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The majestic Naqsh-e Rustam, Necropolis, make Iranian history alive

2004-08-15
No other place in Iran can the continuity of the country's history be understood better. Here there are Elamite, Achaemenian and Sasanian monuments standing side by side. From ancient time tombs and bas-reliefs were carved out on a rocky cliff facing the strong rising sun.

Here is the fascinating history of Iran really in the spotlight, and there is more to be revealed.

 

Photo. Tombs of Darius I and Darius II, two of Naqsh-e Rustam great tombs.

 

I and my guide Ali started our excursion from Shiraz (July 2004). First we drove to Persepolis to see the ruins from a great ancient palace. In the history Persepolis was the Achaemenian capital. Soon after Darius` accession in 520 BC the building of the palace started. So it grew to be a world wide empire. Nearby at the foot of a rugged cliff stand some other magnificent examples of human creations: Naqsh-e Rustam - Necropolis in Iran.

 

This cemetery has become famous under the name Necropolis named by foreign researchers. It`s because Necro means the dead and polis means city. With its grandeur and significance of history there is something that really makes you really excited.

 

Later we drove to the nearby necropolis of Naqsh-e Rotsam, as the locals call it. This site has many tombs and rock engravings from ancient time. As my guide told me, it would have been better to visit Naqsh-e Rustam (Necropolis) before Persepolis. He said that it would be easier for me to understand the continuity of Iran`s history better, but due to the driving distance the route we followed was more optimal.

 

History

The large bas-reliefs of Naqsh-E Rustam (Necropolis) bring history alive more than any other place in Iran . While I wandered in the front of the tombs and rock carvings I tried to imagine how it was for more than 2500 years ago. I wondered how the ceremonies were at that time when the people buried their rulers. It was said that the vultures picked the bones from the dead clean before they were stored in the in the chambers.

 

Even though Naqsh-i-Rustam had been a sacred area (as the remains of a Pre-Achaemenid relief show) for a long time, Darius the Great was the first to choose it as a burial place. His successors not only imitated his idea of a cliff tomb, but also copied the layout of the tomb itself. The dramatic facade of the tomb is constructed like a cross. An entrance leads into the tomb chamber, cut deep into the rock.

 

It's impossible for me to say how well preserved the tombs inside. Looting is still a big problem in Iran as other places in the world, but now it looked as the site was well protected, and as far I could see there was some preservation work there too.

 

All the four tombs were shaped as a cross. They were constructed during the reign of each king and they are on equal height from the original ground level.

 

Between tombs of Darius I and Xerxes there is a carving from Sasanian period. It displays the triumph of Shapur over the Romans. The king Shapur is much larger than any other figure. Even his horse is proportionately small, not because of the Sasanians used small horses, but to indicate the greatness of the king.

 

Photo: Bas-relief from the Sasanian period - triumph of Shapur (Naqsh-e Rustam, Necropolis, Iran).

 

The tombs at Naqsh-E Rustam have been built between 550 and 400 BC. The first distinct people to emerge on the Iranian plateau were probably the Elamites, who established a city at Shush in the far south-west. In the old days it was possible from Naqsh-e Rustam to view the old city Estakhr.

 

The four tombs of this place are believed to be those of Artaxerxes I, Xerxes I, Darius I and Darius II (seen from left to right as you look at the cliff). The tomb chamber is about 23 meters long and 19 meters wide. There are still more to find out about Naqsh-e Rustam, and historians are still discussion several aspects and finds here.  

 

Photo. Tomb of Darius II formed as a cross as the other tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam, Necropolis, Iran.  

The tombs were constructed during the reign of each king and they are on equal height from the original ground level.

 

The entrances to the tombs lead to funerary chambers where the dead kings are buried. Unfortunately it's not possible to enter the caves anymore, so I had to observe them from outside.

 

The only creature that could go everywhere was the lizards which climbed the steep rocky walls.

 

Photo.
Tomb of Darius II. Tombs of Naqsh-e Rustam where large and beautiful, but not accessible for visitors anymore.

  

The Aryans came to the region in the second millennium BC. They brought with them some agricultural and domestic skills. It wasn't until the middle of the 6th century BC, when the Achaemenian king Cyrus the Great ruled the region, that Persian history was documented. The Achaemenian Dynasty is recognised as the founder of the Persian Empire that later become Iran. The Sasanian dynasty started with Ardeshir I in 220 AD, and used the site for propaganda purposes so they could increase their power.

 

The kings from the period were forgotten in Islamic times. So was also the purpose of the place. People assumed the reliefs were from Ferdowsi's epic, the Shahnameh, connected the rock carvings to the hero Rostam.

 

Mysterious building beside

One great mystery on the place is the square stone building called Cube of Zoroaster (Kabeh-e Zarthusht). It stands approximately 50 metres back from the rock-face opposite the tomb of Artaxerxes I (the tomb to the left when you look at the cliff).

 

Many theories have been launch about this building. Despite the walls display inscriptions of Sassanian victories, the building is believed to be an Achaemenid fire temple. The reason for this is that similar buildings have been shown on coins of a later period. On these coins there have been depicted roof with fire altars with flames on the top.

 

Photo. Kabeh-e Zarthusht (Cube of Zoroaster), Naqsh-e Rustam. This building is still a mystery. Is it connected to religion?

 

Cube of Zoroaster was constructed so that the light of the sacred fire could keep the carvings and the tombs illuminated.

 

The kings and dynasties in the region are gone, but the well preserved monuments make the history live. The magnificent Naqsh-e Rustam has been excavated and explored for many years now, but still there are more to find out about the past at the site an in the region. Just as a new day begins the history has to be updated continually based on new knowledge and experiences.

Stein Morten Lund, 15 August 2004

 

Additional information

Especially thanks to my excellent guide Ali Hussein Manoochehri (from Pars Tourist Agency (P.T.A), Shiraz, Iran - www.key2persia.com) who contributed with information and translation.

 

Tour information visiting ancient monuments as mentioned in this article:

Attractions:

1. Persepolis (2 hours)

2. Necropolis (1 hour)

3. Naqshe Rajab (20 min)

4. Istakhr City (20 min)

5. Pasargadae (1.30 hour)

 

Itinerary:

All ancient highlights in one day: move from Shiraz to Persepolis (53km, 1 hour) in the morning 2 hours for visiting Persepolis, move to Necropolis (8km), 1 hour for visiting Necropolis. Move to Naqshe Rajab (3km), visiting the relieves there, having lunch at a restaurant, move to Pasargadae (79km), on the way visit Istakhr City and then return to Shiraz (2 hours). Approximate tour duration: 8 hours.

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Pars Tourist Agency (P.T.A.), Iran

Presentation:

It`s a private Persian incoming agency. It's located in Shiraz under the license number 1/47026 issued by Iran Travel & Tourism Organization (ITTO) (www.farstourism.org). They organise a wide variety of tours for individuals as well as groups such as inbound historical, cultural, anthropology, mountaineering, trekking, adventure and natural excursion tours.

Speciality - exploring nomad tribes:
For real adventurers P.T.A. arranges expeditions in to rural areas to search for nomad tribes in Iran's high mountains. Some of the tribes are Bakhtiari, Lor, Qashqai. They live in a beautiful landscape that will take your breath away. You will be able to explore the tribe's daily life and unique culture in a natural way. Sometimes you will experience a wedding, birth, fighting game, dancing, festival or other things. Take your time and see what happens. Then it will be an experience of a lifetime.

Contact info:
Phone: 0098-711-2223163 and 0098-711-2240645. Mobile Phone (around the clock) 0098-9171118514.
Fax: 0098-711-2229693
Letters: Pars Tourist Agency (P.T.A), Zand Street 71358, Next to Iran Cinema, Shiraz, Iran.
Website: www.key2persia.com
E-mail: info@key2persia.com

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