Susa, Daniel's Tomb & Chogha Zanbil

Part 3 of the Glories of Persia Travel Diary.

Posted 30th September 2014 by David McGuinness

Thursday morning after breakfast, we stopped off again at Dezful Bridge before driving out of town towards Susa, the ancient Elamite capital (today the modern town that was once Susa is called “Shush”). We arrived at the ancient site of Susa after just under an hour of driving. The temperature was really quite high, so we congregated in the shade while Mehrdad explained the history of the site. Founded in around 4000-5000 BC it – alongside some other cities such as Damascus – claims to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.

Founded by the Elamites as their capital, it retained its importance through the Sumerian, Babylonian and Arcadian periods. Much of what remains today is from Darius’ reign (though there is much pottery that dates from up to 7000BC). The clear remains of the Darius Apadana Palace can be seen with its 72 pillars, one for each chapter of the Ghath Ha, the Zoroastrian equivalent of the bible. There was also a large room where he kept his lions to which traitors to his rule were fed. Darius was not a man to be crossed.

The materials used to construct this palace and its contemporaneous buildings came from far and wide – stone from the Zagros Mountains 200km away and Cedar wood for the roof from Lebanon. This marked a monumental advance in logistics for its time. Much of the stone from Susa was later plundered by the British in order to build a railway to serve the Abadan refinery during World War I, though Reza Shah did what he could to bring them back, they lie largely in a since forgotten pile.

We walked on to Daniel’s Tomb, which today is an important place of pilgrimage for Jews and Muslims alike. Mehrdad gave us some free time to wander around the town, where we attracted plenty of curious stares and friendly greetings. A few of us stopped for one of Shush’s famous felafels, washed down with some healthy carrot juice while chatting to a friendly stall keeper who was also an English teacher and very keen for us to meet his class; alas we had no time.

Our next short stop was Haft Tepe (meaning “Seven Hills”) where we saw one of the oldest existing Elamite arches and a tomb where 21 bodies were excavated. We also visited the small museum on site which had scale models of both Haft Tepe but also our next stop Chogha Zanbil. Given that it was particularly hot, it was good to get some of the information about Chogha Zanbil in advance, in the comfort of the air-conditioned museum.

We drove on through the desert landscape to Chogha Zanbil, one of few remaining ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia and it is certainly the best preserved. It was a stunning site, a UNESCO world heritage site built in 1250BC and something quite breath-taking. The vast structure, with four separate entrances allowing differing levels of access according to status, lead up to what would have been five levels, with the highest levels only accessible to royalty and the highest levelled priests. Elamite cuneiform inscriptions decorated much of the brickwork and a sacrificial platform can be clearly made out, where they would have sacrificed bulls and goats.

Our last stop were the lovely water mills of Shushtar, a Sassanid era irrigation system with a series of dams, canals and mills, one of which is still in use. The mills were used to grind barley and wheat. Aziz, the local keeper, and a bit of a character, showed us around. This was another site built primarily by Roman soldiers captured by Shapour I. Whatever you may say about Shapour he certainly knew how to get value for his slave labour!

We drove on towards Ahvaz, stopping to buy some watermelon and pomegranate from a roadside vendor, and once we reached Ahvaz, Mehrdad pointed us to some local restaurants, made some suggestions from the hotel’s menu (the fish stew is good in Ahvaz!) and we were left to do our own thing for the evening.

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the links below to navigate through this journey.

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