Bisapur was the main city of the Sasanians in Iran. It was not in fact the capital city; the capital was at Ctesiphon, in modern Iraq, a city on the River Tigris, 25 miles south of Babylon, which the Sasanians inherited from their predecessors the Parthians. Ctesiphon also incorporated a large Greek city and was constantly in danger of being attacked by the Romans.

Bisapur from entrance DSC03149Bisapur however was a new city laid out by Shapur, incorporating his name and dedicated by him in AD 266.  It is dramatically situated in the mountainous country, 100 miles north-west of Shiraz, in the heartland of old Persia, in the modern province of Fars, centred today on Shiraz, and not far from Persepolis. Shapur the Great was always keen to emphasise that the Sasanians were true Persians, and the successors of the Achaemenids.

Bishapur town planThe most remarkable feature about Bisapur it is that it appears to have been laid out on a rectilinear grid system which is something quite new: the Parthians had always tended to laid out their cities on a circular grid. The idea of rectilinear town planning came from the Greeks and Romans. (The town plan comes from Roman Ghirshman’s book on Iran and may possibly be slightly over-optimistic; but it is interesting to compare it with the Google air view of Bishapur, where the outline, marked by the walls is now marked by the encroachment of modern buildings. Fortunately the interior is preserved.

The main discoveries were made by the indefatigable French archaeologist Roman Ghirshman, who worked spasmodically but fruitfully between 1935 and 1941, and discovered what appears to be the Palace. Though unlike Persepolis, which was essentially a large Palace with a small town attached, Bisapur was a large city, with a palace attached in one corner.

However being today in the depths of the countryside, it is largely unknown and unexplored – it is said that  only 3% has been explored. But the French archaeologist Roman Ghirshman carried out  excavations between 1935 and 1941 and found what appears to have been the central part of a Palace.

Bisapur corner of Great Hall DSC05105The central feature of the Palace was the grand Hall, which had a cruciform shape with the corners being filled with squinches. Bishapur planThe excavator Ronan Gershman argued that it was covered by a grand Dome like a similar grand hall at Ctesiphon, but most other archaeologists believe that the area was too big to be roofed and it must have been an open hall.

Bisapur Grand Hall 124-130 red2


Adjacent to it was a smaller but still magnificent room which originally had a splendid mosaic on the floor, which unfortunately has been removed and is now in Paris.

Bisapur 119 - 121 red 150There is considerable argument as to whether mosaic working was a Roman technique and that the presence of mosaics implies the presence of Roman soldiers.  Indeed it has been suggested that this is where the Roman Emperor Valerian was prisoner after his capture. The reports of how he was treated are contradictory. On the one hand, there is a Roman report that he was badly treated by the Romans and kept in miserable conditions. However, this comes from from Lactantius, who is a Christian author and as Valerian was a pagan, he wants to paint a picture of pagan suffering. However, Persian sources suggest he was well treated, but as the sources belong to the ninth century A.D, they are not all that strong.


Bisapur view down into temple DSC05151The other feature adjacent is a temple to the god Anahita. This is an underground shrine with a long staircase leading down into it. There are dark passages round the back and there was a pool at the centre. It is well it is well preserved and extensively restored and is the most impressive feature on the site. It is said to be a temple of the goddess Anahita.


Bisapur Defeences DSC05155A short length of the walls with numerous bastions has been excavated, but only a very small part of the whole town has been explored,  and judging by the Google photo, a vast area has been preserved, with modern development clustering around the preserved areas, presumably marked by the walls. There is a complete Sassanians town here, waiting to be excavated!`


Outside the town, along the river, a superb set of bas reliefs were carved on an exposed cliff at Chogan Gorge


On to Chogan gorge



29th August 2017