The history of Persepolis

Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Empire. The city was founded in 518 BC by Darius I, who moved the capital from Pasargadae to this place. The empire of the Persians was the largest in the world at the time, stretching from Egypt to Afghanistan and from Greece to Uzbekistan. It was founded by Achaimenes around 700 BC and is therefore also called the Achaemenid Empire. The name Persepolis comes from the Greeks and means "city of the Persians". Under Darius I the city was called "Persa", like the region in which the city was located. The name Persia developed from this designation.

Darius I was appointed great king of the Persians in 522 BC. He was the founder of Persepolis, who built his residence city here and ruled the country until 486 BC. The stabilized power in the subject areas and was able to expand the Persian Empire to India. With the conquest of Miletus in 494 BC he also ended the Ionian revolt of the Greeks in Asia Minor. The battle of Marathon took place under his rule, during which the Greeks were able to drive out the Persians in 490 BC.

The war against the Greeks was continued by his son Xerxes I, who was defeated in the sea battle of Salamis (480 BC) and had to retreat to Persia. Xerxes I ruled from 486 BC to 465 BC and built another palace in Persepolis.

His son Artaxerxes I ruled until 424 BC and built the "Hall of 100 Columns" in Persepolis. Artaxerxes I continued to fight against the Greeks who supported a revolt against the Persians in Egypt. Artaxerxes I ended the wars against Greece in 448 BC by negotiating with Callias II.

After several murders to succeed him to the throne, Darius II became the new great king of the Persians, he ruled until 404 BC. He supported the Spartans financially in the Peloponnesian War against the Attic League. The Spartans won and Athens lost power. For the Persians, this reduced the risk of attack in the west of their empire.

His successor Artaxerxes II lived until 358 BC. He ruled for 45 years and built a palace in Susa. He was buried as the first great king in Persepolis, his predecessors were buried in Naqsch-e Rostam.

His son Artaxerxes III ruled from 358 BC to 338 BC. At the beginning of his rule several governors (satraps) became self-employed. Artaxerxes III struggled to crush the satrap revolution and retake Egypt. Artaxerxes IV followed who had his predecessor and his sons poisoned. The eunuch Bagoas, who had poisoned Artaxerxes III, also poisoned Artaxerxes IV before he was poisoned himself by Dareios III. Dareios III was the last ruler of the Persians who ascended the throne in 336 BC.

The Persian Empire was weakened by the constant change of the great kings. Alexander the Great invaded Persia in 334 BC and was able to defeat the outnumbered Persians in the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. Alexander also sent his General Parmenion to occupy Damascus. There was the Persian war chest and the family of Darius III, who were captured. Instead of moving directly to Persepolis, Alexander conquered the eastern Mediterranean coast and moved as far as Egypt. In doing so, he weakened the Persian Empire more and more and also cut it off from the allied Phoenicians, who now no longer had a port in the region to land troops. Alexander put Darius III. Checkmate before moving to Persepolis. At the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, Alexander defeated the Persian army under the leadership of Darius III. He was able to escape, but had lost his army. Alexander then occupied Babylon and declared himself king of Asia.

In 330 BC Alexander the Great advanced into the Persian heartland and was able to take Persepolis without a fight. The fugitive Dareios III was killed in Bactria by the governor Bessus. Alexander had his body solemnly buried in Persepolis. Whether Alexander the Great had Persepolis destroyed is still a matter of dispute. It is very likely that only the temple of Xerxes I was burned down. Alexander tried everywhere to make allies of the defeated. Since the satrap Bessos declared himself the Great King of Persia, the Persians followed Alexander to hunt down the murderer of their king. They moved to Central Asia together and captured Bessos. Alexander moved on to Samarkand and had conquered all the provinces of the Persian Empire. From then on Persepolis was no longer the center of power and was abandoned because the royal city no longer functioned without the royal court.

Persepolis served from then on as a quarry for the construction of the surrounding cities. Scientific excavations did not begin until 1931. In 1979 Persepolis was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.



Gate of all Nations

The "Gate of all Nations" is behind the staircase that led to the terrace on which the palace buildings stand. The structure was built by Xerxes I as an entrance. The "Gate of all Nations" served as a waiting room for emissaries from the conquered countries, which were tributary to the Persian Empire. The "Gate of all Nations" was intended to impress and intimidate the delegates. Over 16 m high columns supported the roof of the waiting hall. Ornately decorated capitals and huge figures displayed the power of the Persian kings. There were two exits from the "Gate of all Nations", one leading to the processional street, the other to the Apadana Palace.



Apadana Palace

The Apadana Palace was built by Dareios I around 515 BC. Its main purpose was to provide a splendid setting for the parade of gift bringers from all parts of the Persian Empire. The huge palace stands on an almost square floor plan, with a side length of about 125 m, making the Apadana the largest palace in Persepolis. It was steadily expanded by the subsequent great kings. Xerxes I put the entrance to the north and rebuilt the main facade. If you come from the "Gate of Nations", the Apadana Palace is on a higher level. To get from there to the palace, one climbs a staircase that runs parallel to the facade. On this staircase you can see well-preserved reliefs of the emissaries carrying their gifts. Only a few columns remain from the actual throne hall, which testify to the former size of the Apadana Palace.



Darius Palace

South of the Apadana Palace is the actual palace of Darius I. This palace is much smaller and actually served as the living area of the Persian king. Many archways have been preserved in this area of the archaeological site.

The palaces of Xerxes I and his successors Artaxerxes I-III are also being built in the adjacent area. The harem was built next to the royal apartments, which borders the area of the royal palaces to the south and east.



sculptures and symbols

There are many sculptures and reliefs in Persepolis. Most of the symbols represent the power of the king, such as lions, eagles and bulls. You can also see patron gods from Assyrian mythology such as the Lamassu. The Lamassu is a bull with wings and a human head. He embodies the strength of a bull, the freedom of an eagle and the intelligence of a human. It stands as a monumental sculpture in front of the entrance to royal palaces. In Persepolis you can see the Lamassu at the "gate of all nations".

Another symbol is the Homa, a mixture of lion and eagle. The griffin was considered the guardian of the gold treasure because it was particularly attentive. Today the mythical creature is the trademark of the Iranian airline. The double Homa in Persepolis (photo) was originally not mounted on a pillar as you can see it today. It was part of a building and was attached to this pillar to protect it from tourists.

The Achaemenid great kings believed in the teaching of Zarathustra. That is why you can also see Zoroastrian symbols in Persepolis. Since the Persian Empire comprised many cultures and religions, symbols from other cultures can also be found in the capital. The Persians were tolerant of other religions and try to represent all peoples of their empire in order to consolidate their power.



Artaxerxes tomb

In the mountains on the eastern edge of the archaeological site there are two rock tombs in which Artaxerxes II And Artaxerxes III have found their final resting place. Who is in which grave is not fully clarified. Above the rock tomb you can see the Faravahar, the Zoroastrian symbol of the human spirit. The symbol shows outstretched wings and a person holding a ring in his hand. The Faravahar symbolizes the basic values of thinking well, doing well and speaking well. The circle symbolizes that the human mind has no beginning and no end.

Other graves of the Persian great kings are located in Naqsch-e Rajab, which is only about 6 kilometers away. The rock tombs of Darius I, Xerxes I, Darius II and Atraxerxes I are gathered there.




Map of Persepolis


Travel Guide Persepolis