The Sassanid archaeological landscape of Fars is a mesmerizing testament to the rich history and cultural heritage of the ancient Persian Empire. Located in the Fars province of modern-day Iran, these valuable archaeological sites offer a fascinating glimpse into the grandeur and accomplishments of the Sasanian Empire. Spanning over 400 years from the 3rd to the 7th century AD, the Sassanian Empire left an indelible mark on the region and played a significant role in shaping the history of Iran. In this article, we will explore the remarkable features of the Sassanid archaeological landscape in Fars region and delve into its historical, architectural and cultural significance.
Sassanid Archaeological Landscape
Welcome to a captivating journey through the Sassanid Archaeological Landscape in Fars. It consists of the historical city of Bishapur, the natural historical gorge of Tang-e Chogan, the Shapur cave, the historical complex of the Qal’eh Dokhtar, the ancient city of Ardashir Khoreh, the ruined Sasanid Palace in the city of Sarvestan, Firuzabad’s Ardeshir’s Palace and two reliefs nearby. These sites have been registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the name of Sassanid archaeological landscape of Fars Region. In this article, we are going to introduce some of the places of this complex to you – where remnants of the Sasanian Empire await discovery.
The city of Bishapur was built in 266 AD by the order of king Shapur I (r. 240 – 270 CE), the most famous and powerful king of the Sassanid dynasty.
Standing as a testament to Sassanian urban planning and architectural prowess, Bishapur is an ancient city located in present-day Iran 150 km from Shiraz. It was founded in the 3rd century AD by the Sasanian king Shapur I and served as an important political and cultural center during the Sasanian Empire. The city was strategically situated along trade routes and played a significant role in the empire’s administration and military operations.
Bishapur is known for its well-preserved Anahita Temple, which provide valuable insights into the architecture and urban planning of the Sasanian period. The city features various structures, including a royal palace, a temple complex, a water supply system, and series of large rock reliefs depicting military victories of the kings in neighboring Tang-e Chogan. The city’s layout follows a grid pattern, with well-defined streets and structures that highlight the sophistication of Sassanian engineering.
The reason for building this city is related to Shapur’s victory over Valerian, the Roman emperor. After Shapur won the war, he ordered to build a large city on the way from Persepolis to Tisphoon. After building the city, it was named Bishapur meaning “the city of Shapur”.The city also served as a vibrant center of trade and commerce, further emphasizing its significance in the Sassanian Empire.
Nestled amidst the Zagros Mountains, Bishapur provides a glimpse into the daily lives of Sassanid citizens. This ancient city showcases well-preserved ruins that are a popular tourist attraction today. Wander through the remains of residential areas and marvel at the city’s intricate water supply system, a testament to the empire’s advanced engineering capabilities.
Anahita is the goddess of water in ancient Iran. In Zoroastrianism, water is very important and considered one of the sacred elements. For this reason, they built a place for the goddess of water, Anahita.
There should always be water flowing in the Anahita temple. So, by performing very delicate engineering, a branch of the water of the Shapur River flowed into this building. This river was located 250 meters away from the temple. So with the help of an aqueduct, they created a diversion for the river.
In the lower part of this temple, there is a corridor and a large crypt. Water flowed around this temple in an artistic and engineering way.
The floor of this porch in Bishapur was covered with colorful mosaics decorated with decorative designs. These mosaics are the most valuable works obtained from the city of Bishapur and today they are kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris and the national museum of Iran in Tehran. The colors used in these mosaics and their design are also very impressive, still, there are few works of this type of mosaics on the sides of the wall of this porch.
The floor of this porch in Bishapur was covered with colorful mosaics decorated with Roman-like designs. These mosaics are the most valuable works obtained from the city of Bishapur and today they are kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris and the national museum of Iran in Tehran. The colors used in these mosaics and their design are also very impressive, still, there are few works of this type of mosaics on the sides of the wall of this porch.
Tang-e Chogan, the Gorge of Relifes
Six Sassanid reliefs are located in this gorge, one of the reliefs is about the victory of Shapur I over the Byzantine Empire. In this relief, Shapur is carved in the middle of the scene, seated on his horseback. Under the legs of Shapur’s horse, Caesar Gardian III‘s body is placed, and Valerian’s hands are in Shapur’s hand as a sign of captivity. Philip the Arab also kneels in front of Shapur’s horse seeking for his patronage.
The victory of Bahram II (r. 274 – 293 CE) over the Arabs and the ceremony of receiving the Ring of Power through Bahram I from Ahuramazda are other prominent features of this gorge.
Shapur Cave is located at the end of Chogan gorge and 4 kilometers from Bishapur. This cave is located at an altitude of 800 meters above the ground. At the entrance of the cave, you can see a large statue of Shapur I, the second Sassanid king. That is why this cave is known as Shapur Cave. This statue is about 1800 years old and is one of the most important Sassanid Archaeological landscape of Fars.
Palace of Ardashir
Located in the city of Firuz Abad, the Palace of Ardashir Babakan consists of three parts. It has a courtyard with two porches and halls next to it, a high porch, and three halls inside the dome. In the architecture of Ardashir’s Palace, the important and glorious materials of the era, which were plaster and tiles, have been used and have doubled the beauty of the palace.
In addition, the Palace of Ardashir is the first building belonging to the Sassanid period that has a porch and a dome. The masters of architecture and artists of the Sassanid era used semi-cut stones in the construction of different parts of the building. Beautiful and eye-catching stucco decorations are other pure Iranian skills that are displayed in this building. But the very interesting and important thing about Ardeshir Babakan Palace is the strength of its decorations. Because with the passage of eighteen hundred years since the construction of this building, many of its parts have remained firmly fixed on top of the inner walls!
This palace is one of the remnants of the rein of Bahram V, the Sassanid king. It is very similar to the Ardashir’s palace in Firuzabad. The materials used in construction of this palace consist of stones and bricks, and a type of plaster covering for decoration. There are different opinions about the use of this building in the past, some consider it to be a fire temple due to its quadrangular structure, while others believe that it was a royal hunting lodge. The palace has an entrance porch and a dome in the center and courtyard, and it has a more complex and complete architectural technique and plan than other buildings of the Sassanid period.
Archaeological investigations show that this palace had an area of about 30 hectares during its peak and glory period. The main facade of the building is on the south side and there is a large porch and two smaller porches on both sides of it. The central porch is connected to the main hall and then to the four courtyards.
Qal’eh Dokhtar, also known as Dezh Dokhtar meaning “The Maiden Castle” is a fortified structure located in the southwestern region of Iran, 6 km from Firouzabad. This castle was built by Ardashir I, the founder of the Sasanian Empire in 209 AD.
With its roots dating back to the Sassanian Empire, this fortress stands as a testament to the architectural brilliance and strategic importance of the era. Qal’eh Dokhtar served as a prominent defensive stronghold against invading forces. General architectural features of the castle show that the Maiden Castle was founded during Ardashir I‘s wars with Parthians before his final victory over the last Parthian king, Ardavan IV (Arthabanus IV) in 224 AD. The fortress combines the natural rock formations with carefully crafted structures, creating an intricate labyrinth of defense mechanisms. The walls are adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions, showcasing the artistic finesse prevalent during the Sassanian period.
The main fortifications of Qal’eh Dokhtar include an outer wall that extends over a sloping cliff with an overall shape of a trapezoid. These fortifications started from the lower part of the “Tangab Gorge” and extended to the highest part of the mountain where the inner castle is located. The geometrical multi-level layout of the inner palace is in complete contrast to the non-geometrical mode of the castle itself, which is based on the natural shape of the mountain.
Ancient city of Gur
The Sassanid city of Gur or Ardashir Khurrah is considered the first circular city in the world. It was built by the order of Ardashir Babkan.
Ardashir Babakan built his city on the ruins left by Alexander’s attack on one of the Achaemenid cities. Therefore, he named the city after his own name Ardeshir Khurrah, Meaning “the glory of Ardashir”. This city had been inhabited for many centuries. Around the Islamic period, the name changed to Gur, which means plain or pit. This city has four main gates. These gates include Mehr, which is from the east, Bahram, which is from the west, Hormoz, which is considered the northern gate, and finally, Ardeshir, which is opened from the south. In the middle of the city, a structure with a tower was built, which according to historians it could have been an important fire temple.
Later in Islamic periods, the name of this city was changed into Firuzabad. The old city became abandoned and uninhabited and eventually the new city of Firuzabad was built on the edge of the ancient one. Firuzabad can also be considered as the place where some Qashqai nomads – one of important Iran Ethnic Groups – started to settle down and live together.