating attack when it was burnt to the ground. During that surprise attack some 240 inhabitants were trapped and entombed in the collapsed ruins and fiery debris.
The site was since reoccupied and abandoned until a final occupation during the Achaemenid and Early Parthian periods.
Artefacts have been found in most of Hasanlu's buildings, especially materials stored on their second floors, which were buried in the collapsed ruins. Over 7,000 artefacts have been identified including a wide range of utensils, weapons, jewellery, decorative wall tiles, metal and ceramic vessels, horse gears, and seals. The materials used to make these artefacts include iron, bronze, gold, silver, antimony, shell, ivory, bone, amber, glass, wood, and stone. No written tablets have been recovered.
Hasanlu's site consists of a 25m high central artificial mound called the citadel, with massive fortifications and paved streets. The citadel is surrounded by a low outer town, 8m above the surrounding plain.
The entire site, once much larger but reduced in size by local agricultural and building activities, now measures about 600m across. The citadel has a diameter of about 200 m.
At the end of the second millennium BCE, the top of the citadel mound was occupied by monumental buildings, one of which had a columned hall measuring 18 by 24 meters with four rows of six columns each, a forerunner of later columned halls in Media and Achaemenid Anshan.
Some writers and archaeologists have speculated that the hall is a fire temple.
Also see » Hajji Firuz Tepe, Iran by Mary M. Voigt, Richard H. Meadow at Google.
Hajji Firuz. World's Oldest Wine-Making
Persians were known for their wine-making, and the site now called Hajji Firuz, just west of Hasanlu, is noted for the discovery of a jar containing the earliest known residue of wine in the world.
The residue contained resin from the Terebinth tree that grew wild in the region, and was possibly used as a preservative indicating that the wine was deliberately made and was not result of the grape juice fermenting unintentionally. Terebinth resin was widely used as a preservative in ancient wine because it killed certain bacteria. Pine resin is currently used in Greek Retsina wine.
The jar with the wine residue, had a volume of about 9 litres (2.5 gallons), and was found together with five similar jars embedded in the earthen floor along one kitchen wall of a Neolithic mud brick building, dated to c. 5400-5000 BCE. Clay stoppers about the same size as the jars' mouths were located close by, suggesting that they could have been used keep out the air and prevent the wine from turning into vinegar.
|Wine jar from Hajji Firuz|
The building in which the jars were found, consisted of a large room that may have doubled as a bedroom, a kitchen, and two storage rooms. The room thought to be a kitchen had a fireplace and numerous pottery vessels probably used to prepare and cook foods.
It is unclear if the name of the site has any connection with the trickster who is supposed to make an appearance at Nowruz or New Year's day.
At Godin Tepe, a 3500-3000 BCE settlement six hundred km (400 miles) south along the Zagros mountains, additional jars containing wine residues have been found.
Azargoshasb Temple Site. Shiz (Takht-e Soleyman)
In the south-eastern corner of West Azerbaijan (Iran) - see map above - about 60 km to the northeast of the town of Takab, and midway between Urmia and Hamadan, are ruins known locally as Takht-e Soleyman (for spelling variations, see below). UNESCO designated the ruins as a World Heritage Site on July 3, 2003.
|View of the Shiz environs|
Image credit: CAIS
[Note: the ruins are known locally as Takht-e Soleyman meaning the throne of Solomon.
There is also a nearby (3 km west) conical volcano mound known as the Zendan-e Soleyman meaning Solomon's prison (where King Solomon supposedly imprisoned monsters inside the volcano's 100 m deep crater). About seven hundred kilometers to the south-east, a structure beside the tomb of Cyrus is also known locally as Zendan-e Soleyman.
The identification of the sites with Solomon took place after the Arab conquest of Iran and the conversion of the local population to Islam. The reasons could have been to deny the area's Zoroastrian connections, or as some authors have suggested, a way of preserving the ruins from the hands of Arab Islamist zealots bent on obliterating anything Zoroastrian or of Iranian heritage. Other nearby landmarks have also been associated by the locals with Solomon. Tawila-ye Soleyman (Stable of Salomon) and Takht-e Belqis / Belqeis (the throne of the queen of Sheba / Bathsheba, Solomon's mother) are other landmarks in the area.
Instead of the volcano's crater being Solomon's prison, there are ruins of a Median Fire Temple on the crater's slopes at Zendan-e Soleyman.]
|View of the Shiz environs looking west northwest|
Centre: Ruins of Shiz with pond in the centre
Top-left: Volcano called Zendan-e Soleyman (Prison of Solomon) with 100 m deep crater
Centre-left: Village of Nosratabad (behind ruins and in front of the volcano)
Left: Highway 23
Image credit: Behnam at Virtual Tourist
Professor A. V. Jackson (see above) identified the ruins as Shiz. The Arab geographer Yakut described the fortified city of Shiz c. 1220 CE as containing a fire-temple was still in use. Yakut wrote that "Shiz is a district of Azarbaijan. Its name is a form of Jis / Chis, out of which the Arabs have made Shiz. It is said that Zardusht, the prophet of the Fire-Worshippers, came from there... ."
According to Professor Dietrich Huf, "The mention of the thermal lake in the Middle Persian Zoroastrian literature (Humbach), the medieval literary tradition, as well as the inscriptions on clay bullae found during the excavations (Göbl), provide grounds for identifying the site as the sanctuary of Adur Gushnasp." Adur Gushnasp / Gushasp was one of the three great fires of the Sassanian era (224 to 651 CE), and perhaps even the largest of its time. The site also contains Mongol Ilkhanid period (13th century CE) additions around the lake. In addition, there are traces of a 5th century BCE occupation during the Achaemenid period, as well as a small Parthian era (247 BCE - 224 CE) fortification in the area of the site's citadel at the northern edge of the lake. The first archaeological survey was carried out by the American Institute of Iranian Art and Archaeology under Arthur Upham Pope in 1937.
The principle structures that are visible to us today are thought to have been constructed during the reign of King Pirooz (457- 484 CE). Sassanian kings reportedly made a pilgrimage to the site upon their coronation. Reputedly, they journeyed to the temple complex on foot to receive their divine investiture at the sanctuary of the eternal flame which left no ashes and from which all other sacred fires were ignited. (Note: Azerbaijan was known to have ever-burning natural gas fires cf. Surakhani Fire Temple in Baku, Azerbaijan.)
The fire temple itself is said to have been of the chahar taqi design with a dome, the gonbad. The structure identified as the fire temple had royal quarters and a courtyard to the south. These in turn bordered the lake. The entrance for pilgrims was from the north door and the main north gate.
The site is surrounded by a 12 m thick mud brick wall with semicircular bastions. There are two gates - a north and a south gate. In the area between the lake and the north gate is a square area walled on three sides and open on the lake side (see plan below). The north gate of this inner enclosure is in line with the site's north gate.
|Southern Gate (right of the image. A present-day visitor's entrance is in the centre.)|
The site sits on a outcrop of limestone about 60 m above the valley. Within the site is the crater of the volcano is now a small crater lake fed by a spring at its base. The crater lake's water has a temperature of about 400C and spills over the edge into two streams. The water has a high in sulphur content giving the stream water a yellowish hue. At its deepest point, the depth of the lake is 112 meters.
In Persia Past and Present, Jackson quotes traveller Mis'ar ibn Muhalhal (940 CE). "Muhalhal says about Shiz: '...This town is situated between Maraghah, Zanjan, Shahrzur, and Dinavar, in the midst of mountains containing mines of gold, quicksilver, lead, silver, orpiment, and amethysts ... A wall encloses the city, and within its circuit is a pool whose bottom cannot be sounded. I dropped a line in it more than fourteen thousand cubits, but the lead did not find any resting-place and remain steady. The area of the lake is about one quarter of an acre. Earth soaked with water form it immediately becomes hard stone. Seven streams of water flow from the lake, each of which turns a mill before flowing out under the wall. At Shiz there is also a large fire-temple, which is held in great veneration. From it are lighted the fires of the Magians from the east to the west. On top of the dome there is a silver crescent which is a talisman. Many rulers have tried to remove it, but have not succeeded. One of the extraordinary things connected with the temple is, that a fire has been kept burning in it for seven hundred years without any ashes having been found; nor has the fire gone out for a single hour. ... Whenever an enemy advances to take the city and plants his ballista against its walls, the stone from the machines falls into the pool which we have mentioned; and if he move the ballista back, even as far as one cubit, the stone falls outside the wall ...' ... Someone else has related that in Shiz there is the fire of Adharakhsh, a temple honored of the Magians. It was customary for their kings, when they ascended the throne, to make a pilgrimage thither on foot. The people of Maraghah and of this neighbourhood call this place Gazna.' "
|Plan of the temple area|
1. The northern veranda, 2. Azar Goshnasp Temple, 3. Place of Eternal Fire, 4. Presumed Anahita temple, 5. The western veranda, 6. presumed Mithraic altar (Mehrab), 7. Dining Hall, 8. northern entrance gate, 9. Gallery, 10. Reconstruction southern fortification project, 11. Royal south-eastern entrance gate
Professor A. V. Jackson identified one of the buildings at Takht-e Suleiman as a Zoroastrian fire temple stating that the temple was an arched, vaulted and domed building, partly below the ground, and made from bricks nearly a foot square in a fashion similar to other Sassanian era fire temples. There were two arched portals, through which one descended to the vaulted brick chamber below. The walls were four or five feet thick, and inside the chamber were arched wall-recesses. The interior had the air of a place built for the preservation of precious treasure.
While the structure identified as the fire temple dates to the Sassanian era, archaeological excavations have revealed traces of a 5th century BCE occupation from the Achaemenid period.
In addition to the authors cited above, various other Arab and Persian geographers mention Shiz and its fire-temple which some called Adharjushnas. Al-Hamadhani (writing c. 910 CE) adds that the fire of Adharjushnas (Adar Gushnasp dedicated to warriors) belonged to legendary king Key Khosru / Khosrow and was originally located elsewhere in Azarbaijan, but was later moved to Shiz. According to the Middle Persian Bundahishn, the Adar Gushnasp fire was one of three 'Great Royal' fires of the Sassanian era.
"The fire Gushnasp used to protect the world, in that manner, until the reign of Kay Khosrow. When Kay Khosrow was razing the idol temples of Lake Chichast, it settled upon the mane of his horse, dispelled the darkness and gloom, and produced light, till he razed the idol temples. He forthwith established fire altars, in the same locality, on the Asnavand mountain. For that reason they name it 'Gushnasp,' because it had settled on 'the mane of the horse'." Greater Bundahishn (18.12)
Spelling variations - Google results:
Takht-e Soleyman - 2,860,000 Takhte Soleyman - 82,200 Takhte Sulaiman - 58,300 Takhte Suleiman - 56,800 Takht-i Suleiman - 40,400 Takht-e Soleiman - 28,000 Takhte Soleiman - 5,770 Takhte Suleyman - 3,830 Takht-e Suleyman - 3,210
» Greater Bundahishn, Chapter 18
» Persia Past and Present by Professor A. V. Williams Jackson
» Takhté Soleymân, Azar Goshnasp Fire-Temple Complex, by Professor Dietrich Huff at CAIS.
» Photo page by Behi (Behnam) at Virtual Tourist. Very useful. This site identifies the photographs according to the site map above.
» Takht-e Soleyman
» Gahambar Gathering by Ramtin Boostani
» Azar Goshasp Fire Temple at CAIS
» Flickr Takhte Soleyman
» Flickr Takht-e Soleyman
» Flickr Takht-e Soleiman
» Flickr Takhte Soleiman
Below: Satellite Image of Shiz / Azargushnasp Temple site / Takht-e Suleiman