“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bishapur ancient city, Iran


The city of Shapur, king of the Sassanids. A.D. 260
About 2 hours drive out of Shiraz is another old city of Iran, Bishapur. It's half way to the Gulf, (coincidently, on the news today they announced that Iran will close the Straits of Hormuz if they don't remove the sanctions and allow oil to be sold!) through beautiful valleys of spectacular mountains and wild orchids.
Narrow valleys with bas-reliefs up the side were damaged by a trough for a water mills and Muslim extremists hacking off parts of statues (though it does puzzle me why they went for the horse's tassels instead of something else more important). The city consisted of a super castle perched up on the side of the mountain, and hills and hills of unexcavated ruins. Mum and I were disappointed that the cave with the 7 meter high statue of Shapur that we had been looking forward to seeing was a 1 and a 1/2 hour walk up a cliff face that we did not have time for.
However, one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen is Anahita's temple, which was a massive, very tidy stone courtyard 7 meters underground where there would have been a pool for worshippers. I've never seen an old city with something so big and open below the level of the land, and it was so well constructed with massive stone blocks that fitted together almost without mortar. A square corridor around it disappeared underground. It would have been a beautiful building and a beautiful pool, but the fact that it was so complete and intact and underground as well (the underground bit was what allowed it to be intact) were quite amazing!

Found it fascinating to imagine the 70,000 or so Roman soldiers (prisoners of war) that built the city. They had lost to Shapur, and I believe they lived the rest of their lives out there as punishment. Roman emperor Valerian mentioned that if he'd lost he would have had Shapur cut into bits and distributed in the hills so that the eagles could eat him (which somewhat complied with Zoroastrian beliefs, but not really), but Shapur built Valerian a palace so he could live out his days in this spectacular location. What would it be like to go off to fight and to never return to your home? Most of the soldiers would have been from all over the empire, and Iran is beautiful, but that is really a punishment in emotive proportions. Would there have been resentment or contentment? How have their genes dispersed down through Iran's lineage? We were talking yesterday about how Gengis Khan impregnated 500 women (or was it 100?) and now around 15 million people can trace their genetic code back to him across Asia and Europe. Where are the genes from those soldiers? Shouldn't everyone around here have blue eyes and blonde hair, although I recognize that's a stereotype.
We wandered the palace and a massive domed reception hall (sans dome of course) while the sun set in front of us. Not another soul was around the entire time, and it was peaceful and relaxed. Mum said the ruins in Turkey were like that in the 70s, but now imagine they are as roped off and sterile as Persepolis is today. For moments I decide I like the organization and good management and preservation, but really, I am pretty sure that I prefer the freedom to roam wherever I wish and the romanticism that occurs to me in a wild site.

Was a bit disgusted by Lonely Planet's lack of info on the site, really. Just another example of money taking precedence over quality.

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