Once covering a whopping 125,00sqm, Persepolis is arguably Iran’s greatest archaeological site and most people are keen not to miss it. Begun in 518 BC a series of kings added their own improvements for the next 150 years before Alexander the Great, perhaps in a retaliatory gesture for the torching of Athens, burnt it to the ground in 330 BC, a mere 188 years later. Supposedly he then looted the treasury, loaded up 3,000 camels and carted away a cornucopia of the cities wealth.
The Apadana Staircase is probably the most fascinating part of the entire site. The bas relief carvings are in such good condition and one of the most interesting sections can be found at the southern end where you’ll find 23 delegations, including Ethiopian, Arab, Indian and Cappadocians, with their offerings to the Achaemenid king.
Earlier in the day we’d visited another nearby archaeological sight at Pasagarde. The big (only) drawcard here is the imposing Tomb of Cyrus. A Persian legend Cyrus is credited with creating the worlds first charter of human rights, the Cyrus Cylinder. The Achaemenid’s, also known as the First Persian Empire, was founded by Cyrus the Great who became known for peace and tolerance, allowing his many subjects to maintain religious freedom and local customs. The release of the Jews from Babylonian captivity is also accredited to Cyrus which earned him status in Judaism. The original cylinder is held in the British Museum, a favourite of ours from our time in London and the piece that sparked Sarah’s initial interest in Ancient Persia and therefore Iran.
The third sight we visited was the Naqsh-e Rustam Necropolis, a short drive from Persepolis. The sight is striking and worth a vist, or at least a drive by! See our tip below.
What’s the best time of day to visit?
For photography you want to be at Persepolis as early as possible to catch the light on the Apadana Staircase bas reliefs (a roof ensures they’re shaded the rest of the day for protection). Next visit the Naqsh-e Rustam Necropolis when the sun is higher before heading to Pasagarde in the afternoon (if it’s still on your list).
Is Pasagarde worth the effort?
The short honest answer is absolutely not, especially not for the ludicrously overpriced entrance fee (IRR200,000 or about USD$7) which is the same as Persepolis (which is totally worth it). Other than the tomb (mildly impressive, come in the afternoon when the sun illuminates the doorway) the rest of the sight is pretty pathetic and you don’t get much for your money. Even with Sarah’s keen interest in Persian history and desire to visit the tomb we would have definitely skipped it if we’d known the price .
What about the Naqsh-e Rustam Necropolis?
We won’t be surprised if they soon build a fence in front of these tombs soon to. Once again the entrance fee for what you get is pretty steep (IRR200,000 or about USD$7) so instead we pulled up in the car park and jumped out for a couple of photos from the gate while our driver stood his ground when the security guards got mad and angrily asked him for money. If the entrance fee had of been more reasonable we might have handed it over, but when you can’t go inside the tombs and the view is just the same we couldn’t justify it. There are more relief carvings here to see, not just the four rock tombs carved into the cliff, but in the afternoon heat we opted out.
How did we get there?
With most of the hotels and hostels in town offering day trips to all three sights most people opt for the easy option and book direct at the front desk. With the price at Niayesh Hostel USD$55 per person we opted to find another way. Turns out it was pretty damn easy and much much cheaper.
Stepping outside the door of the hostel we headed towards the main road where a relatively unscathed (good sign of a careful driver) white Toyota pulls up and a young guy offers us his taxi services. Just about anybody with a car and some spare time in Iran an and will offer you their taxi services. With a little bit of English and a polite demeanor we bargain our way to a $45 day visiting all three sights in absolute comfort. Having randomly bumped into an old travel friend in our dorm the night before who was also interested, splitting the cost between three of us meant we were paying nowhere near USD$55 each.If you don’t have a guidebook or really want an in depth historical tour you’re better off to book with a group.
Tips for Persepolis
- Be prepared for the music blasting from loudspeakers at the entrance to Persepolis. This is soon outdone by that blasting from the souvenir stalls a little further along. You’ll pass through these if you follow the sign to the toilets….which are actually about 100m back near the actual entrance…the signs just take you on a useless loop. Exit through the gift shop people!
- Don’t expect the intro movie to be in English. Actually it was originally in English…dubbed over in Farsi…with no subtitles.
- While there are descriptions throughout the site in English, the plaques create such awkward shadows that they can be really hard to read on a sunny day. It’s not a bad idea to print some off if you can and it’ll be handy if it includes it a map as we weren’t given anything with our ticket.
- There’s a museum inside the grounds which charges (surprise surprise) IRR200,000 on top of your entrance fee. Outside you’ll find ridiculous reenactments in English being blasted over the speakers to make the whole thing just a little more tacky. A shame really as it’d be a great sight without it.