The Farsi term Taq-i Bustan, which means ‘arch of the garden’ is the name of one of those enchanting places so loved by the Persians in which nature and Man worked together to create a ‘paradise'. Laid out around a pool surrounded by large trees that provide refreshing shade, this site a few miles from Kermanshah is dominated by precipitous rock faces, at the base of which ancient sculptors expressed their artistry. Taq-i Bustan is the place where the Sassanian sovereigns, in obedience to an ancient water cult dedicated to the goddess Anahita, built a series of extremely interesting rock-cut monuments.
Here, however, instead of investiture or triumphal scenes carved on the rock, there are artificial grottoes entirely hewn out of the rock. Drawing inspiration from a creation commissioned by Shapur I in a natural cave at Bishapur, at Taq-i Bustan Shapur III (383-388) adopted the formula of an artificial cave. Earlier ArdaShir Il (379-383) had the first relief carving done at this site, depicting the king being crowned: while treading on a defeated Roman Soldier he receives a ribboned crown, the symbol of his authority, from gods, Mithra and Ahuramazda.
Ardashir II’s successor, Shapur III, had the first grotto (from right to left) cut in the shape of an iwan, not far from the sculptures representing his investiture next to the effigy of Shapur II(309-379), thus legitimizing his assumption of power.
The second larger grotto — an interesting monument that must date to the reign of Piruz (457-484)- may have been finished by Khosrow II (590-628). This iwan must have been the center of a Complex of three grottoes, the last of which (at left) was never hewn. It is most likely that this was due to the fall of the Sassanian Empire, which was overrun by Arab warriors.
The entrance to the second grotto consists of a lovely arch that is the façade of the iwan: its elegant curve, which avoids the schematic rigidity of a simple round arch, has not only extremely refined decorative and floral motifs, but also ‘angels,’ that is to say, Roman-style winged victories wearing crowns. The images of Nike with marvelously carved wings are accompanied by these high-quality sculptures with grapevine festoon motifs in the ancient manner and by exotic plant motifs. Such a beginning immediately assumes an ethereal, albeit quite real, grace and charm: the female figures — the goddess Anahita and the Victories — make the Sassanian pantheon gentler.
At the end of the grotto visitors will see the apse, which consists of twos superposed registers. On the lower one is a ‘horseman’ on his steed, both larger than life-size and rendered in high relief that could almost be taken for sculpture in the round. The man, who is the king, is holding a lance and shield and wearing a helmet as well as a long coat of mail, while the horse is covered with a caparison. The equestrian statue heralds the motif of combat in the feudal world that flourished in the medieval Western world, but it is also a faithful image of the terrible "cataphracts” the ‘fully armored’ horsemen who struck fear into the Romans. In this case the sculpture represents King Piruz. On the upper level of the apse, on a sort of tympanum, Khosro II stands between Anahita and AhuraMazda, who consigns him the ribboned crown.