Persepolis is an archeological ruin of an ancient city just outside of Shiraz in the southwest of Iran and is the last of three things that I was really looking forward to seeing in Iran.
Since we left Esfahan rather late in the day on June 21st our 500 km drive to Shiraz brings us into the city just as it is getting dark and rush hour is at its worst. Our hotel is also on the opposite side of the city from where we arrive so I have to deal with another crazy evening in traffic. Finally we find our hotel, Niayesh Boutique Hotel, a traditional Iranian home converted into a hotel. The home/hotel is a series of rooms centered about a beautiful courtyard (see photo below). Our room has tons of character, the hotel management is super nice, and they even show me a good place to park our car and then drive us back to the hotel in a motorcycle-powered, 3-wheeled vehicle that is half Indian rickshaw, half Pope-mobile. We enjoy a nice dinner in the courtyard.
After a good night’s rest we drive back out of Shiraz to Persepolis. Persepolis came to power around 500 BC and embodies the success and power of the Achaemenid Empire, a great empire that preceded the Greek and Roman Empires. The Achaemenids ruled a vast multicultural empire. Darius tells us all about this Persian Empire, including that this was the first city where scholars have proof that people bought insurance for things.
The entrance to Persepolis gives the visitor an idea of how magnificent this ancient city must have been.
Once inside the city there are many different things to see but one of the most impressive to me was the wall of bas-reliefs showing people from 23 nations bringing gifts typical of their homelands to the Acheamenid King. Even after 2500 years the bas-reliefs are still incredibly clear and illustrative.
The sun is very intense but we deal with it ok and have some refreshments in a little café next to the ruins where I enjoy a blackberry juice with real blackberry bits in it. Then we visit the tomb of Artaxerxes II, one of the Acheaminid kings, which overlooks the city. From the front of the tomb you can get a feel of how extensive Persepolis is.
We have lunch in an outdoor restaurant a few km away with a pond and fountains, then continue to the tombs of Xerxes, Darius I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II at Naqsh-e Rostam, all of which were Acheaminid kings. These are huge tombs cut into the rock cliffs. They were completely covered in dirt that slowly blew here until they were excavated earlier in this century.
Also cut into the rock are stone reliefs depicting various military victories of the Acheaminids. Later, after Darius notices my Martian Marathon t-shirt, I learn that the Achaemenids (Persians) and Greeks fought a battle at Marathon and when the Persians lost, legend has it that a Greek soldier ran to Athens (26.2 miles) to proclaim that the battle was won, then passed out and died. These are the kings whose defeat “created” the marathon.
More detailed history for history buffs and marathon runners (mostly taken from Lonely Planet): The Greeks assisted the cities of Iona in their attempt to overthrow Persian rule. In response the Achaemenid king Darius I swore revenge on Greece. In 490 BC he sent a force to attack Greece. There was a standoff and then stalemate at Marathon. For reasons that are not completely clear the Greeks attacked and with their heavier arms defeated the Persians, who retreated to Asia. Darius began raising a huge new army but when the Egyptians (who were under Persian rule) revolted it postponed his plans. After Darius died Xerxes I restarted preparations and attacked in 480 BC. The first battle at marathon was a watershed in the Greco-Persian wars, showing that the Persians could be defeated. Historians see the Battle of Marathon as a pivotal moment in European history.
After seeing the tombs we drive back to Shiraz and visit a huge Bazaar with lots of people, tons and tons of shops packed with goods, some of which are really cool. I wish we had bazaars like this at home for Christmas shopping! We buy some rose water and Bidmeshk (Egyptian willow) extract drink. It is really yummy.
After the bazaar we walk to a restaurant that has a live four-member Iranian band (singer, violin, dulcimer, drum). The food is great (I have eggplant/yogurt dip with bread, salad, Mahi kabab, dessert of figs and sweet paste) and it is so cool hearing and seeing the band. What a great night. Darius has really organized a great day for us.
The next day, on June 23rd we visit the Sa’di shrine in Shiraz. Sa’di is one of Iran’s most beloved poets. He died in 1291 and wrote a great deal about roses and love. Then it is back on the road to drive to Yazd.