The first capital of the Achaemenid Empire, Pasargadae lies in ruins 43 kilometers from Persepolis, in present-day Fars province of Iran. Pasargadae was the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great who had issued its construction in the 6th century BC (559–530). Cyrus the Great began building his capital in 546 BC or later; it was unfinished when he died in battle in 530 or 529 BC. Pasargadae remained the capital of the Achaemenid Empire until Cambyses II moved it to Susa; later, Darius founded another in Persepolis.
The archaeological site of Pasargadae covers 1.6 square kilometers (a park of 2×3 km) and includes Cyrus the Great’s tomb, Royal garden of Pasargadae, Gate palace, bridge, Bar-e-Aam palace (Audience palace), Private palace, two summerhouse fountains of royal garden, Cambyses’ tomb, Fortress of Toll-e Takht, Mozaffari caravansary, Holy Area, and Tangeh Bolaghi (valley). All monuments can be mentioned as outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization.
Pasargadae was the capital of the first great multicultural empire in Western Asia. Spanning the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to the Hindus River, it is considered to be the first empire that respected the cultural diversity of its different people. This was reflected in Achaemenid architecture, a synthetic representation of different cultures.
It should be underlined that, according to the recent research on structural engineering, Pasargadae has demonstrated that the Achaemenids city engineers built to withstand a severe earthquake, which would be classified today as 7.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. UNESCO declared Pasargadae as a World Heritage Site in 2004.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great
Cyrus II (559-530 B.C.), known as Cyrus the Great, was the founder of the first Persian dynasty, which is known as the Achaemenid Dynasty. The Achaemenid Dynasty was vitally important, being the first ruling dynasty of the Persian Empire. It lasted for about two centuries, through various related rulers like Cambyses, Xerxes, Artaxerxes , and Darius. Especially the earlier of these kings concentrated on expanding Persia’s territory to impressive limits, even into Greece, where they fought what we refer to as the Persian Wars. While he still lived, Cyrus the Great planned for his burial at the Persian city of Pasargadae, 40 km northeast of Persepolis.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae is his burial place following his death in the summer of 530. It is said to be the oldest base-isolated structure in the world. Despite having ruled over much of the ancient world, Cyrus the Great would design a tomb that depicts extreme simplicity and modesty when compared to those of other ancient kings and rulers.
The Tomb is simple in form, constructed of large, carefully dressed ashlar blocks set with precision and secured by dovetail clamps. It has six broad steps leading to the sepulcher. Whereas each of the three upper steps are 0.57 meters high, each of the lower ones are 1.05 meter high. The lowest step seems a bit taller as part of the foundation is exposed. On the northwest side a narrow doorway, 1.39 m high without the sill and 0.78 m wide, leads through a small passage to a chamber measuring 3.17 meters long, 2.11 meters wide and 2.11 meters high. The gabled stone roof is hollow. Around the Tomb were a series of columns; although the original structure which they supported is no longer present.
The design of Cyrus’ Tomb is credited to Mesopotamian or Elamite ziggurats, but the inner chamber is usually attributed to Urartu tombs of an earlier period. The main decoration on the tomb is a rosette design over the door within the gable. In general, the art and architecture found at Pasargadae exemplified the Persian synthesis of various traditions, drawing on precedents from Elam, Babylon, Assyria, and ancient Egypt, with the addition of some Anatolian influences.
Although there is no firm evidence identifying the tomb as that of Cyrus, Greek historians tell us that Alexander III of Macedon believed it was. When Alexander looted and destroyed Persepolis, he paid a visit to the tomb of Cyrus. Arrian, writing in the second century of the Common Era, recorded that Alexander commanded Aristobulus, one of his warriors, to enter the monument. Inside he found a golden bed, a table set with drinking vessels, a gold coffin, some ornaments studded with precious stones and an inscription on the tomb. No trace of any such inscription survived and there is considerable disagreement to the exact wording of the text was. It is believed that it originally read: “O man! I am Cyrus the Great, who gave the Persians an empire and was the king of Asia. Grudge me not therefore this monument.”
Another proposed, yet unconfirmed, theory is that the body of Cyrus (and his wife) did not lie inside the main chamber, but rather in a narrow crawl space that was discovered in 1959 in between the main chamber and pediment above. While the low ceiling of the structure’s interior can be attributed to the placement of this hollowed space, however, there is little evidence to suggest that the space actually housed any bodies.
The Tomb of Cyrus had been named “Tomb of Solomon’s mother” by Persian locals to be protected from invasion of Arabs.
Prison of Solomon
Zendan-i Sulaiman (Prison of Solomon) is a limestone monument near the residential palace at Pasargadae. As it appears to be unfinished, its purpose is not known; though various interpretations have been put forth – it may be a tomb, a fire temple, a treasury, or none of the above.
An interesting clue to how the structure likely would have looked when completed may be found at Naqshi Rostam. In fact an identical monument has been found at Naqshi Rostam (the Ka’ba-ye Zartosht), and it is a reasonable assumption that the function of the two buildings is identical. It has been assumed that they were used to keep the holy fire, but the absence of a chimney at Ka’ba-ye Zartosht does not support this interpretation.
An alternative is that this is where the sacred texts of the Avesta were stored, but many modern scholars think that in the Achaemenid age the sacred texts were learned by heart. A popular theory is that the Prison of Solomon was a tomb, probably for Cambyses I (not to be confused with his famous grandson: Cambyses II). It was given this name by the Persian locals so that the invading Arabs wouldn’t destroy it; along with this they also named the Tomb of Cyrus as the “Tomb of Solomon’s mother”.
In its original state (hardly more than the entrance facade stands erect at the present time) the prison was a nearly square tower which stood over 14m in height. Three rows of blind windows can be seen to have marked all but the entrance facade, where a massive stone staircase afforded access to a single, windowless room 7.76m above ground level. The elevated doorway, which appears to have been 1.83m high and 94cm wide, probably had white stone door jamb and may have had white stone door leaves decorated with horizontal bands of carved rosettes.
Toll-e Takht, meaning “Throne Hill”, is a citadel at the northeastern end of Pasargadae probably built during the reign of Achaemenid Persian king Cyrus the Great; though it may be older than the Persian Empire itself. It contains the tomb of Cambyses II.
The citadel was not fit together with mortar, but with stone clamps. Unlike Persepolis which was abandoned at the end of the Persian Empire, Pasargadae and the Toll-e Takht remained important cities until they were finally abandoned at around 200 BC.
Large coin hoards suggest that the inhabitants fled in panic and may mean the site was destroyed by humans, and the inhabitants were unable to return and recover their possessions. There is no evidence for war in Persia at that moment, but there is a reference to Bactrian troops at the end of Seleucids Chronicle.
Pasargadae Persian Gardens
Pasargadae Persian Gardens provide the earliest known example of the Persian chahar bagh, or fourfold garden design; a design that became the core design for subsequent formal Iranian gardens including the gardens of India’s Mughal rulers. In Persian, chahar means four and bagh means garden. Chahar bagh or the four gardens was the formal garden style used by Cyrus the Great (c. 600 to 576 – August 530 BC) for his palace gardens at Pasargadae, the capital of Pars (Persia) during his reign.
The Persian Gardens at Pasargardae were built in accordance with mathematically based geometric designs. There were 900 meters of channels constructed of carved limestone which transported water throughout the garden. This was essentially a sophisticated irrigation system featuring stone water-channels and open ditches that were designed to channel water into small basins at every 15 meters in the garden.
The garden itself was planted with a variety of fruit and cypress trees, flowers such as roses, lilies, jasmines and exotic grasses. Arrian has described the gardens as “a grove of all kinds of trees…with steams…” and encompassed by a large area of “…green grass” (Arrian, Expedition of Alexander, VI, 29).
Pasargardae Persian Garden is among the 9 Iranian Gardens which are collectively registered as one of the Iran’s 17 registered World Heritage Sites under the name of the Persian Garden in 2011.