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  • 1/29/2011

Naqsh-e Rostam

Part 1


a perpendicular cliff wall in Fars, about 6 km northwest of Persepolis, a site unusually rich in Achaemenid and Sasanian monuments.

 Naqshe-e Rostam, a perpendicular cliff wall on the southern nose of the Hosayn Kuh in Fars, about 6 km northwest of Persepolis. The site is unusually rich in Achaemenid and Sasanian monuments, built or hewn out from the rock. The Persian name “Pictures of Rostam” refers to the Sasanian reliefs on the cliff, believed to represent the deeds of Rostam.

Achaemenid Period. The most important architectural remains are the tower called Ka"ba-ye Zardosht (Ka"ba of Zoroaster,Ar. ka"ba “cube, sanctuary”) and four royal tombs with rock cut façades and sepulchral chambers.

(1) The Ka"ba-ye Zardosht is a massive, built square tower, resting on three steps (7.30 x 7.30 x14.12 m) and covered by a flat pyramidal roof (Stronach, 1967, pp. 282-84; 1978, pp. 130-36; Camb. Hist. Iran II, pp. 838-48; Schmidt, pp. 34-49). The only opening is a door. But on all four sides there is a system of blind windows in dark grey limestone, set off by the yellow color of the general structure, between the reinforced corners, and the walls are covered with staggered rectangular depressions. Both systems have no other purpose than to relieve the monotony of the structure. A frieze of dentils forms the upper cornice (FIGURE 1). A staircase of 30 steps, eight of which are preserved, led to the door (0.87 x 1.75 m) in the upper part of the north wall. Originally, the two leaves of a door opened into an almost square room (3.72 x 3.74 x 5.54 m) without any architectural decoration and no provisions for lighting (Schmidt, p. 37).

There is an analogous, though much more decayed, structure, called Zendan-e Soleyman (lit. prison of Solomon), in Pasargadae (Stronach, 1978, pp. 117-37; 1983, pp. 848-52). Its stone technique does not yet show traces of the toothed chisel (Stronach, 1978, p. 132), and the building can thus be dated to the last years of Cyrus II the Great (r. ca. 558-530 BCE), whereas due to chisel marks the Ka"ba-ye Zardosht can be dated to the early years of Darius I (r. 522-486), around 500 BCE. The Achaemenid structures do not have exact prototypes, but their plan is comparable with those of the earlier Urartian tower temples (Stronach, 1967, pp. 278-88; 1978, pp. 132-34).

On the Ka"ba-ye Zardosht, three exterior sides bear the famous inscription of Shapur I. (r. 241-72 C.E.). The Res gestae divi Saporis  was added in Greek on the south wall, in Sasanian Pahlawi (Parsik) on the east, and in Parthian (Pahlawik) on the west (Back, pp. 284-371), while the north wall with the entrance has remained empty. Beneath the Parsik version on the east wall, the high priest Kirdir had his own inscription incised (Sprengling, pp. 37-54; Chaumont, pp. 339-80; Gignoux, pp. 45-48). Evidently, in Sasanian times the Ka"ba-ye Zardosht—like the tower at Paikuli with the inscription of Narseh- served, in addition to other functions, as memorial. Perhaps the two towers in Naqsh-e Rostam and Pasargadae already had a similar significance in Achaemenid times, albeit this cannot have been their main function.

In Kirdir’s inscription the Ka"ba-ye Zardosht is called “bun-xinak.” W. B. Henning proposed the translation “foundation house,” and concluded that the tower was of central religious significance. He suggested that the empty high room was destined “for the safe keeping of the records of the church and even more for the principal copy of the Avesta” (Henning). Though other translations of “bun-x?nak” have been discussed (Gignoux, pp. 28-29 n. 61), it seems the most convincing interpretation that these two towers served as depositories. The lack of any provision for the ventilation of a fire excludes the towers’ use as fire temples (Stronach, 1978, pp. 134-35). Their staircases were designed “for the solemn ascent and descent of persons who in some manner attended the sacred structure” (Schmidt, p. 41). They indicate that the towers did not serve as royal tombs (Stronach, Camb. Hist. Iran II, p. 849 n. 2), because those have entrance walls that are smoothed beyond their facades, down to the original ground, to make them inaccessible.

R. N. Frye (1974, p. 386) first expressed the opinion that “the intention was . . . to build a safety box for the paraphernalia of rule in the vicinity of Persepolis as had been done at Pasargadae,” though E. F. Schmidt (p. 44) had dismissed the interpretation of the Ka"ba-ye Zardosht as depository. But Plutarch (46-after 119 C.E.) mentions in Artoxerxes 3 that at Pasargadae one temple belonged “to a warlike goddess, whom one might conjecture to be Athena” (Sancisi-Weerdenburg, p. 148). At this sanctuary the Achaemenid kings were crowned. During the coronation ceremony the new monarch took a very frugal meal, and was dressed in the robes which Cyrus the Elder wore before assuming kingship. H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg was the first to identify the Zendan-e Soleyman as Plutarch’s temple (Gk. hieron). Consequently, she interpreted this building, as well as the Ka?ba-ye Zardosht, as “coronation tower.” Her view that these towers had dynastic functions, rather than a purely religious significance and definitely no funeral purposes, has become widely accepted, though her suggestion that a sacred fire was also kindled in these towers can no longer be upheld.

(2) The Royal Tombs. In the cliff wall four monumental tombs are cut out from the native rock (Schmidt, pp. 80-107). The oldest tomb (Tomb I) has inscriptions that assign it to Darius I. The other three (Tomb II-IV) can only tentatively be attributed to Xerxes (eastnortheast of Darius I), Artaxerxes I (westsouthwest of the tomb of Darius I) and Darius II (westernmost).

The four monuments follow the same pattern. But it is completely different from that of the older tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae, which is a built structure consisting of a stepped platform and a tomb with a gabled roof. The model was first used for Darius I (FIGURE 2) and has no exact prototypes in the Near East, Egypt or Greece, though the stone technique is Urartian in origin (Calmeyer, 1975, pp. 101-7; Gropp, pp. 115-21; Huff, 1990, pp. 90-91).

The rock tomb is characterized by the contrast between a cruciform composition in relief on the exterior wall and a very simple interior of chambers and grave cists. The center of the relief ensemble is a facade that represents the front of a palace with four engaged columns. On this architectural component rests a throne bench (Gk. klin?, OPers. gathu in inscription DNa) that is supported by 30 representatives of the empire’s peoples. The throne bench in turn serves as the platform of a religious scene with king, fire altar, and divine symbols.

Other Links:

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