Persepolis
Region and City Guides

Iran: Visiting Persepolis, Pasargadae, Necropolis

The journey from Yazd to Shiraz is several hours long through the mountain valleys and desert. Travellers using private transport can break the journey by visiting Persepolis, Pasargadae, Necropolis sites. These sites will delight travellers who are interested in the Ancient Persian Empire.

It’s possible to visit Persepolis and the necropolis sites on an organised day trip from Shiraz as they are located approximately 60-70km from the city. Pasargadae is 140km from Shiraz so may not be included in day trips.

This post is an outline of my visit to these three Ancient Persian sites. Pasargadae and Persepolis are UNESCO World Heritage sites. To put these sites into context, I’ll first start with an overview of the Persian Empire.

PERSIAN EMPIRE OVERVIEW

The Persian Empire was one of the largest empires in world history. It was founded by Cyrus the Great around 550BC in what is now modern-day Iran. At its most powerful, the empire stretched from the Indus Valley in modern-day India/Pakistan as far east as Europe’s Balkan Peninsula and Egypt.

The Persian Empire had different phases. The First Persian Empire was also known as the Achaemenid Empire and lasted from Cyrus the Great’s era in 550BC until the empire was conquered by Alexander the Great in 330BC. Darius III was Persia’s ruler during Alexander’s conquest.  

Alexander the Great was King of the Ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedon and exacted revenge on the Persian Empire for conquering a number of Greek city states two centuries earlier. The Persian Empire revived after the death of Alexander the Great but not to the extent that it did under Cyrus the Great.

PASARGADAE

Pasargadae is the most northerly of the sites and was the first stop we made. Pasargadae was founded by Cyrus the Great in 550BC who made it the capital city of the Persian Empire, although the city of Susa remained the centre of Persian political power.

The most striking feature at this site is the tomb of Cyrus the Great. The remains of Cyrus’s palace are at the site but near access is not possible. Instead, one will see the outline of a caravanserai made from the stones of Cyrus’s palace by King Shoja, a Persian monarch who reigned in the 14th century.

There is a small entry fee to Pasargadae. There are a number of cafes, shops and toilets near the site.

Cyrus the Great tomb Pasargadae Iran
Tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae, Iran

NECROPOLIS

Necropolis is a Greek word meaning City of the Dead (necro = dead; polis = city). There are actually two necropolis sites in the area: Naqsh-e Rostam and Naqsh-e Rajab. As recommended by our guesthouse in Yazd, we stopped at Naqsh-e Rostam.

This necropolis site has four tombs and a number of rock carvings etched into the side of a cliff. Information points at the site stated that there is evidence from 700BC that the site dated back to the Elamite Empire. It didn’t state which Elamite period which means the site could date back to 3200BC.

Naqsh-e Rostam Necropolis Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam (Necropolis)

It is believed that the four tombs on the cliff face belong to the four Persian leaders who ruled from 522BC to 404BC: Darius I (aka Darius the Great), Xerxes, Artaxerxes and Darius II. A number of rock carvings below the main tombs are said to be of Persian commanders and warriors from the era after Alexander the Great’s death in 323BC.

There is a small entry fee to Naqsh-e Rostam. There is a shop and toilets located at the site.

PERSEPOLIS

Letting the best site until last, our final stop of the day was Persepolis. Visible for miles around, Persepolis is built on a promontory of several acres at the foot of the nearby mountain.

Gate of all Lands, Persepolis, Iran
Gate of all Lands – Entrance to Persepolis

Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great, grandnephew of Cyrus the Great, around 520BC. Darius the Great moved the capital city of the Persian Empire to Persepolis during his reign. The city was initially known as Parsa. Persepolis is the Greek for City of the Persians.

Subsequent Persian leaders added to the site, particularly Xerxes and Artaxerxes. The site’s most striking features are the Gate of all Nations, Palace of 100 columns and the Apadana Palace. The site also contains the tombs of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. Persepolis was attacked by Alexander the Great.

Persepolis was by far the busier site of all three visited. The entry fee to Persepolis was the most expensive but it is a much bigger site than Pasargadae and the necropolis, with much more visitor facilities as well.

Persepolis, Iran
Persepolis

Day tours from Shiraz to Persepolis usually have accredited guides but the information stands at the site are sufficient for independent travellers with previous knowledge of the Persian Empire.

Here is a little video of Persepolis that I recorded: https://youtu.be/8iw8NR9a9wA

VISITING PERSEPOLIS, PASARGADAE, NECROPOLIS: FINAL THOUGHTS

Dating back 2,500 years, Pasargadae, Naqsh-e Rostam and Persepolis were some of the oldest sites I’ve visited during my travels. I learned about Persepolis prior to my visit but to see it up close put the site into perspective.

I highly recommend visiting Persepolis, Pasargadae and the Necropolis to history enthusiasts as the Persian Empire is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. It’s an empire that gave us such innovations as irrigation and air-conditioning (evident in Yazd). It also introduced the concept of equal rights and religious freedom.

FURTHER READING

Persepolis Pasargadae Necropolis Iran

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