Exploring the Remains of the Achaemenid Empire

Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
Trip End Dec 16, 2012

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Everyone has heard of the Romans, the Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, but who has heard of the Achaemenians? Certainly not us, that was until we explored the remains of the great Achaemenid Empire in the country of Iran.

When we first arrived in Iran, we knew that this country was full of history, but we really didn't know too much about it. We knew there is mosques and stuff, but we didn’t really know there are ruins of a great empire. We knew we would be busy during our time in Iran, but we didn’t know what with. That is all we knew, until we started exploring the remains of the Achaemenid Empire.

Our first stop in Iran was the capital city of Tehran. A city that is home to over 15 million people. Tehran is bustling, alive, and crazy, and it did give us some sights to see. We checked out some palaces of the kings from the 19th and 20th centuries. This city was the capital, but it wasn’t old. It only became the capital in the 19th century, and therefore had some places of interest, but not the ancient sites which we would discover elsewhere. Fortunately Tehran’s sights were interesting, which including a carpet museum, the National museum, and the jewels museum, which is home to the crowns of past kings, and also a massive globe made from gold and precious jewels which was incredible. Leaving the jewels and the museum items behind, we would soon be on route to exploring the remains of the Achaemenid Empire.

Our Iranian journey took us to Shiraz, the former capital and a place where our exploration of the Achaemenid Empire would begin. Well, we better not get too carried away just yet. We actually explored the city of Shiraz before we even understood what the Achaemenid empire was. So exploring Shiraz was soon underway, as we visited the tombs of the great poets Hafiz and Saadi, the Shrine to Ali and the Koran Gate, which use to have actual manuscripts of the Koran on it, so when you drove under the gate you were blessed. In the centre of Shiraz stood a citadel, home of a former king, and really gave the city a historical feel. We checked out the bazaar which was all but buzzing with people at night. Shiraz was a great start to our historical journey in Iran. But it was soon time to focus and explore the remains of the Achaemenid empire.

After a disappointing night out in Shiraz, it was now time to get excited about some Iranian ancient history. But before we go on, we’d better explain why we were disappointed. Well, as we were in Shiraz on the 8th April, we were celebrating our sixth year anniversary. It was Shaun’s turn to organise something, so a dinner in a nice restaurant was arranged. We arrived at the restaurant at 7:30pm, to then be told it didn’t open until 8:30pm. Oh well, we strolled around the beautiful city of Shiraz, getting some night shots. When we returned to the 'nice’ restaurant, we were rudely ushered to a table ‘just sit over there’, given a menu that hardly resembled an Iranian menu, apart from kebabs, then we waited for ages to be served while a plate of bread was dumped on our table. This was not the romantic evening that we had hoped for. As we watched the groups of tourists be served and listened to the tourist music being played, we decided to leave, noting to the manager that the service was pitiful and we weren’t the only customers that had left that night. So that’s, that. We had our anniversary dinner in our hotel restaurant without any wine (as it is illegal in Iran), and average food. Oh well, better luck next year Shaun.

So anyway, back to the history. As we have mentioned before, we knew very little about the history of Iran, but when we arrived at Necropolis (not too far from Shiraz), we started to discover the facts and remains of the Achaemenid Empire. At Necropolis we checked out the tombs that were carved into the side of a rocky mountain that were the tombs of past Achaemenian kings, Darius, Darius II, Atarterictus I and Xerxes. This was interesting, but we were still a little in the dark about the Achaemenid Empire.

Next stop was the much anticipated ruined city of Persepolis. And yes, it was here that our understanding of the Achaemenid Empire started to come together. The Achaemenid Empire, also known as the First Persian Empire, dated back to 550-300BC. In 518BC, the Achaemenian king, Darius I ordered the construction of the city of Persepolis, which would be a place for official receptions and the king’s summer residence. Later, Persepolis was set on fire and destroyed by Alexander the Great. Today it is in ruins, but remains a place to explore and learn about Darius I and the Achaemenid Empire.

As we strolled around Persepolis, we were overwhelmed by the remarkable detail in the remains of this once bustling city. The architecture and stone reliefs were of true genius. It was also interesting to have the reliefs explained to us, particularly the intricate detail of the relief showing the 23 delegations. They were brought by delegates from other countries to pay homage to the king, by bringing gifts for New Year. This was amazing, and to think Alexander the Great all but destroyed it. Persepolis was a truly impressive ancient ruined city, yet one that we had not really heard of before. And yes, it opened our eyes and encouraged us to continue to explore the remains of the Achaemenid Empire.

Before Darius I, the Achaemenid Empire had a King known as Cyrus the Great. And it was his tomb and site of other palace ruins that would be our next destination. We soon learnt that Cyrus was a dude, as he helped the Jews to escape from Babylon, even though they weren’t his people, arranged pensions and health care, united all peoples peacefully regardless of their religion, and is therefore regarded as the ‘Father of Iran’. This Achaemenid Empire history was pretty interesting, and all so new to us.

Leaving Shiraz and its surrounding area, we headed to the desert city of Yazd. We thought we had left the Achaemenid Empire history back in Shiraz, but even if we wanted to, we couldn’t escape it in Yazd. On our first evening in Yazd, we spent time observing the traditional Iranian exercise at the Zoor Khane Strength House. The traditional exercise involved men using equipment such as wooden swords, shields, clubs and metal bows. The men perform exercises with this equipment to the drumming and singing of religious songs, from famous Iranian poets. We thought this was a weird, but interesting sport. We were soon told that this tradition had come from who, the Achaemenian soldiers, that’s who.

And so there you have it. We had come to Iran not knowing much about its history. Within a week, our visit to Shiraz and its surrounding areas, and the desert city of Yazd gave us some interesting knowledge about the Achaemenid Empire. So next time we are in a discussion about ancient empires, we will be sure to bring up this one. After all, we came to Iran, and without even knowing it, we explored the remains of the great Achaemenid Empire. Long live King Cyrus the Great.
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