There are few historic sites around the world as intriguing and beautiful as Persepolis in southern Iran, recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage site. Persepolis was an important ceremonial capital, complete with palaces and a treasury filled with riches, where Persian New Year (known as Nowruz) was celebrated each year at the time of the spring equinox.
You approach Persepolis on a long avenue, with Mount Mithra forming a dramatic backdrop to the columns of the Gate of All Nations and what remains of the hundred slender and decorative columns of the Apadana Palace. Planned and built by the Achaemenid king, Darius the Great, in 518 BC, and continued by his successor Xerxes, Persepolis was known far and wide as the City of the Persians, and still holds an important place in the nation’s heart two and a half thousand years later.
The palaces of Persepolis were a triumph of architecture and beauty, cutting edge for their time, decorated with precious stones and finely carved friezes. Records from Persepolis bear witness to an advanced civilization where female workers were paid the same as their male counterparts, with the benefit of paid maternity leave. Twice as much if they had twins. How did we lose those gains over the last two thousand years? It seems the Achaemenid Kings were not only powerful but also fair.
Persepolis eventually fell to Alexander the Great and his army. He burnt it to the ground, and it apparently took 33,000 camels to cart away the loot found within the King’s treasury.
Persepolis was lost to time and the desert sands, and lay this way for more than two millennia before being rediscovered in the 1930s.
The legacy of Persepolis lies in its stone carvings, exquisitely detailed and well-preserved. They show the King’s subjects and guests – northern Armenians, Egyptians, Babylonians, all in local dress and carrying gifts and tributes for the king at the Nowruz Persian New Year celebration. Several pairs of guests hold hands as they arrive. There is a sense of attending a joyful party, with gifts of flowers, quince, pomegranates, and other fruits.
Nowruz is still celebrated at the spring equinox each year. It’s Iran’s largest and most joyful celebration, and pre-dates Islam by more than a thousand years. Each year, Iranians spend Nowruz with their best friends and closest family, sitting around a table set with flowers, quince and fruits, in the spirit of the ancient Achaemenid kings.