While located in today’s southern Iran, (renamed in 1935 from Persia, meaning “Land of Aryans”, shortened from Iranshahr*, “Iran” is a cognate of “Aryan”), near the lovely city of Shiraz (from where the Shiraz or Syrah wine grape is incorrectly thought to have come from, but is actually a city known for its accomplished poets, Saadi and Hafez), Persepolis is a Greek word from “Perses Polis” or “Persian City”, while the original name is Parsa (City of Persians**). Constructed by Darius 1 or Darius the Great, around 518 bce, it was the capital of the Achaemenid empire (560 – 330 bce), whose founder was Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great (600 – 530 bce). Darius III, not so Great, was defeated by Alexander III or Alexander the Great circa 330 bce, who then also destroyed Persepolis, which I visited with my mother, Asha the Great (b. 1938 – still rocking) in 2016.
Persepolis was burnt and looted as revenge for the destruction of temples at the acropolis in Athens, which was demolished in revenge for the decimation of Sadis, the capital of Lydia while it was a Persian city.
While Cyrus the Great was known as a conqueror (Medes, Babylonia, Lydia, parts of central asia), as he had conquered the largest territory in then human history, from the Mediterranean in the west, to the River Indus in the East, later extended further into Egypt, Eastern Europe, etc by his successors, he is while controversial acknowledged for the first human rights document, the Cyrus Cylinder, his statesmanship through a system of satraps, and secularism as he respected and invested in the religions and cultures of his subjects. Importantly, for his freeing of the Jews of Judah when he defeated the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (now the name for a 15L sized wine bottle), who had destroyed Jerusalem and sent them into exile, he is the only non-jew (and an Iranian as such) in the Jewish Bible who is referred to as a Messiah. How about that…
Today, the inhabitants of Judah in the southern Levant have a very different opinion of the ruler of Persia, 180°. Things fall apart.
*known to the locals as Eranshahr during the Sasanian Empire, 224 to 651 CE, the last Persian empire before the Islamization of the region. The Sasanians were recognized as world powers alongside the neighboring rival empire of the Roman-Byzantine. **Central asian nomadic tribe that drifted south into west Asia along with the Medes.
The Gate of All Nations
Originally, 70 x 70m, remnants of the Hall of Hundred Columns.
Palace / living quarter of Xerxes I.
Relief on the apadana, Armenians bringing gifts of wine.
Representation of the new year Nowruz, the beginning of spring in Zoroastrianism, the religion in Persia before Islam, ascribed to the teachings of Zoroaster, which exalts a diety of wisdom, Ahura Mazda. Suppressed and persecuted with the muslim conquest of Persia in the 7th ce, most practitioners fled and now live in western India.
Extent of the Achaemenid empire.
Tomb of Cyrus the Great, near Pasargad, capital of his empire.
The remains of Cyrus’ palaces in Pasargad
Artifacts in the National Museum in Tehran.
From Persepolis, fluted stone columns with a double bull capital.
While the recent protests in Iran, the trigger for this post, wax and wane, and started because of price inflation, the theocracy has a problem on their hands. The Persian people are proud of, and have preserved their pre-Islamic history unlike the Chinese satrap of the Maldives. They verbalize that their current religion originates from a desert tribe, in comparison to their millennia of secular pre-islamic history from the Achaemenids thru to the Sasanids.
Among anti-islamic pro Iranian republic chants, they shout “Long Live Reza Shah” at the demonstrations. Reza was an ordinary army officer who maneuvered his way to the throne and ruled from 1925 – 1941 when he was deposed by his son, the chants are very symbolic as he was the one who challenged islamic clergy, banned the hijab and adopted western dress. This shift was followed through by Mohammed Reza Shah, his son who deposed him, and had to flee Iran in 1979 after from what i understand were widespread nationwide protests after years of widening income inequality and lack of opportunity, a mirror image of the protests today. On my trip, the locals I had a chance to speak with were so disheartened with the state of things, that they wished for the times under the despised profligate ousted Shah. It was then I knew the theocracy had an issue. However the theocracy still control the army thru the Revolutionary Guards, which remains key for the near term.
When we visited Pasargad and Cyrus’ tomb, we were told it was his birthday the day before, and 4,000 youth drove to this out of the way place, and stayed all night chanting “We are Cyrus, We are Cyrus”…He remains officially and unofficially, the Father of the Nation.
Learning about their illustrious past…