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

Monday, December 26, 2011


Persepolis (built by the Achaemenids circa 518 B.C.) and the Necropolis (series of tombs nearby)

Sacked by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.
Shiraz Fort
Shiraz is a pretty unexciting city, but not bad, I suppose. Not too cool or hot a this time of year. It has many charming tree lined streets, but apart from a small castle fort filled with sour orange trees (yes, we tried them), does not really have much to distinguish it from any other moderately sized city in Iran. And to those who may have dreamed of it, the famous Shiraz grape that hafiz wrote poems about is, of course, no longer grown here.

Necropolis - Naqsh-e Rostam
Tomb of Cyrus the Great
We started the day at the Necropolis... 4 tombs dug out of the rolling geologist's dream of a limestone mountainside similar to Petra. Beautiful reliefs depicting Persians battle wins against their enemies, and a square tower with connections to the solstices. We headed on to Pasagarde 80 km down the road, to ponder Cyrus the Great's tomb on a windswept plain (and the pillaging of it by his own soldiers, which he was very unhappy about) as well as the palaces and massive unexcavated fort of the complex.

I can now finally say that I have been to Persepolis. I remember feeling jealousy that Baku friends had been and I hadn't but it never seemed to make it onto my itinerary despite two previous visits to Iran. It was not as big as I had thought it would be, but I was imagining it to be similar to Palmyra in Syria or Gerash in Jordan. But these expectations were unfair -- it was a special palaces complex and not a living city; and wow, what a complex it would have been. The pillars of one hall were 23m high, and then a roof on top of that! The reliefs carved into the walls, many unfinished as the carving was interrupted by the invasion of Alexander the Great, are among the most spectacular I have ever seen. Because the Achaemenids were so proud of their multicultural nation, there are depictions of 30 different races along with their offerings to the kings, including lions, sheep, goats, camels, stockings, fabric, and other riches. The layers and layers of soldiers are phenomenal, down to the detail on the sword.

I must say, however, how pissed off I got with the management of the complex. While mum mourned that it was not as natural as when she visited 44 years ago (and they have gone overboard in terms of over-manicuring everything), I was constantly being whistled at by the guards for stepping over ropes in order to take a better photo. They had barricaded almost the entire complex off from public viewing (despite carefully crafted pathways showing it was previously ok to go there), and all of those parts included the best bits of course!
View over Persepolis from the tombs
Tombs behind Persepolis
The two tombs behind the complex had spectacular views and the red and pink late afternoon light on the mountains and archways was wonderful. It was great to see the translated languages and the many lion eating deer carvings (I did wonder why they had so many of the same thing).

The complex was covered in sand until the 1930s, which preserved many riches from both raiders and vandals (which Iranians say that the Arabs all were), and we could imagine the wonders that were there before.

We exited to look at the contrast of the Shah's tent city contrasting with the nomadic tents outside the walls, and went home for dinner.  I will say that if I have to eat another plate of chicken kebab and rice, I think I'll go crazy.

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