Taq-e Bostan, Kermanshah


One of the finest examples of this rock art is to be found at Taq-e Bostan, a site in the North of Iran in the suburbs of the large modern city of Kermanshah. This is in a Kurdish area in the Zagros mountains, and originally it was part of the Silk road, one of the penultimate stops before it make its way down from the mountains into the plains of Mesopotamia. It appeared to be a royal hunting lodge of the type often called a ‘paradise’.

Tagh e Bostan 530 - 533 redHere freshwater springs form a small lake which was an ideal stopping off point for the caravanserais,  providing both flat ground and good drinking water. But at the back was a large cliff which provided an admirable advertising bill board on which the Kings of Sassanian Iran could proclaim their successes.

Kermanshah end tableau with stream DSC04525

The earliest was the isolated slab at the far end which shows Ardeshir II (379-383) being invested by his predecessor Shapur II (309-379). To the right is the god Mithras, holding a budle oftwigs to sustain the sacred fire.

Kermanshah end tableau detailDSC04526

Note the figure prostrate on the ground in the border: he is often thought to be the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate, who died while campaigning in Mesopotamia – but he died in 363, while Ardeshir did not become king until 379.


Kermanshah tweo grottoes DSC02993

The main feature, however, are the two  features called either grottoes or alcoves or the classic Persian term of ‘irwan’.The earlier of the two is in fact the smaller and less dramatic showing Shapur II with his son Shapur III, suspended oddly in the air.


Kermanshah main niche DSC04520

The largest however, is the latest which dates to the very end of the Sassanian period and is in two panels. At the top is Khusrow II, the last great Sassanid king (591-628),   flanked by two gods. At the bottom is a mounted knight, though also to be  Khusrow himself, riding his favourite horse Shabdiz and looking very much like the mediaeval knights in armour which appear in Europe half millennium later.

The whole area has recently been done up and laid out in a very enticing fashion. We saw it the day after a heavy thunderstorm when it looked gorgeous: it is at the end of a long approach road lined with cafes and restaurants and is a popular meeting place for the local inhabitants.

The panels are at Taq-e Bostan display well the closing stages of Sassanid art.  Khusrow II was the last great Sassanid king, and barely a decade after his death, the Moslems swept over the Persian Empire and a new era dawns. However the Moslems had little art of their own and Persian art and civilisation conquered the new Moslem world. The finest Persian art is to be seen in the Sassanid-influenced art of the Muslims.

On to the glories of Sasanian engineering


12th July 2017

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