In the sixth century BC, the Persians established one of the greatest empires the world had ever seen. Although centred in Persia, the empire stretched from the Aegean right through to India, while the influence was enormous. The Persians are generally known in the West today from the Greeks who were their enemy so our image of the Persians is not altogether unbiased. To the Persians, their military failures in Greece and who were past their attempts to take over the Greek mainland prefer Persians. This was merely a minor setback and their Empire stretched from the Aegean Sea through to India. And in this empire, the most splendid palace was that at Persepolis.
Persepolis was built as a new foundation by Darius the Great, and enlarged by his successor Xerxes. However, 200 years later it was destroyed by Alexander the Great, following his conquest. Where this was done deliberately, or by accident in a drunken orgies is still debated, but for the archaeologist, this has the fortunate byproduct that the site has been extremely well-preserved following its destruction. There are no later buildings and so today it is one of the greatest monuments of Iran, and one of the best examples in the world of what an ancient palace looked like. What, then, is there to see?
The Palace was built on an artificial platform based on a spur of the hills that can be seen in the background. However on three sides a huge wall was built to support the platform. Channels were then cut in the platform to provide a very elaborate water supply.
Here we see the majestic staircase that leads up onto the platform. It goes up in two stages, and would have formed an impressive entrance for visitors.
The Gate of All Lands
At either end were two majestic gateways, and between them there was a lofty hall supported on four pillars, three of which are still standing and can be seen in the photo. The two on the left are original, but the one on the right was reconstructed from fragments in 1967: ironically it is now the taller one as it has been reconstructed to its full height, and one can see that unlike Grecian columns, which are surmounted by a modest size capita, Persian columns tend to have an elaborate three stage capital of floral decorations surmounted by a pair of bulls back to back on which the beams that formed the roof would have rested
Here is a detail of the inner gate to gate, supported on two majestic lions which had wings and also bearded human faces. Such lions are based on Assyrian prototypes, but note the rear legs of the right-hand lion which are shown in motion. revealing the fluidity of Persian art, compared to the static poses of Assyrian lions.
The main building of a Persian palace was the Apadana or reception hall, where the king received tribute from the different parts of his kingdom. Here we see the Apadana of Persepolis from the North as would be seen by a visitor coming through the Gate of All Lands.
The Apadana is set on an elevated platform approached by a fine decorated staircase.
There is a second entrance from the East (that is to the left) which has the famous carvings which are covered by the low scaffolding which can just be seen.
The central hall had a roof supported by 36 columns in six rows of six, but there were also porticos on three sides which each had two rows of six columns, so there were 72 columns in all.
I had always assumed that the columns were all reconstruction and had wondered at the logic of their distribution. But it seems that all save one are original. It would appear that in the destruction of Alexander the Great, the walls of the Apadana were all demolished, but some of the pillars supporting the roof were left standing.
When they were first painted by European travellers in 1619, twenty columns were still standing. In 1694 this had been reduced to seventeen, and by 1841 to thirteen, all of which are still standing today, though in the late 1970s, a reconstructed column was added.
Here is a view of the Apadana looking to the North East, showing the hills in the background on the spur on which the Palace was constructed. In the distance to the right is the tomb of Artaxerxes, while in the middle right is the scaffolding covering the eastern entrance.
Surounding the Apadana were the palaces and the other ancilliary rooms of a major ceremonial centrre