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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Persepolis, ceremonial capital of the Ancient Persian Empire

The first great empire in what is today Iran was that of the Elamites who lived in the southwest where they fought constantly against the Babylonians and Assyrians. Next came the nomadic early Persians who eventually replacing the Elamites.
It was during the reign of Cyrus the Great that the great Persian Empire was established, when he conquered territories ranging from Greece to the Indus River in Pakistan. He established his capital in the capital of the Elamites, at Shush, but also stayed at the old Median capital at Ecbatana (today's Hamadan), and later built a new capital at Pasargadae where his tomb now rested (though his remains were no longer there). The empire was in disarray by the time of his grand son, Darius the Great, who defeated the pretenders to the throne and rebel princes and states, reunited the country and established a new ceremonial capital at Persepolis near Shiraz in 512 BC.
In the wind-swept basin that is Persepolis, a huge terrace or raised platform was built, and on it, grand halls where rulers of subject nations were received and many monumental palaces and administrative buildings as well. Huge sculptures of real and mythological creatures were raised, together with symbols of vigour and power, such as of a fierce lion with its jaws on a bull – projecting the image of imperial power and strength. On the famous Apadana Staircase were carvings of ambassadors, soldiers and servants of more than 20 subject nations, among them Egypt, India, Arabia, Parthia, Armenia and Greece, arriving at the court of the Persian king, bringing tributes and exotic products from their lands. The grandeur of that era can be imagined from these carvings as well as the many columns that remain here.
All these came to an end in 330 BC, during a visit by Alexander the Great, the Macedonian empire builder who had earlier conquered the Persian Empire. After a night of drunken frenzy, the whole city complex with destroyed, burned to the ground. Some said it was an accident; others said it was a revenge for the destruction of Athens by the Persian king Xerxes 150 years before that; some blamed it on Alexander's sadness after the death of his favourite lover-general.

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