Ecbatana, Bisotun & Tagh-e-Bostan

Part 2 of the Glories of Persia Travel Diary.

Posted 30th September 2014 by David McGuinness


Tuesday morning we visited some more sites in Hamadan, starting with the ancient Median capital of Ecbatana, founded in 612BC. It was built along a grid system with a main avenue, wide enough for two chariots to pass and a sewage system. The city walls were allegedly composed of seven layers, enclosing two walls lined with gold and silver in the centre.

Houses boasted wind badgirs similar to those in Yazd today as well as clay ovens. The museum on site was also worth the short visit we made. Our next stop was the domeless Alavyan Dome, whose dome has long since been destroyed. The stucco stories on the wall inside tell the fable of thirty birds who go through the seven stages of Sufism. These are based on a poem by the Iranian poet Atar. Our final stop in Hamadan was at the Ganjnameh inscriptions, a set of trilingual rock carvings in cuneiform engraved on the mountain by Darius I and his son, Xerxes.

They were once believed to hold the key to hidden Median treasure. They were however, instrumental in the decoding of these ancient scripts (which later lead to the decoding of Sumerian as well) thanks to work by the English army officer, Henry Rawlinson. Although, they do not describe any hidden Median treasure but instead, show Darius and Xerxes blowing their own trumpets while ostensibly thanking the Zoroastrian creator Ahura Mazda.

After a quick lunch nearby, off we went again, heading West and a little South towards Kermanshah. Our next stop on the road was the Anahita Temple in Kangavar. Anahita was a Goddess of water and fertility, who was important in but pre-dated Zoroastrianism. The site unearthed large pottery pieces from the Parthian era, believed to be pieces of coffins; you can also still see the columns, stairs and a platform where bulls would have been sacrificed. Not long before Kermanshah, we stopped in Bisotun, a World Heritage site with some important reliefs and carvings. The most important relief can only presently be seen from a distance, but it depicts the story of Darius’ ascension to the Achmaenid throne (as per his version of events) and all of the rebel leaders he captured in the process. There is also a carving of Hercules with a Greek inscription that dates back to 148 BC. Finally we drove on to Kermanshah where we stopped at a roadside restaurant and had a delicious dinner of kebabs, soup, olives, yoghurt, aubergine, and of course bread and rice. Then on to the hotel for overnight.

Bisotun & Tagh-e-Bostan

We started Wednesday morning off after breakfast, travelling to the nearby site of Tagh-e-Bostan. Here we found some exquisite carvings dating back to the early Sassanid era. It shows the investiture of various Sassanid kings, the main carvings showing Khusrow I receiving the ring of promise (thus making him leader) from Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian top dog and from Anahita, the Goddess of Water, as the area was on the banks of a large lake at the time, though today there is just a smaller man-made lake.

Below he is also depicted on his favourite horse, Shabdiz. The story says that when Shabdiz died, Shapour’s love for the horse was so strong and his famous temper so terrible that no one was willing to deliver the news, therefore some musicians delivered it to him through song and no lives was lost. Other carvings show the investiture of later Sassanid kings, Shapour II & III and Bahran. In this final one, flanked by Mithra the Sun God, as well as Azura Mazda, and standing on Ahriman, is Azura Mazda’s evil twin. The hill behind also has some Partian era temples.

From there we drove South into the Loristan province, famous for its bronze work pieces which can be seen in the Louvre, the Metropolitan museum in New York and in the National Museum in Tehran. ​We stopped to buy some delicious fruit (peaches, figs, apricots, grapes) and have some lunch in Khorrambad before visiting the 3rd Century AD Falik ol Aflak castle. Built by Shapour I of Tagh-e-Bostan, fame the castle was built originally as protection for a caravanserai, around which the town grew up. The castle allegedly held up the Mongol invasion for seven years. Inside was a small ethnographic museum with various photos and cultural artefacts of the Lori people. As we left, Mehrdad broke out some delicious date pastries which we shared around as we drove on to Dezful. After checking in, a few of us took a short walk down to the old bridge for which Dezful is famous and is lit up at night. Then it was time to retire.

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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