A great capital of the Archaemenid Empire, Persepolis,
near the Persian Gulf in Southwestern Iran, is a marvel. Darius
I started the ambitious project in 518BC, and was clearly
building to impress. He chose as his building site the striking
plain of Marv-e Dasht, rimmed by imposing purple cliffs,
and set about making a palace of huge dimensions. The audience
hall, which was once supported by 72 tall pillars (you can
still see 13 of them), bears Darius' modest inscription:
'Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries,
son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenian, built this palace.'
When Darius ran out of steam and died, his son Xerxes
took over, and added his own text:
"When my father Darius went away from the throne,
I became king on his throne by the grace of Ahuramazda. After
I became king, I finished what had been done by my father,
and I added other works."
Xerxes won so many wars that he had to enlarge his treasury
to store all the loot. In 467BC there were apparently 1348
people employed in the treasury, many of them with the job
description of 'gold-and-silver-shiners'!
Visiting Persepolis today
Persepolis is captivating because it doesn't stretch the imagination
much to picture how it once was. Columns still stand around
giving an idea of the scale of the roofs they once held up,
boulders and gateways, doorjambs and bits of wall are all
scattered about like lego of the gods, watched over by great,
carved beasts. Everything is covered with illustration: carvings
of winged bulls with the heads of men, fights in progress
between the king and a lion, people spearing each other through.
For the curious, the walls also tell tales of everyday life,
as many of the scenes are of the delegations trouping to the
enormous New Year parties. In these depictions, servants carry
furniture around while the many different tribes arrive, all
distinguishable by their different hats and clothes, and all
bearing gifts: camels and cloth, axes and bulls, lions and
vases, elephants tusks, chariots and even a giraffe! The king
of countries received his guests through the Gate of All
Nations - anyone interested in multiculturalism should
hang around in this almighty meeting spot for a day.