Location: 32 mi (51 km) Northeast of Shiraz, Fars province Map
Constructed: 515 BC by Cyrus the Great
Destroyed: 330 BC by Alexander the Great


Description of Persepolis

Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Empire during the period Achaemenid. It is located about 70 km from the Iranian city of Marvdasht (Fars province), near the place where the Pulwar River flows into the Kur (Kyrus).

Its construction began in 521 BC. C. by order of Darius I, as part of a vast program of monumental constructions focused on emphasizing the unity and diversity of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, the legitimacy of royal power and showing the greatness of its kingdom. The works of Persepolis attracted workers and artisans from all the satrapies of the empire and therefore its architecture resulted from an original combination of forms from these provinces that created a Persian architectural style already outlined in Pasargadae and which is also found in Susa and Ecbatana. . This combination of knowledge also marked the rest of the Persian arts, such as sculpture and goldsmithing. The construction of Persepolis continued for two centuries, until the conquest of the empire and the partial destruction of the city by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. c.

The site was visited over the centuries by Western travelers, but it was not until the 17th century that the ruins were certified as the ancient Achaemenid capital. Numerous archaeological expeditions have allowed us to better understand the structures, their original appearance and the functions they fulfilled.

Persepolis comprises an enormous palace complex on a monumental terrace that supports multiple hypostyle buildings that had precise protocol, ritual, emblematic or administrative functions: audiences, royal apartments, treasury administration or reception. Near the terrace there were other elements: royal tombs, altars and gardens. There were also the houses of the lower city, of which almost nothing remains visible today. Many bas-reliefs sculpted on the stairs and doors of the palace represent the diversity of the peoples that made up the empire. Others consecrate the image of a protective, sovereign, legitimate and absolute royal power, where Xerxes I is designated as the legitimate successor of Darius the Great. The multiple royal inscriptions in cuneiform script from Persepolis are written in Old Persian, Babylonian or Elamite. They are engraved in various places on the site, intended for the same purposes and specify which kings ordered the erection of the buildings.

The idea that Persepolis had a solely annual and ritual occupation dedicated to the reception by the king of tributes offered by the nations of the empire during the ceremonies of the Persian New Year has long prevailed. We now know for sure that the city was permanently occupied and that it had a central administrative and political role for the government of the empire. The many archives inscribed on clay tablets discovered in the treasury buildings and fortifications have made it possible to establish these functions and provide valuable information about the Achaemenid imperial administration and the construction of the complex. Persepolis has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1979.



The first capital of the Achaemenid Persian Empire was Pasargadae, but around 512 BC. King Darius I the Great undertook the construction of this massive palace complex, later expanded by his son Xerxes I and his grandson Artaxerxes I. While the administrative capitals of the Achaemenid kings were Susa, Ecbatana and Babylon, the citadel of Persepolis maintained the function of ceremonial capital, where the New Year festivities were celebrated. Built in a remote, mountainous region, Persepolis was an inconvenient royal residence and was visited mainly in spring. Furthermore, they say that the Achaemenids were nomads and that is why they settled in one season each season.

In 330 BC, Alexander the Great, in his Eastern campaign, occupied and sacked Persepolis, burning down the palace of Xerxes, perhaps to symbolize the end of the Panhellenic war of revenge against the Persians. In 316 BC, Persepolis was still the capital of Persis, a province of the new Macedonian Empire. The city gradually declined during the Seleucid period and subsequent times. In the 3rd century, the nearby city of Istakhr became the center of the Sassanid Empire.



After having continued the work of Cyrus II in Pasargadae and in parallel with the important construction work undertaken in Susa, Darius I decided to establish a new capital; This decision is generally interpreted as a desire to distinguish themselves from the main branch of the Achaemenids, to which Pasargada was strongly linked.

He chose for this a city that has been identified with Uvādaicaya (Mattezsi in Babylonian). This city must have already had some political importance, since Darius had Vahyazdāta, his main Persian opponent, executed in 521 BC. C. On the other hand, the presence of palaces and monumental gates dating back to Cyrus and Cambyses II is attested, as well as an unfinished tomb probably intended for Cambyses.

The Babylonian tablets show that it was a developed, active and populated urban center, which had commercial relations with Babylon and was capable of ensuring the logistical and food means for a work of this magnitude. Pierre Briant, historian of Achaemenid Persia, points out that the implementation, chronologically close, of important works in Susa and Persepolis entailed the mobilization of considerable resources. In fact, these constructions fall within the framework of a global plan to readjust the royal residences with a view to teaching everyone that "the advent of the new king marks a refoundation of the empire."

Darius chose the lower part of the Kuh-e Rahmat rock formation as the location for his new construction, which thus became the symbol of the Achaemenid dynasty. He had the terrace, the palaces (Apadana, Tachara), the Treasury rooms, as well as the walls erected. It is difficult to precisely date the construction of each monument. The only irrefutable indication is provided by the tablets found at the site that attest to the existence of construction activity since at least 509 BC. C., when the construction of the fortifications took place.

However, most of the constructions can be attributed to the periods corresponding to the reigns of later sovereigns.

Darius's constructions were then finished and completed by his successors: his son Xerxes I added the Gate of All Nations, the Hadish, or even the Tripylon to the complex, and under Artaxerxes I in 460 BC. C., 1149 artisans were present at the works. The site remained under construction until at least 424 BC. C., and perhaps until the fall of the Persian Empire: a gate was left unfinished, as well as a palace attributed to Artaxerxes III.

Unlike other ancient monumental constructions, Greek or Roman, the construction of Persepolis was not carried out with slave labor, but rather workers from all the countries of the empire worked on it: Babylon, Caria, Ionia or Egypt.



Protected by its location in the heart of the Achaemenid Empire, Persepolis did not have solid defenses. Furthermore, the position at the foot of Kuh-e Ramât represents a weak point due to the slight slope to the east, between the terrace and the ground. This side was protected by a wall and towers.

Information about the conquest and destruction of Persepolis by Alexander the Great comes mainly from the texts of ancient historians, especially Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus, and Quintus Curtius Rufus.

Certain archaeological elements corroborate his judgments, but his version of the destruction of the city is disputed: Duruy questions it, because "we see that shortly after the death of the conqueror, the satrap Peucestas sacrifices there the souls of Philip and of Alexander".

According to Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus and Quintus Curtius Rufus, the fall of Persepolis was followed by the massacre of its inhabitants and the plundering of its wealth. Tiridatas, guard of the treasury, had a letter of surrender brought to Alexander, whose army was approaching, in which he offered to enter Persepolis as the victor. In this way, Alexander could quickly gain possession of the city's riches. The texts, however, do not mention his response. Diodorus and Quintus Curtius Rufus also refer to the encounter of the Macedonian army with a group of 4,000 mutilated Greek prisoners, or who had suffered mistreatment by the Persians, on the way to Persepolis.

After having taken the city in 331 BC., Alexander left a part of his army there and continued his march. He did not return to Persepolis until some time later. At the end of a drunken day in honor of victory, Persepolis was burned to the ground by order of the conqueror in May 330 BC. The reasons that motivated this destruction are controversial. Plutarch and Diodorus relate that a wine-drunk Alexander would have thrown the first torch on Xerxes' palace at the instigation of Tais, later Ptolemy's wife, who threw the second. Tais would have incited Alexander and his companions in arms to avenge the sack of Athens by Xerxes I. This hypothesis could be corroborated by the intensity of the destruction of the Tripylon and the Hadish, which shows that these buildings built by Xerxes suffered in the fire. more than others. Some authors affirm that the meeting of the mutilated prisoners, which provoked the anger and sadness of the sovereign, constituted an additional reason for reprisals.

In fact, historians often maintain today that the reason for the destruction of Persepolis was apparently political, reflecting a thoughtful decision on Alexander's part. When the victor had ordered to save the captured cities and especially Babylon, sparing no gesture to reconcile with the Persian population, he made in Persepolis a highly symbolic gesture dictated by the Persian context: the ideological heart of Achaemenid power was always found in the Persian capitals. The population having made an act of forced or voluntary submission, was nevertheless still ideologically linked to Darius III, the legitimate sovereign, and was on bad terms with the conquerors. The decision was, therefore, to burn down the Persian dynastic sanctuary to make the change of power clear to the population. Duruy says that in this way "Alexander wanted to announce to the entire East, through this destruction of the national sanctuary, the end of Persian rule."

Ancient writings mention repentance later expressed by an Alexander saddened by his behavior. For Briant, this repentance implies, in fact, that Alexander recognized his political failure. The destruction of Persepolis marks the end of the symbol of Achaemenid power. The first Persian Empire disappeared completely with the death of Darius III, the last emperor of his dynasty. Hellenization began with the Seleucids. Persepolis continued, however, to be used by successive Persian dynasties. At the foot of the terrace is a temple, perhaps built by the Achaemenids, and reused by the Seleucids, then by the Fratadaras.

The lower city was gradually abandoned in favor of its neighbor Istakhr in the Parthian era. Graffiti attributable to the last kings of Persia under the Parthians or at the beginning of the Sassanian era show that the site had, however, remained linked to the Persian monarchy, at least symbolically. On the other hand, an inscription in Pahlavi relates that a son of Hormuz I or Hormuz II gave a banquet and proceeded to offer a cult service in Persepolis, which could continue as a place of worship several centuries after the fire of 330 BC. Persepolis also served as an architectural reference for certain elements of Sassanian constructions such as the palace of Firuzabad.


First visits to the ruins: the time of travelers

The ruins are known to the Sassanids by the Middle Persian name st stwny ("the hundred columns"), and since the 13th century by Chehel minār ("the forty columns"). The current name of Tajt-e Yamshid seems to come from an interpretation of the reliefs that relates them to the exploits of the mythical hero Jamshid. The site was the subject of numerous visits by Westerners from the 14th century to the 18th century. The simple anecdotal observations of the beginning were progressively replaced by increasingly descriptive works.

On his way to Cathay in 1318, a traveling monk named Odorico passed through Chehel minār without stopping at the ruins. He is the first European to mention the site. He was followed, in 1474, by a Venetian traveler, Giosafat Barbaro.

The Portuguese missionary Antonio de Gouvea visited the place in 1602. He observed the cuneiform inscriptions and representations of "animals with human heads." The Spanish ambassador to Abbas the Great, García de Silva Figueroa, described the archaeological site at length in a letter to the Marquis of Bedmar in 1619. Relying on Greek texts, he clearly found the relationship between Persepolis and Chehel Minār. From 1615 to 1626, the Roman Pietro Della Valle visited numerous Eastern countries. He brought from Persepolis copies of cuneiform inscriptions that would later be used to decipher writing. He was followed by the Englishmen Dodmore Cotton and Thomas Herbert from 1628 to 1629, whose purpose was to study and decipher the eastern scripts.

From 1664 to 1667, Persepolis was visited by the Frenchmen Jean de Thévenot and Jean Chardin. Thévenot wrongly noted in his work Voyage au Levant that these ruins were too small to be the abode of the kings of ancient Persia. Chardin clearly attributed the site to Persepolis. The services of the draftsman Guillaume-Joseph Grelot are added, who describes the royal city in a work whose quality is praised by Rousseau. In 1694, the Italian Giovanni Francesco Gemelli-Carreri noted the dimensions of all the ruins he came to and studied the inscriptions. In 1704, the Dutchman Cornelis de Bruijn observed and drew the ruins. He published his works in 1711: Reizen over Moskovie, door Persie en Indie, then in 1718 in French: Voyages de Corneille le Brun par la Moscovie, en Perse, et aux Indes Orientales.


Archaeological missions: the time of scientists

The 19th and 20th centuries saw scientific missions to Persepolis multiply. In 1840 and 1841, Eugène Flandin and Pascal Coste visited several ruins in Persia, including Persepolis. They established a topographical and descriptive relationship.

The first real archaeological excavations were carried out in 1878. Motamed-Od Dowleh Farhad Mirza, governor of Fars, directed the work that brought to light a part of the Palace of One Hundred Columns. Shortly after, Charles Chipiez and Georges Perrot made a very important exploration of the site. Thanks to an architectural study of the ruins and excavated remains, Chipiez drew surprising reconstructions of the palaces and monuments as, in his opinion, they must have been in the Achaemenid era. Franz Stolze explored the archaeological sites of Fars and published the result in 1882. Jane and Marcel Dieulafoy carried out two archaeological missions to Persia (1881-82 and 1884-86. They explored Persepolis, from which they returned for the first time with photographic documents. They carried out reconstructions and they brought numerous archaeological pieces.

From 1931 to 1939, excavations were carried out by Ernst Herzfeld and then by Erich Friedrich Schmidt, commissioned by the Chicago Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. During the 1940s, the Frenchman André Godard, and then the Iranian A. Sami, continued excavations on behalf of the Iranian Archaeological Service (IAS). Then, the IAS, under the direction of A. Tajvidi, led the excavation and partial restoration works in cooperation with the Italians Giuseppe and Ann Britt Tilia, from the Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. These excavations have revealed the probable existence of two other palaces attributed to Artaxerxes I and Artaxerxes III, which have disappeared.

Not all of the structures at Persepolis have yet been excavated. Two mounds remain east of Hadish and Tachara, whose origins remain unknown.


Recent history

In 1971, lavish ceremonies took place in Persepolis for three days to celebrate the 2,500 years of the monarchy. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi invited many international personalities. The splendor of the ceremonies, which mobilized more than 200 servants from France for the banquets, sparked controversy in the press and contributed to tarnishing the image of the shah. The amount of expenses was evaluated at more than 22 million dollars, and the financing was carried out to the detriment of other urban or social projects. Furthermore, the festivities were accompanied by repression of opponents of the Shah.

After the Iranian revolution and in order to eradicate a strong cultural reference to the pre-Islamic period and the monarchy, Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali tried with his supporters to raze Persepolis using bulldozers. The intervention of Nosratollah Amini, governor of the province of Fars, and the mobilization of the inhabitants of Shiraz, standing in front of the artifacts, saved the site from destruction.

Persepolis is a fragile environment whose preservation may be compromised by human activity. The harmfulness of certain chemical components of agricultural pollution has been raised. A site protection program has recently begun, with a view to limiting degradation linked to erosion and the passage of visitors: covers have been put in place to protect certain elements, such as the east staircase of the Apadana, and it is planned to cover the ground of passing places. The construction of a barrier near Pasargadae has motivated a controversy between the Iranian Ministry of Archeology and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. The rising waters could damage numerous archaeological sites in the region. Furthermore, the construction of a railway line, whose route could pass through the vicinity of Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam, raises fears of damage. Likewise, Persepolis is regularly the victim of thefts related to antiquities trafficking. An expansion of the museum is planned, not yet exactly defined: the site's classification as world heritage prohibits any modification.​


Persepolitan art

The Persians did not have their own architectural background: they were a semi-nomadic people of shepherds and horsemen. Now, since its foundation by Cyrus II, the Persian Empire has been equipped with monumental buildings. Initially inspired by conquered peoples, Achaemenid architects integrated these influences and quickly proposed original art. If in Pasargadae, the general plan still shows nomadic influences with its stretched buildings, dispersed in an immense park, fifty years later that of Persepolis is proof of rationalization and balance: the square plan is systematized, the columns are strictly placed (6 ×6 in the Apadana, 10×10 in the Palace of the Hundred Columns...), and includes most of the small rooms of the Harem and the annexes of the palaces. The transitions from the porticos to the sides are joined by angular towers in the Apadana. The two large doors and the different steps distribute the circulation towards the main buildings.​

These creations are original creations, whose style results from the combination of elements resulting from subjugated civilizations. It is not a hybridization, but rather a fusion of styles that create a new one. Resulting from the know-how of architects and workers throughout the empire, Persian architecture is utilitarian, ritual and emblematic. Persepolis thus shows numerous elements that attest to these multiple sources.

Indeed, with the inclusion of Ionia in the satrapies of the empire, Achaemenid Persian architecture is marked by a strong Ionic Greek influence, particularly visible in the hypostyle halls and porticos of the palaces of Persepolis. The rise of the Ionic style in Greece It is suddenly broken after the Persian invasion, but it is expressed brilliantly in Persia, through grandiose monuments. Lydian and Ionian architects were hired in the works of Pasargadae, later in those of Persepolis and Susa, who made the main elements, and graffiti in Greek is found in the quarries near Persepolis, which mentions the names of the chief stonemasons. They play a main role in the emergence of the Persian style. The participation of Greeks in the erection of columns and in the ornament of palaces in Persia is mentioned in the Susa inscription, as well as by Pliny the Elder. The columns of Persepolis are effectively Ionic in style, with a slender, fluted shaft: the diameter is less than a tenth of the height, no column of Persepolis is wider than 1.9 m. Some capitals have griffins inspired by archaic Greek bronze griffins.

Among the easily recognizable elements of the Egyptian pharaonic style, we can mention the supports of the cornices that protrude from the doors, as well as the birth of the capitals. Some also attribute the contribution of the portico to the Egyptians.

The influence of Mesopotamia is very present, particularly in the palatine formula associated with two palaces, one for the public audience and the other for the private audience. This influence is also visible in the motifs of palmettes or floral rosettes that decorate reliefs and the palace, or in the serrated merlons that recall the shape of ziggurats, and that adorn the staircases of the palaces. The enameled and polychrome reliefs are of Babylonian inspiration. The orthostats adorned with bas-reliefs of the Apadana, the winged bull-men of the doors are of Assyrian style.​

Present in the Middle East before the Persians, the beginning of internal spaces created for wooden supports and ceilings, the hypostyle hall becomes the central element of the palace. The contribution of Greek techniques allows Persian architecture to successfully carry out different constructions where space has different functions: the clearing of vast spaces by means of tall and fine columns constitutes an architectural revolution typical of Persia. The hypostyle halls are intended for crowds and not only for priests as in Greece or Egypt.

Most of the columns were made of wood, and eventually rested on a stone base; They have all disappeared. Only when the height was too important was stone used: in the Apadana, in the Gate of the Nations. The stone columns that have survived are very heterogeneous and show an influence from the different civilizations of the empire, which is perhaps not innocent: the bell-shaped base is an Achaemenid creation, but undoubtedly of Hittite inspiration; the fluted shaft is Ionian; The capital, of an excessive height that can reach up to a third of the column, begins with an Egyptian-style capital followed by a square double-volute pillar, an Iranian creation inspired by Assyrian motifs; The complex is crowned with a theriomorphic fascia, another imported motif from Mesopotamia, but its function of supporting beams is unprecedented. You can see there a summary of the diversity of the empire.

Like all Achaemenid palaces, those at Persepolis consistently had adobe walls, which may seem surprising in a region where building stone is available in quantity. It is, in fact, a characteristic common to all the peoples of the East, who have reserved stone walls for temples and walls. No wall of Persepolis has survived; the elements still standing are the door frames and stone columns.

Although its construction spanned two centuries, Persepolis shows a remarkable unity of style that characterizes Achaemenid art: begun in Pasargadae, finished under Darius in Persepolis, no notable evolutions are noted either in architecture, decorations or techniques. . Only the last royal tombs have lost the distinction from those of Naqsh-e Rostam, undoubtedly due to lack of space, but their bas-reliefs are strictly identical to that of Darius.



The best known and most widespread form of Achaemenid sculpture is the bas-relief, expressed particularly in Persepolis. They systematically decorate the stairs, the sides of the palace platforms and the interior of the openings. It is also assumed that they were used in the decoration of the hypostyle rooms. You can see the Egyptian and Assyrian inspirations, even Greek due to the finesse of the execution. Most of the stereotypes of ancient oriental representations are found: all the characters are represented in profile. If perspective is present from time to time, the different planes are generally reflected one under another. The proportions between the characters, the animals and the trees are not respected. Furthermore, the principle of isocephaly is strictly applied, even on different rungs of the stairs. The themes represented are made up of parades of representatives of the people of the empire, Persian nobles, guards, audience scenes, real representations and combat figures that oppose a real hero to real or imaginary animals. These bas-reliefs are notable for their quality of execution, each detail is reflected with great finesse.

Very little is known about round Achaemenid sculptures, that of Darius, found in Susa, is the best known, but it is not, however, a unique example. Herodotus and Plutarch refer, respectively, to a gold statue of Artistona (royal wife of Darius I) and to a large statue of Xerxes I in Persepolis.

However, numerous elements of the decoration can be considered high reliefs. It is used, above all, for representations of real or mythological animals, often even as architectural elements on doors and capitals. They are essentially bulls, which are represented as guardians of the doors, as well as in the porch of the Hall of the Hundred Columns. The capitals of the columns end in imposts of animal symbols: bulls, lions, griffins... The animals are very stylized, without any variation. Some high-relief statues have been found, such as the one representing a dog, which decorated a angular tower of the Apadana.



The use of colors has often been dismissed due to the numerous alterations that pigments undergo over time. Weathering, fragility of the layers, or perishability of organic pigments are the main reasons. Other degradations may occur due to manipulations, conservation treatments, and renovation of the works. Cleaning, varnish applications, protective layers, even colored touch-ups have been the cause of the appearance of false dyes, or the degradation of objects. These manipulations, such as the evidence of artificial components of modern paintings on certain works, push scientists to carefully and prudently examine any discovery of colored traces in Achaemenid sculptures and objects.

The evidence of multiple colors in numerous works in most Persepolitan palaces and buildings attest to the richness and omnipresence of polychrome paintings in Persepolis. This is not only evidence that rests on persistent pigment traces on the objects, but also consistent evidence, such as agglomerates of paints that form clumps, of colors that have been found en masse in containers, in multiple places at the site.​

These colors were used not only in architectural elements (walls, reliefs, columns, doors, floors, stairs, statues), but also in fabrics and other decorations. Varnished bricks, lime floor covering colored with red ocher or grey-green plastered floors, painted columns and other hangings thus decorated the interiors and exteriors of the palaces with multiple colors. Few traces of red have been found in the statue of Darius preserved in the National Museum in Tehran.

The large palette of colors found gives an idea of the polychrome richness: black (asphalt), red (opaque red glass, vermilion, red ocher hematite), green, Egyptian blue, white, yellow (ochre or gold). The use of plant pigments is suggested, but has not been demonstrated.

It can, however, be difficult to accurately reconstitute the true color palette present in a precise location; several reliefs or restored palaces use pieces or fragments from various locations. The examination of the differences between certain reliefs and their previous drawings by Flandin has made it possible, for example, to highlight the errors in restorations of a sphinx. Persepolis was known as one of the richest cities in painting.


Main complex

The palatine complex of Persepolis rests on a terrace measuring 450 m by 300 m and 14 m high, which has four 2 m levels. The entrance leads to the level reserved for delegations. The noble quarters are on a higher level. The quarters reserved for service and administration are located on the lowest level. The real neighborhoods are at a higher level, visible to everyone. The stone most used for construction is gray limestone. The organization of the buildings follows a rigorously orthogonal or hypodamic plan.

The eastern side of the terrace is formed by the Kuh-e Rahmat, in whose rock wall are excavated the royal tombs that dominate the site. The other three sides are formed by a retaining wall whose height varies from 5 to 14 m. The wall is made up of enormous carved stones, fitted without mortar and fixed with metal pegs. The west façade constitutes the entrance to the complex and presents the main access to the terrace in the form of a monumental staircase.

Leveling the rocky soil is ensured by filling the depressions with earth and stones. The final terracing is made using heavy stones joined together by metal pegs. In the course of this first preparatory phase, the drainage and water abduction network is put into operation, sometimes carved in the rock itself. The blocks have been carved and formatted with the help of burins and mining tools, allowing the fragmentation of stones on flat surfaces. The lifting and positioning of the stones have been ensured by means of timber.​

On the south façade, trilingual cuneiform inscriptions have been found. The text, written in Elamite, is compared to an inscription from the palace of Susa. These inscriptions could correspond to the location of the initial entrance to the complex, before the construction of the monumental staircase and the addition of the Gate of All Nations.

The configuration of the terrace suggests that its conception has taken into account imperatives of defending the site in case of attack. A wall and towers constituted the perimeter, reinforced in the east by an embankment and towers. The angularity of the walls allows the defenders to cover a maximum field of vision from the outside. The terrace supports an impressive number of colossal constructions, made of gray limestone from the adjacent mountain. These constructions are distinguished by the great use of colonnades and pillars, of which a good number have remained standing. The hypostyle spaces are constant, whatever their dimension. They associate rooms that have 99, 100, 32, or 16 columns, followed by variable arrangements (20x5 for a Treasury room, 10x10 for the Palace of a Hundred Columns). Some of these constructions have not been finished. The materials and remains used by the workers have also been found, not having been cleaned. Fragments of containers that were used to store paint have been brought to light by chance in 2005 near the Apadana. They confirm the already known evidence that attests to the use of paintings for the decoration of the palaces.


Main staircase (or Persepolis staircase)

Access to the terrace is from the western façade, through a monumental, symmetrical staircase with two divergent sections that then converge. This access, added by Xerxes, replaces the original southern access to the terrace. The staircase then becomes the only important entrance. Some secondary accesses could have existed in the eastern section, whose height was lower due to the inclination of the ground. It is built with carved stone blocks joined together by pegs. Each section consists of 111 steps 6.9 m wide, 31 cm wide and 10 cm wide. The low side allows access for riders and horses. Some stones allowed the carving of five steps. The staircase was closed at the top by wooden doors whose hinges pivoted in alveoli carved into the floor. It ended in a small courtyard that opened on the gate of all nations.


Gate of all Nations

The Gate of All Nations, or Xerxes Gate, was built by Xerxes I, son of Darius. The supposed date of its construction is 475 BC. c.

The western entrance, guarded by two colossal bulls that make up the stanchions, is 5.5 m high and is of Assyrian inspiration. It opens onto a central hall of 24.7 m². Marble benches line the walls. The roof was supported by four columns 18.3 m high, symbolizing palm trees, and whose sculpted peaks represented stylized palm leaves. At the western entrance there are two exits: one to the south, which opens onto the courtyard. the Apadana, and another to the east, which opens onto the procession route. The latter is guarded by a pair of colossal statues representing winged bull-men, or lammasus. These protective figures are also present on the capitals of the columns of the Tripylon. Remains of feet are observed at the base of the uprights of the unfinished door. Each entrance to the door of all nations was closed by a two-wing wooden door, whose hinges pivoted in the alveoli carved in the floor. The doors were decorated with precious metals.

A cuneiform inscription is engraved above the bulls on the western façade, in the three main languages of the empire (Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite):

Ahuramazda is a great god who created this earth, who created the sky, who created man, who created the happiness of man, who made Xerxes king, king of many, lord of many.

«I am Xerxes, the great king, king of kings, the king of peoples with numerous origins, the king of this great land, the son of King Darius, the Achaemenid.

King Xerxes declares: «Thanks to Ahuramazda, I have made this Portico of all peoples; There are many good things that have been done in Persia, that I have done and that my father has done. Everything that has been done beyond that, that seems good, we have done all of that thanks to Ahuramazda.

King Xerxes declares: “May Ahuramazda protect me, as well as my kingdom, and what I have done, and what my father has done, may Ahuramazda protect him also.

This inscription suggests that the Gate of All Nations was named by Xerxes in reference to the multiple peoples and kingdoms that made up the Achaemenid empire. This inscription is also found above the lammasus.


Way of the processions and unfinished gate

Bordering the northern part of the terrace from west to east, the procession route leads from the Gate of All Nations to a similar construction: the Unfinished Gate, also called the Unfinished Palace, so called because it was not finished when the destruction of the site by Alejandro. This door is located in the northeast corner of the terrace, and has four columns. It leads to a patio that opens onto the Palace of the 100 Columns. A double wall surrounded it on both sides, protecting the Apadana and the private palaces from prying eyes. Today only the lower part of these walls remains, but some think that they reached the height of the lammasus statues. You can see, in a room on one side of the road, two partially restored griffin heads that seem not to have been on the columns, perhaps intended for a later construction.


Apadana (or Darius's Audience Hall)

The Apadana was built by Darius the Great. The date of the beginning of its construction would be 515 BC., according to two gold and silver tablets found in the stone chests inserted in the foundations. Darius had his name and details of his empire engraved. The construction lasted a long time and would have been finished by Xerxes I. The Apadana is, with the Palace of 100 Columns, the largest and most complex of the monumental constructions of Persepolis. It is located in the center of the western part of the terrace. Located on a high level, it is accessible from the terrace, by two monumental stairs with double symmetrical and parallel ramps, which flank the plinth on the north and east sides.​



The palace has a square floor plan of 60.5 m on each side. It consists of 36 columns, of which thirteen are still standing. The columns, about 20 m high, were probably erected using earthen ramps that allowed them to be carried after placing the stones at the required height. The ramps had to be raised at the same time as the columns advanced, then the earth was evacuated. They testify to the Ionian influence: the columns of the Apadana have the same diameter and a similar height to those of the temple of Hera in Samos, in addition , have similar grooves.

The initial plans of the palace were simpler: having later built the Persepolis Staircase and the Gate of All Nations, access to the palace from the north became necessary. This explains the addition of a staircase on the north side of the plinth. The central part, a large square hypostyle hall, consisted of 36 columns arranged in six rows. It was surrounded to the west, north and east by three rectangular porticos with twelve columns each, arranged in two rows. The southern part consisted of a series of small rooms, and opened on Darius's palace, the Tachara. The corners were occupied by four towers.

The roof was supported by beams that rested on protomes of bulls and lions. Opposite, the protomes formed a bench on which a main beam had been placed. The two heads thus formed a protrusion, laterally, of around one meter. Transverse beams had been placed directly above the heads, stabilized by the ears or horns of the sculpted animal. These animal elements were fixed with lead. The transverse beams joined the columns of neighboring rows. The remaining spaces were covered by secondary beams. The whole was caulked and covered with a layer of dry mud mortar. The beams were made of oak, ebony, and cedar from Lebanon. The use of light cedar roofs together with the techniques of the Ionian colonnades, allowed the liberation of an important space: the separation of the rows of columns of the Apadana It is 8.9 m, for a relationship between the diameter of the columns and the distance between the shafts of only 1 by 3.6. In comparison, that of the hypostyle hall of the Karnak temple is 1 by 1.2.​

The whole was richly painted as witnessed by the multiple traces of pigments found on the bases of some columns, the walls and the bas-reliefs of the stairs. The inside of the throat of a sculpted lion still has distinct red remains. Covered with a layer of stucco of which fragments have been found, the walls were adorned with gold embroidered hangings, ceramic tiles, and decorated with paintings representing lions, bulls, flowers and plants. The wooden doors and beams had gold plates, inlaid with ivory and precious metals. The decorations on the column capitals differ depending on their position: bulls for the columns of the central vestibule and the north portico, and other animal figures for the east and west porticos.

According to archaeologist David Stronach, the configuration of a palace like the Apadana responds to two main functions. Its dimensions could allow the reception of 10,000 people, which facilitated the king's audience. On the other hand, its height allowed the king to observe the ceremonies and parades that took place on the plain. The excavations carried out in Susa, in a palace also built by Darius I, have brought to light a slab of the Apadana, located in the axis of the palace facing the south wall. Both palaces have similar conceptions. The existence of a throne fixed to the floor of the Apadana is probable. Furthermore, two nearby passes allowed the king to retreat to the adjacent royal apartments and quarters.

When Alexander the Great burned Persepolis, the roof of the Apadana collapsed to the east, protecting the reliefs in this part from wear and tear for nearly 2,100 years. A massive lion's head has been found in a hole, near the wall that separates the Apadana from the Palace of 100 Columns. Its function appears to have been to support a main roof beam. Its presence in a hole located below ground level is not explained. A replica of the Apadana portico is found in the site museum and gives an idea of the magnificence of the palace.


East staircase

Covered by the remains of the burned roof of the Apadana, the east staircase is very well preserved. It is divided into three panels (north, central, and south) and into triangles under the steps. The north panel shows the reception of Persians and Medes. The south panel shows the reception of characters who come from the subject nations. The staircase consists of multiple symbols of fertility: pomegranate flowers, rows separated by twelve-petaled flowers, or trees and seeds that decorate the triangles. The trees, pines and palmettes symbolize the palace gardens. The panels have inscriptions that indicate that Darius built the palace, that Xerxes completed it and asked Ahuramazda to protect the country from famine, crime, and earthquakes. The characters in the reliefs display a haughty bearing. The ethnic characters are meticulously reflected, and the details are worked with fineness: skins, beards, hair are represented in small curls, costumes and animals are worked with minute detail.

The examination of unfinished scenes defends an organization of work, resorting to a specialization of the worker (faces, hairstyles, dressings). The artists and workers who participated in the construction did not have any freedom of creation: they had to rigorously follow the guidelines provided by the king's advisors. The execution of the works followed a program that left no room for improvisation. The friezes, initially polychrome, responded to the sovereign's imperatives: appreciation of order and rigor. The staticity of the representations is reminiscent of the orthostats of Assyrian palaces. The distribution by registers in defined rows, and the rigidity of the subjects evokes the influence of the severe Ionic style.

Triangles and central shelf. The triangles are occupied by reliefs that symbolize the new year: a lion devouring a bull. The spring equinox showed a sky where the constellation of Lion was at the zenith, while that of Taurus disappeared on the southern horizon. Noruz marks the beginning of agricultural activity after winter. The meaning of the central panel is religious. It shows Ahuramazda guarded by two griffins with human heads, overpowering four Persian and Median guards. The Persians have a typical round shield in their left hand, and assegais in their right hand. As in the other reliefs at the site, the Persian guards are dressed in a long draped dress, and wear fluted headdresses. The Medes wear short coats and trousers, and are covered with round or pleated caps, and sometimes with pigtails.

North shelf. The north panel is divided into three registers and shows the reception of the new year in the form of a parade.70 From the center to the northern end, the upper register shows the Immortals followed by a royal procession. The Immortals wear a cap, and are equipped with spears and quivers weighted by pommels that rest on their feet. The royal procession consists of a Median officer preceding the bearers of the royal chair. The royal chair is carried by harnessed shoulder straps, which support two bamboos lodged across the chair. The chair was composed of a sculpted wooden frame, the feet of which were shaped like animal paws. A servant carries the footstool used by the king, who was not supposed to touch the earth. His damaged legs have traces of repair. The procession continues with the Median person in charge of the royal stables, at the head of the king's horses, each led by a page. The horses are finely crafted, revealing the detail of the bits. The procession is closed by two chariots driven by an Elamite. The draft horses are smaller and finer than the previous ones, of another breed. They pull two chariots whose wheels have twelve sections (symbolizing the twelve months of the year) and whose axles are sculpted. The first chariot differs from the other: some lions sculpted on the box seem to indicate that it is a hunting or war shot. The lower and middle panels show the immortals followed by Persian nobles (crenellated or feathered headdresses) and Medes (rounded headdress with a small tail) alternated. Some carry luggage, others plant germs and pomegranate flowers. Subtle differences in their costumes and jewelry suggest different functions or status. The nobles are represented arguing, and smiling. His attitude is relaxed and unceremonious. They hold hands from time to time, turn towards each other, or put their hand on the shoulder of the preceding one in attitudes that symbolize their unity. The immortals in the lower panel are Persians; Armed with a spear, bows and quivers, each one stands on a step of the ladder, representing the ascension. Those in the middle shelf wear caps and are armed only with spears.

South shelf. It is a notable panel because it represents the arrival of delegations from twenty-three subject nations, led alternately by Persian and Medes guides. Each delegation is separated by pine trees. The guide leads the delegate at the head, by the hand. The quality of the finish differs for each work: all the reliefs have not been polished, and their detail is variable. This parade features nearly 250 characters, forty animals, and cars. With a height of 90 cm, the logs have a total length of 145 m. For Dutz, the symbols of Persepolis are loaded with meaning, and their organization is not the result of chance. The arrangement of the representations could correspond to a protocol order, without it being possible to know if such order follows a sequence determined by the horizontal or vertical rows (see diagram). In any case, it would clearly seem that the Medes were the first, and the Ethiopians the last. Furthermore, none follow the sequential list of satrapies given by the king's inscription. The arrangement of the delegations does not seem to follow the order of incorporation of the different satrapies into the empire either. Instead, it could be a function of the travel time that separates them from Persepolis. This reasoning is supported by the texts of Herodotus: "of all nations, the Persians honor first those closest to them, secondly those that are more distant, and have less esteem for the more distant ones." It is known from the Treasury tablets that the offerings brought by the delegations do not correspond to a tax. They correspond to gifts intended for the king or for ceremonial use.​ In the absence of registration, the identification of the delegations is always a problem, as it focuses mainly on costumes and offerings. Despite the similarity with other representations, numerous uncertainties remain. The presence or absence, the order of citation or presentation, even the name of each town in the empire varies greatly, both in the sculptures and in the royal inscriptions. The latter do not constitute an administrative inventory carried out for posterity, but rather correspond to the ideal vision of the empire whose king wishes to leave his mark.


Reconstruction of the delegations according to Dutz, Stierlin and Briant:

1 Medes: led by a Persian, this delegation is the most important. The subjects wear suits, bracelets or bracelets, a sword, cups and a glass. These are probably other Medes tribes than those that have served the empire since its foundation, which would explain their subject status. At the beginning of the empire, these tribes remained loyal to Astyages, Cyrus having gathered the others.
2 Elamites: Elam has been Persian since the founding of the empire by Cyrus the Great. The delegation led by a Mede offers a lioness and two lions, as well as swords and bows.
3 Armenians: this delegation carries a finely crafted glass with two handles and a horse.
4 Arachosians: Pants are still worn in Balochistan. One of the subjects is dressed in a feline skin. The offerings consist of a camel and jugs.
5 Babylonians: this delegation offers a bull, bowls, and a hanging identical to those of the representations of the palace of the 100 columns, the Treasury or the Tripylon.
6 Assyrians and Phoenicians (or Lydians): this relief is very detailed. The offerings consist of carved glasses and cups (bronze or silver vessels), with double handles representing winged bulls, jewelry (bracelets with brooches adorned with winged griffins), and a chariot hitched with small horses. The costumes and hairstyles of the subjects are very elaborate, even papillotes worn by Orthodox Jews can be distinguished. The identity of the clothing maintains a controversy over the origins of these delegations.
7 Aryans (or Arachosians): the subjects of this satrapy correspond to the regions of Herat and Mashhad. They are practically indistinguishable from the Arachosians. The offerings consist of a camel and glasses.
8 Cilicians or Assyrians: who come from southern Asia Minor, this delegation offers two rams, skins, a suit, cups and glasses. This representation is meticulously worked, and the detail of the costumes (laces, belts, caps) appears.
9 Cappadocians: characterized by the tying of their cape at the top of the shoulder; They belong to the same group as the Armenians, Medes, and Sagartians. They offer presents of a horse and costumes.
10 Egyptians: the high relief that represents this delegation has been severely damaged by the destruction of the Apadana. The lower parts are enough to identify the origin of the subjects, thanks to the characteristics of their dress.
11 Scythians (also called Saks): This satrapy extended from Ukraine to the steppes of the northern Caucasus, as far north as Sogdiana. The subjects are wearing a typical Scythian cap. They wear a horse, suits, and what could be bracelets with clasps.
12 Lydians or Ionians: these Greek satrapies were merged and administered from Sardis. The subjects are dressed the same. They bring fabrics, balls of thread and cups that perhaps contain dyes.
13 Parthians: Under the Achaemenids, the Parthians were subdued, and it is only after the Seleucid Greek period that they will dominate Persia. Parthia corresponds to current Turkmenistan. The delegation brings glasses and a camel. The subjects are wearing a turban around their necks.
14 Gandharians: This satrapy is located upstream of the Indus, between Kabul and Lahore, west of modern-day Punjab. The subjects offer spears and an Asian buffalo.
15 Bactrians: the delegation carries a camel and glasses. Originally from Bactria in northern Afghanistan, the subjects are headdressed with a ribbon.
16 Sagartios: their costumes and gifts (suits and horse) are similar to those of the Medes, Cappadocians and Armenians, which suggests belonging to the same group. Its land of origin is poorly known: neighboring Thrace in Asia Minor, or near the Black Sea and the Caucasus, even located in the steppes of Central Asia near Bactria.

17 Sogdians: their origin was Sogdiana, present-day Pakistan. This ethnic group belonged to the group of the Scythians, those who wore the cap. They carry a horse, axes, objects that may be bracelets, and a sword.
18 Indians: these subjects, who came from Sind, the lower valley of the Indus, are dressed in a loincloth, and are wearing sandals. They carry a donkey, axes, and baskets with provisions carried on their backs by means of a scale.
19 Thracians (or Scythians): Thrace was located between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, in a territory today shared by Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria. The subjects lead a horse. They wear a pointed cap with long legs, similar to Scythian caps.
20 Arabs: these subjects come from Phenicia - Assyria. They are shod with sandals, and dressed in tunics with embroidered trim. They carry a dromedary.
21 Drangianians: there is no agreement among the authors regarding the origin of this delegation. For some, these are individuals who come from Merv in Bactria, current states of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). For another, the subjects come from the Kerman region, eastern Iran. Additionally, their hairstyle would support an origin near Kandahar, as well as their shield, spear, and the type of ox they carry.
22 Somalis (or Lydians): the origin of this delegation is controversial. Accompanied by a cart, the subjects bring a kudu or an ibex, they are dressed in skins, but they are not negroid. The morphological type of the individuals, as well as the presence of a chariot, would indicate a Libyan origin, while the antelope and the skin dressings would support an origin located further south, (Yemen or Somalia).
23 Nubians (or Ethiopians or Abyssinians): these are Negroid subjects, who carry an okapi or a giraffe, elephant defenses and a glass.


North staircase

The northern staircase was added by Xerxes I, to facilitate access to the Apadana from the Gate of All Nations. The reliefs on this staircase present the same themes as those on the east staircase, but are more degraded.​

The central panel initially showed Xerxes I, Darius the Great and an official. The latter could be a ganzabara (governor of the Treasury), or a chiliarch (commanding officer of the guard). This relief has been moved to the Treasury and has been replaced by another one showing eight guards. A trilingual cuneiform inscription on the staircase has largely taken up the text of that of the Gate of All Nations, without specifying the name of the building.

Cross out
Named after an inscription located on a pillar of its south door, the Tachara, or palace of Darius, is located south of the Apadana. It is the only one of the palaces to have access to the south through a porch. The entrance to the palace was initially from this side, via a double staircase. Built by Darius I, the palace is then completed by Xerxes I who expanded it, then by Artaxerxes III who added a second staircase to the west. This new entry creates an unprecedented asymmetry. The costumes of the Medes, Siliconians and Sogdian characters represented are different from those of the other previous stairs, which suggests a change in fashion, and reinforces the idea of a later construction.

The ceilings on the south staircase present symbols of Noruz: a lion devouring a bull. The ascending parts represent Medes and Arachosians bringing animals, jars and other things. These are probably priests who come from Zoroastrian holy places such as Lake Urmia in Media and Lake Helmand in Arachosia, and who carry what is necessary for the ceremonies. The central panel shows two groups of new guards and three panels carrying a trilingual inscription of Xerxes II, indicating that this palace has been built by his father; It is crowned by the winged disk, symbol either of Ahuramazda or of royal glory, framed by two sphinxes.

The entrance to the palace is through a room, through a door, where a relief represents the guards. This room is followed by another door that opens to the main hall, above which there is a relief representing the king fighting evil in the shape of an animal. This theme is in other doors of the palace, in the Palace of 100 Columns, and in the harem. The malefic figure is symbolized by a lion, a bull, or a chimeric animal. The type of figure could have a relationship with the function of the work, or with astrological themes.​

A door opens in the royal bathroom. It is adorned with a relief showing a king prepared for a ceremony and followed by two servants who have an umbrella and a fly swatter. The king is crowned, dressed in rich regalia adorned with precious stones. He wears bracelets, and jewels hang from his braided beard.Another relief probably shows a eunuch, the only beardless representation at the site. He carries a bottle of ointment and a napkin. The circulation of water was ensured by a covered channel in the floor that passed through the middle of the room. You can see remains of the red cement that carpeted the floor of the room.​

The palace consists of two other small rooms located on its sides. The south porch opens onto a courtyard surrounded by the other palaces. A curious inscription is engraved on each lintel of the doors and windows:
stone window made in Darius's house.

The name Tachara comes from a trilingual cuneiform inscription on each pillar of the south portico:
Darius the great king, the king of kings, the king of the peoples, the son of Vistaspa, the Achaemenid, who has made this Tachara.

However, it is doubtful that this word, whose exact meaning is unknown, designates the building itself: it has been found on the bases of columns in other places in Persepolis, which bear inscriptions by Xerxes and which mention this word:

I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king of the peoples, the king of this land, the son of King Darius, the Achaemenid. King Xerxes declares: "I have made this Tachara."



It gets its name from its three entries. The Tripylon, or audience hall of Xerxes, or Central Palace, or Council Chamber, is a palace located in the center of Persepolis. It is accessed from the north by a sculpted staircase, whose reliefs mainly show Medes and Persian guards. Other reliefs represent nobles and runners for a banquet. The southern staircase of the Tripylon is located in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. A hallway opens to the east, to a door adorned with a relief showing:
Above, Darius on his throne before Xerxes as a crowned prince, sheltered under a canopy adorned with divine symbols, bulls, lions and acorns; king and prince hold palm leaves in their hands, a symbol of fertility;
Below, subjects from twenty-eight nations take them.
This relief clearly designates to everyone Darius's will to name Xerxes as legitimate successor to the throne.​



The Hadish, or palace of Xerxes, is located south of the Tripylon; It is built on a plan similar to Tachara, but twice as large. Its central vestibule consisted of thirty-six stone and wooden columns. These were tree trunks of large proportions and large diameters of which nothing remains. It is surrounded on the east and west by small rooms and corridors, whose doors have sculpted reliefs. There are royal processions representing Xerxes I accompanied by servants who take cover under an umbrella. The southern part of the palace is made up of apartments whose function is controversial: once described as the queen's, they are considered warehouses or annexes to the Treasury. Access to the Hadish terrace was via a monumental staircase to the east, double flights, first diverging and then converging, and a smaller staircase with converging flights to the west; Both of them have the same decoration as the south staircase of the Tachara: bulls and lions, Persian guards, winged disk and sphinx.

Hadish is a word in Old Persian that appears in a trilingual inscription in four copies, above the portico and the staircase: it means "palace." It is archaeologists who call this palace hadish, although the original name is not known. The attribution to Xerxes is certain, since he, in addition to these four inscriptions, had his name and his titles engraved at least fourteen times.


Palace of 100 columns

Also called the Throne Room, it is shaped like a square with a side of 70 m: it is the largest of the palaces in Persepolis. When it was partially excavated, it was covered by a layer of earth and cedar ash more than three meters thick. Very damaged by the fire, only the bases of the columns and the uprights of the doors remain.

Two colossal bulls constitute the bases of the main columns, 18 m long, that supported the roof of the entrance portico, to the north of the palace. The entrance was through a door richly decorated with reliefs. Among the representations, one describes the order of things, showing from top to bottom: Ahuramazda, the king on his throne, then many rows of soldiers supporting him. The king therefore exercises his power as Ahuramazda, who protects him, and commands the army that carries his power.

The palace is decorated with numerous reliefs in a remarkable state of conservation, representing bulls, lions, flowers and acorns.

The south gate of the palace presents a completely different relief. It symbolizes the support provided to the king by the different nations that make up the empire. The soldiers that make up the bottom five ranks belong to many nations, recognizable by their headdress and weapons. Turning towards the Treasury, this message is rather addressed to the servants and reminds them that the riches that pass through this door are due to the cohesion of the empire. Some cuneiform tablets detail the tax archives, thus giving an estimate of the riches that passed through these doors.​

If the reliefs at the north and south entrances to the palace essentially concern the affirmation of the monarchy, those at the east and west parts present, as in other palaces, heroic scenes of a king fighting evil.



Built by Darius I, it is a series of rooms located in the southeast corner of the terrace, extending over an area of 10,000 m². The treasury consists of two important rooms, whose roof was supported respectively by 100 and 99 wooden columns.91 Wooden and clay tablets have been found, detailing the amount of salaries and benefits paid to the workers who had built it. According to Plutarch, Alexander the Great would have needed 10,000 mules and 5,000 camels to transport the treasure from Persepolis. According to some tablets, 1,348 people worked in the Treasury in 467 BC.

The Treasury has been rebuilt and modified many times. Many inscriptions have been found on solid blocks of diorite, which mention King Darius. Two reliefs have been found, one of which comes from the northern staircase of the Apadana. It is now in the Tehran museum and represents Darius the Great on the throne. The king receives a Median officer leaning forward, who raises his right hand to his lips as a sign of respect. He could be a chiliarch, commander of 1000 guards, or a governor of the treasury, or Ganzabara). Xerxes and the Persian nobles are standing behind the sovereign. Two incense bearers stand between the king and his dignitaries. In excavations, this building has been identified as the Treasury. Despite its large surface, access was through two small narrow doors.


Garrison and room of 32 columns

Between the Palace of the Hundred Columns and the mountain there are multiple rooms that made up the servants' and soldiers' quarters, the chancellery, and the offices. More than 30,000 tablets and fragments of tablets have been found in Elamite. According to Quintus Curtius Rufus and Diodorus, Alexander would have left 3,000 soldiers in the place, which gives an idea of the garrison capacity of Persepolis. North of these hut camps, there are the remains of a room that consisted of thirty-two columns, the function of which is not clear.


Harem and museum

The harem is accessed through the south door of the palace of the 100 Columns. The building is "L" shaped, whose main wing has a north-south orientation. The center consists of a colonnaded hall, open to the north to a courtyard by a portico. This room had four entrances, the doors of which were decorated with reliefs. The side reliefs still show scenes of heroic combat reminiscent of those of Tachara or the palace of the 100 Columns. The king is shown fighting with a chimerical animal (horned and winged bull-lion), with a crow's neck and a scorpion's tail, which may be a representation of Ahriman, an evil divinity. The hero plunges his sword into the belly of the beast that confronts him. The southern relief shows Xerxes I followed by servants, according to a scene identical to those in the Hadish. The southern part of the wing and the other wing that extends it to the west consists of a series of 25 apartments, hypostyles with 16 columns each. The building also has two stairs that link it to the Hadish, and two small patios that could correspond to closed gardens.

It is not true that the harem could have been a place of residence for women. According to some, the central section could have been intended for the queen and her entourage. Others think that the women lived outside the walls. The function of the building is therefore controversial. The presence of elaborate reliefs, as well as their location, at a high level is that of a building that has an important function. On the contrary, its size and position suggest rather an administrative function. The name "harem" is probably erroneous: Western researchers have projected their vision of Ottoman harems onto Achaemenid Persia, which lacked them.

The harem has been excavated and partially restored by E. Hertzfeld by an anastylosis procedure. He rebuilt several rooms, which served as restoration workshops and presentation of the works found in the complex. A part of the harem was transformed into a museum. The site museum presents a wide variety of found objects:
ceramics, terracotta plates and glasses, ceramic tiles;
pieces of coins;
tools of all kinds: masonry, carving, kitchen, or mouth utensils, mortars;
wrought iron crafts, spear and arrow heads, fragments of trumpets or metal ornaments, metal pegs;
remains of fabrics or remains of wood that make up the infrastructure;
metal bits and pieces of arrow;
engraved tablets.
There are works found in the surrounding area, dating from later, Sassanid and Islamic, even earlier (prehistoric) occupations. The great diversity of the works that collect daily uses allows us to have an idea of the life of the time. Furthermore, the comparison of the works with some pictorial works (snack, spears) gives an idea of the detail of the work of the workers in carving the reliefs.


Other constructions

It seems that a palace was built in the southwest corner of the terrace, belonging to Artaxerxes I. The ruins do not correspond to this palace, but to a post-Achaemenid residential construction called Palace H. The sculptures representing horns have been arranged near the wall of the terrace, whose function is not known; They have been found buried at the foot of the terrace.

Another structure called palace G, is located north of the Haddish, and is a post-Achaemenid construction. It appears to have been made on the site of a destroyed structure, which could be the palace of Artaxerxes III. The remains of a construction, called palace D, have been found east of the Haddish. Like the previous ones, this construction after the Achaemenid dynasty has reused remains and ornaments that come from the ruins of the terrace.


Annexed elements

Numerous elements have been found outside the walls of the terrace. These are remains of gardens, homes, post-Achaemenid graves, or Achaemenid royal tombs. In addition, a complex network of intra- and extramural pipelines is under exploration.



They are ruins that have not yet been completely excavated and are visible 300 m south of the terrace. Possibly before the palaces, these constructions consist of many houses. The largest consists of a central hall surrounded by secondary rooms and is accessible by a staircase. They seem to have been intended for people of high social rank. A construction is located to the north of the terrace, whose function is unknown.



Recent geological explorations have revealed the ruins of Achaemenid gardens and their irrigation canals outside the complex. Some of them were harmed in 1971, during the ceremonies celebrating the 2,500 years of Iran's monarchy. Other damage has resulted from the construction of a paved road after the revolution. These gardens, called Pairidaeza (an ancient Persian word from which the word "paradise" comes), were often built next to the Achaemenid palaces.


Hydraulic network

The terrace's canalization system still contains precious secrets, which motivates deep excavations. It involves extracting and analyzing the sediments. More than 2 km of network have been discovered, which runs along the terrace and its surroundings, and passes under the palaces. The variable dimensions of the channels (60 to 160 cm wide, 80 cm to several meters deep) explain the importance of the sedimentary volume and the value of the archaeological potential. The remains they contain may thus prove precious: a part of the supposed throne of Darius has been found, as have some 600 ceramic fragments that have preserved their colors. The work encounters, however, a complex problem: the removal of sediments allows water infiltration, which would harm the structure of the complex.

The network of collectors and water channels runs through the foundation and floor of the terrace. It is, therefore, likely that the plans for the entire complex were drawn up in detail before its construction. Cut directly into the stone at the base of the walls, before their erection, the collectors made it possible to evacuate rainfall infiltrations.


Royal graves

Located a few dozen meters from the terrace, two tombs dug into the rock of Kuh-e Ramat dominate the site. These tombs are attributed to Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III. Each tomb is surrounded by colonnaded sculptures that represent the palace facades, highlighted with engravings. These representations, like those of the tombs of Naqsh-e Rostam, have allowed us to better understand the architecture of Persian palatine buildings. At the top of the tomb of Artaxerxes III, the king is represented on a three-tiered pedestal, facing Ahuramazda and an equally enhanced sacred fire. One wall features a trilingual inscription recalling that Darius the Great has borne offspring, that he has built Persepolis, and lists his assets. Each version differs slightly from the other two. A third unfinished tomb lies further south. It seems to have been intended for Darius III, the last Achaemenid king. Remains of post-Achaemenid graves have been found at the foot of the mountain, one kilometer north of the terrace.


Persepolis Tablets

During the excavations of Herzfeld and Schmidt, two series of archives were discovered in Persepolis, comprising numerous wooden and clay cuneiform tablets. The first series is known as the Persepolis Fortress Tablets as it has been found in the area corresponding to the fortifications in the northeast corner of the terrace. It consists of around 30,000 pieces of which 6,000 are legible. The content of 5,000 of them has already been studied, but they have not been published in their entirety. They mainly contain administrative texts republished in Elamite, the language of the chancellors, between 506 BC. and 497 BC., but the reissued tablets in Aramaic about 500 texts have been deciphered; one tablet in Akkadian, one in Greek, one in an Anatolian language and spelling, one in Old Persian have been found.

These tablets can be classified into two subgroups. The first concerns the transportation of materials from one place to another in the empire; the other is more of a ledger. These pieces have allowed us to obtain precious information that allows us to understand the functioning of the empire and its administration in the very diverse domains of construction, circulation, mail, passports, or finances. Some bodies of office may have been known this way, such as the governor of the Treasury, or ganzabara. The tablets have also made it possible to know the names of the people who worked in Persepolis, from the humble worker to the governor of the Treasury. Furthermore, some allow us to specify the status of women of all social classes in the Achaemenid era.

The other series, known as the Persepolis Treasure Tablets, has 139 pieces that describe payments made in gold and silver between 492 BC. and 458 BC. Several are marked with the imprint of seals, and constitute letters and memoranda addressed by officials to the governor of the Treasury. The amazing preservation of dry clay tablets is explained by the fact that they have been fired at high temperature by the fire of Persepolis. This involuntary transformation into terracotta has paradoxically allowed for better resistance to time, preventing them from turning into dust.​

Representing an invaluable scientific heritage, they have contributed to a better linguistic knowledge of Elamite and ancient Persian, or the political organization and religious practices of the Achaemenids. This heritage is at the center of a political controversy: a process that wants to obtain an embargo to carry out a sale for the benefit of the "victims of Hamas terrorism." The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has custody of the tablets since their discovery.


Controversies over the functions of Persepolis

The Achaemenid Persian Empire had, in fact, several capitals. Pasargadae was that of Cyrus the Great, Susa, Ecbatana, or Babylon were his successors. Most authors agree on the importance of the protocol and religious functions of Persepolis, illustrated by the strong symbolism of the ornaments. However, the interpretation of the reliefs is delicate since they would, in fact, present the idealized vision that Darius the Great had of his empire. For Briant, the image offered is that of sovereign and unlimited royal power, in a place conceived to express Persian domination and the Pax persica. Through his virtues conferred by the protection of Ahura Mazda, the king ensures the unity of a world whose ethnocultural and geographical diversity is underlined.

There is controversy regarding the reality of the ceremonies described by the reliefs, and various points of view are expressed. Some see Persepolis as nothing more than a place reserved for the initiated. This hypothesis is supported by the few ancient texts that mention the site before its capture by Alexander the Great, which contrasts with the number and diversity of the subjugated peoples. Likewise, the delegations should have ensured Persepolis a greater notoriety. According to this view, no reception would have actually taken place at Persepolis. For others, such receptions had taken place. They rely on the organization at the terrace level, which would respond to a clearly defined function of separating the inhabitants according to their social rank. The organization of the reliefs that mark the progression of the tribute to the treasure, the existence of separate paths that lead either to the Apadana or to the Palace of the 100 columns, are so many arguments in this sense. According to this point of view, the protocol and religious function of Persepolis is exercised through the celebration of the new year (Noruz). The king of kings received the offerings and received the tax from the delegations that came from all the satrapies. The ceremonial obeyed strict rules dictated by respect for the order of things: the delegations followed a precise order, and a clear separation reflected to the different social classes, king and people of royal rank, Persian and Medes nobles, Persian and Medes, subject people). Not only were these not admitted to the same levels, but they also followed different paths. After the arrival of the delegations had been announced by the bell ringers, they were led through the gate of all nations. While the subjugated continued along the Procession Road to the unfinished Gate to be received, then, in the Palace of the 100 Columns, the nobles headed through the other exit of the Gate of All Nations to enter the Apadana. The magnificence and splendor of the places would be intended to impress visitors, and to affirm the power of the empire.

H. Stierlin, historian of art and architecture, also elaborates on this point. The spaces freed by the architecture of the palaces, such as the Apadana, allow large receptions, banquets and court rites to be held. The use of libations and royal banquets have spread from Persia, in fact, to most satrapies: Thrace, Asia Minor, or North Macedonia, integrate such traditions. Furthermore, the discovery of numerous Achaemenid or Achaemenid-inspired goldsmith's objects dedicated to the arts of the table testify to the importance of these banquets for the Persians. The configuration of the site and the arrangement of the accesses testify to a desire to make the real person unapproachable for some. It allows the following of a rigorous etiquette that gives the sovereign an almost divine character.

There is controversy regarding the occupation of Persepolis. Taking into account the reliefs, R. Ghirshman suggested a temporary annual occupation of Persepolis. The city would have been occupied only during the Noruz festivities, and would then have only a ritual function. This thesis is increasingly discussed and Briant points out that, if there is no doubt about the existence of festivals and ceremonies in Persepolis , numerous objections can be formulated regarding the hypothesis of an occupation that is limited to the new year. The tablets undoubtedly prove that Persepolis was permanently occupied, and that it was an important economic and administrative center. Furthermore, he observes that the Achaemenid court, even though it was itinerant, traveled throughout the empire, and that the ancient texts do not mention its presence in Persia except in autumn and not in spring. If the existence of Noruz ceremonies cannot be excluded, it is possible that reliefs and tablets refer to offerings and tributes received during the travels of nomadic sovereigns:
Finally, for Stronach, it is necessary to first consider the function of Persepolis from a political angle, taking into account the conditions of Darius's accession to power. Dario had to overcome great opposition). Such monuments would not have had the literal function of reflecting the power or wealth of the empire, but rather responding to immediate political imperatives. Built shortly after the advent of Darius, Persepolis first enshrines the legitimacy of his accession to the throne and affirms his authority to the ends of the empire. Furthermore, the repetition of motifs representing Darius the Great and Xerxes suggests the desire to legitimize his successor. Likewise, the multiplicity of references to Darius by Xerxes I suggests the desire to consolidate and ensure the succession to the throne.