Iran had been full of pleasant surprises so far, but the biggest one was yet to come. We were caught totally off guard by the amazing archaeological sites of Naqsh-e-Rustam and Persepolis, which lay about an hour drive from Shiraz.

Naqsh-e-Rustam is an ancient necropolis comprising of four Achaemenid tombs carved out of the mountain rocks, and several life-sized Sassanid rock reliefs. The facade of each tomb was fashioned in a huge cross shape, the center of which serves as the entrance. Standing on the ground, our jaws just dropped looking up at all the majestic tombs so high up a near vertical cliff, and wondering how the ancient Iranians did it.

We then moved to Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It used to be one of the greatest cities on earth, until Alexander the Great burnt it as a revenge to the Persians for burning the Acropolis in Athens ~150 years earlier during the 2nd Persian invasion of Greece. What remained of the city almost got leveled to the ground by the Iranian Army after the Islamic Revolutionary in 1979. Luckily, the local people heard the news and united together in a huge protest to prevent the army from destroying the site. Nowadays, you can still see visible traces of a colossal architectural wonder – the Great Staircase, the Gate of Nations, The Hall of a Hundred Columns, the Palaces, and intricate bas-reliefs depicting trees, flowers, animals, and people.

The best thing about visiting Naqsh-e-Rustam and Persepolis was that there were only a handful of tourists around. We were free to roam the sites, taking in their beauty, grandeur, and artistry. Just imagine if you could ever do it in the Acropolis of Athens, the Colosseum of Rome, or Petra of Jordan without fighting with other tourists for a good spot. Probably never. So we all counted ourselves lucky, as these treasures will soon be exposed to the world, and tourists will no doubt flock to see them in the years to come.

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Naqsh-e-Rustam

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Photo by Amir Hussain Zolfaghary (copied from Wikipedia)

I don’t have a wide-angle lens to capture the full scale of Naqsh-e-Rustam. So here’s a stunning photo I found on the internet :))

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Souvenirs sold outside the gate of Naqsh-e-Rustam

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When we arrived, a few groups of tourists were about to leave, and then we had the whole site for ourselves

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A tomb entrance

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The investiture of Narseh

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Bas-relief: The triumph of Shapur I over two Roman emperors – Valerian and Philip the Arab

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An equestrian relief of Bahram II

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The relief of Bahram II

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Bas-relief: Ohrmazd handing the ring of kingship to Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid Empire

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Persepolis

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Gate of all Nations – guarded by a pair of bulls with human heads

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The head is now gone

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Another pair of bulls with human heads and wings guards the other side of the gate

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A griffin capital

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 A bull capital

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A little boy wandering around Persepolis

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Various bas-reliefs

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Tomb of Artaxerxes II

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The bas-relief on top of the tomb

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View from Persepolis

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Persepolis at sunset

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The Apadana’s columns

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