A day at Persepolis

…and the heritage of humanity in Iran

I arrive in Shiraz by bus in the early morning hours of a fine summer day more than two decades ago. Like so many times before while backpacking in Iran in the footsteps of Marco Polo, I have been approached by a friendly man on the bus, asking me if I would like to stay with him and his family while in Shiraz. Mr A was married and had two kids, a boy and a girl. They lived in a small flat in the suburbs. Like many people I met in Iran they were disapproving to the present regime, and I was their guest for three days.

Already on the afternoon of my first day in Shiraz they took me out to the amazing UNESCO world heritage site of Persepolis, just outside town, with its stunning set of colossal ruins in grey marble. On the image taken by Mr A we are standing just before the Hall of Hundred Columns, often called The Throne Hall and completed by the king of kings Xerxes the Great in the 5th century BC after his famous losses in battle with the Greeks. An enormous bull’s head from the hall is now in the Oriental Institute in Chicago.

Ruins of the Apadana, the great hall of Xerxes, king of kings

We wander the palace area for hours, drinking apple juice and seeing the fantastic Apadana, a great hall for audiences also completed by Xerxes. It was burnt by the army of Alexander the Great in about BC 330 after his victory over the Persian empire. Apadana was excavated by an American project led by the archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld in the 1930s and most of his notebooks, diaries, photographs, and also some archaeological objects, are now in US institutions such as the Smithsonian in Washington DC and the MET in New York.

We also see the Tachara palace, started by king Darius I, and pass by the Achaemenid royal tombs at Naghsh-e Rostam. Later I am served a superb dinner at their home and we discuss what we have experienced together, as people do.

After the infamous American presidential tweet a couple of days ago, threatening to attack heritage sites in Iran, international organizations such as ICOM and ICOMOS have strongly spoken out about the nefarious idea of destroying cultural heritage. The point is, of course, that heritage sites such as Persepolis do not belong to present political regimes or devious nationalists, they are the common heritage of humanity and belong to all of us, not the least to people opposing present governments.

Tachara palace at Persepolis