Unveiling the Wonders of Persepolis: A Ten-Year Exploration

In 518 BC, many of the most experienced engineers, architects, and artists were summoned worldwide to collaborate and create the first building that could symbolize unity, peace, and equality for thousands of years. In the 6th century BC, under the leadership of Cyrus the Great and during the reign of Darius the Great, the Iranians succeeded in establishing a world empire that extended from the Danube River in Europe to the Aral Sea in Central Asia and from the Indian Ocean and the Sind River to Ethiopia and Libya. They ruled over half of the known world of that time and governed it.

In 518 BC, Darius ordered the construction of a royal palace in Persia. Eventually, Persepolis’s magnificent and awe-inspiring buildings were built on a large rock in the mountains of Mehr in Marvdasht.

The construction of Persepolis continued during the rule of Darius, his son Xerxes, and his grandson Artaxerxes I, with each of them adding to the complex. However, in reality, the construction of Persepolis lasted for 188 years, until the end of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BC, and it never reached completion. Since then, the palace remained partially unfinished within Persepolis, indicating they did not have the opportunity to finish it.

Persepolis is filled with wonder and the brilliant culture of the people, and even its ruins and remains are admired by both Iranian and non-Iranian observers today, more than 2,500 years later. What is the secret of this enduring legacy?

  • To date, more than 30,000 clay tablets have been discovered from the excavations of Persepolis. While small and concise in size and text, they are among the most valuable documents of the Achaemenid period in content. Based on these clay tablets, which are primarily kept in the United States today, it has been revealed that during the active period of Persepolis, workers were paid wages, men and women had equal rights, women could work full-time or part-time jobs, women had equal inheritance rights, and mothers received maternity benefits, while children received social support. These social provisions, which, as Professor Kakh says, are not fully implemented even in a country like Germany today, remain a miracle for 500 years before Christ. Undoubtedly, the administrative tablets are definitive and irrefutable evidence of the organizational and social system of the Achaemenid era.
  • The Apadana, or the Hall of Columns, is a palace that covers an area of more than ten thousand square meters and had 72 columns in ancient times. This palace is considered one of the architectural masterpieces of ancient times due to the unusual height of the columns, approximately 20 meters, and their uncommon spacing from each other. Nothing like it has been built since. Each column weighed 90 tons, and on top of them were double-headed bull or lion columns, each weighing more than 1.5 tons.
  • Apadana has two sets of double-sided staircases on its north and east sides, with each stone wall measuring 81 meters in length. On these stone walls, a procession of soldiers, dignitaries of the country, and 23 delegations bearing gifts from Great Iran are engraved. In the center of these staircases, there is a depiction of the king holding a royal scepter in one hand as a symbol of kingship and offering a lotus flower in the other as a symbol of peace and friendship to the gift-bearers.
  • Persepolis has over 3,000 prominent reliefs and sculptures, many of which were inspired by the art of Media and Assyria. However, unlike them, no single scene can be found depicting war, rows of prisoners, vanquishing of enemies, or the display of royal power. Instead, they consistently emphasize unity and friendship among nations.
  • One of the most unique parts of Persepolis, which is usually not visible, is its underground waterways over 2 kilometers long. The Achaemenids carved rocks up to 9 meters deep in some parts and descended underground in other sections, where they added massive stones to achieve the desired slope. They devised unique engineering methods to ensure water flowed smoothly without sediment.
  • All the sculptures and stone carvings in Persepolis were adorned with vibrant colors and radiated with beauty. For example, one can mention the depiction of Darius in Tachara Palace. His crown was made of gold, his beard of lapis lazuli, and his bracelets and earrings were made of precious stones. Today, only the holes where these items were placed remain on the remaining reliefs, but you can still find finely detailed patterns with beautiful colors on the edges of Darius’s clothing.
  • Among the other wonders of Persepolis is its stone quarries. Engineers and miners could extract stones, some weighing up to 250 tons, from the quarry with their simple tools, transport them safely downhill, and transfer them to Persepolis after creating the initial design.
  • It appears that the size of the stone, whether large or small, made no difference to skilled Achaemenid stonecutters. They carved vases and pitchers with mouths much smaller than the inner diameter of the body, indicating that they could rotate the stone as they cut it using special tools.
  • To secure the base of columns, column shafts, column capitals, column tops, and the lintels of gateways, they did not use any mortar, and they only employed a specific method of meticulously carving the stone’s lower and upper surfaces. This method ensured that the columns and gateways remained stable against the force of earthquakes.
  • According to historical texts and existing inscriptions, there was a city named Parsa around the Persepolis, where thousands of people lived. Today, only a few traces of the town of Parsa remain on the surface of the plain, but archaeologists are working diligently to unearth this city from beneath agricultural lands.
  • The choice of Mount Mehr or Rahmat for constructing the Persepolis is believed to be due to its sacredness. Signs of sanctity include various forms of burials found on the slopes of this mountain, which take the shape of cone-shaped stone graves carved into cubic stones or cavities for the placement of bones.
  • Today, there are no traces of wooden ceilings in the palaces of Persepolis. Still, fortunately, archaeologists and researchers have correctly identified that the carvings on the chest of the Achaemenid kings’ tombs are, in fact, the same as those on Darius’s palace. They have thus successfully reconstructed a portion of the queen’s palace, which is now transformed into the Persepolis Museum.
  • Without a doubt, from the beginning of the construction of Persepolis, one of the architects’ significant concerns was protecting the complex against natural elements, especially rainfall. Brick and bitumen drains, underground channels, gutter drains, open channels, and stone wells were among the measures to safeguard the complex from flooding.
  • The methods of conservation and maintenance of the buildings at Persepolis in ancient times are genuinely remarkable. Since the construction of Persepolis never reached completion, it can be inferred that the structures and carvings were always susceptible to damage from the slightest impact. However, architects used their highly skilled techniques to prevent these possibilities and, if necessary, creatively repaired damaged stone pieces.
  • Another wonder of Persepolis is its significance in conveying messages to future generations. Darius ordered the placement of four golden tablets, four silver tablets, and several coins under the four corners of Apadana so that, in this way, his message might reach us and future generations after 2,500 years. He also says in a section of the four inscriptions on the southern wall of Persepolis:
    “This land, Persia, which Ahura Mazda has given to me, which is beautiful and expansive, which has no enemies, which is free from lies, I praise. I have done much to protect this land from enemies, from lies. I ask Ahura Mazda for these blessings.”
In February 330 BC, Alexander entered Darius’s palace and ordered the transportation of over 3,000 camels and a large number of carts from Susa and Babylon to carry the vast treasure of Persepolis, which amounted to over 120,000 talents, equivalent to 4,400,000 kilograms of silver, along with curtains, valuable fabrics, and exquisite carpets.
What has been briefly mentioned here is derived from an exceptional and well-documented collection called “Wonders of Persepolis,” produced after ten years of research and photography in collaboration with a group of Iranian and non-Iranian scholars.