What is Persepolis?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Persepolis is an ancient city located in modern-day Iran. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1979. The ruins of Persepolis are located a bit less than 40 miles (60km) north of the city of Shiraz, and are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iran.

Cyrus the Great, the founder of the immense Persian Empire, chose the site of Persepolis to serve as the capital of his newly powerful kingdom, sometime in the 6th century BCE. It was his son, however, Darius the Great, who built the mighty city. The city was known simple as Parsa, but the Greeks would call it Persepolis, meaning simply City of the Persians.

The glory of Persepolis was rather short-lived, however, much like the Persian Empire itself. In the 4th century BCE, Alexander the Great pushed his way through the Empire to the Persian Gates. He seized the city, and held it for months, before finally allowing his troops to loot the place bare. After looting it, a massive fire broke out, and much of the city was destroyed. Whether this fire was a deliberate act of revenge by Alexander’s soldiers in retaliation for the Persian burning of the Acropolis, or whether it was simply a drunken accident, is unknown.


Over the next few centuries Persepolis declined in importance, serving simply as a regional capital for the now ascendant Macedonian Empire. Eventually the capital moved a few miles to the north, to the newer city of Stakhr. Eventually even Stakhr faded in importance, and by the 10th century there was little power centralized in the region of once mighty Persepolis.

The first westerners to visit Persepolis in the modern era were from Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. These travelers, most notably the Portuguese visitor Antonio de Gouveia, wrote down extensive notes about their visits, but undertook no formal archeological surveys. The first studies along these lines didn’t happen until the early part of the 20th century, spearheaded by Ernst Herzfeld.

The bas reliefs of Persepolis are perhaps their most famous feature. These illustrate various battles, rituals, and examples of homage being paid to the Empire. The most well-known of these is the Satrap Staircase, which shows the various regional rulers under the Persian Empire, from all corners, including Bactrians, Indians, and Scythians, paying homage to the Emperor.

The tomb of Cyrus the Great is found in Pasargad, and is isolated and rather austere, little more than a squat mausoleum made of reddish stone. The tombs of the other great rulers, however, are all together in a single necropolis. Here are found the graves of Darius the Great, Darius II, Artaxerxes I, and Xerxes.

The Gate of All Nations is another popular spot in Persepolis. Although ruined now, the gate still stands, inscribed with Xerxes name in a number of languages, to make it very clear that it was he that ordered the mighty hall built. Of particular note here are the statues of Lamassu, with the head of a man and the body of a bull, in a sort of opposite of the minotaur of Greece.


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Post 1

what did the achaemenid kings do?

what evidence is there of religion and myth in persepolis?

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