Pasargadae: The Tomb of Cyrus The Great
Pasargadae was a city in ancient Persia, and is today an archaeological site. Its ruins lie 87 km (54 mi) northeast of Persepolis, in present Fars province of Iran, and was the first capital of the Persian Empire. The construction of the capital city by Cyrus the Great, begun in 546 BCE or later, was left unfinished, for Cyrus died in battle in 530 BCE or 529 BCE.
The archaeological site covers 1.6 square kilometres, and includes a structure commonly believed to be the mausoleum of Cyrus, the fortress of Tall-e Takht sitting on top of a nearby hill, and the remains of two royal palaces and gardens. The gardens provide the earliest known example of the Persian chahar bagh, or four-fold garden design.
Although there are many important monuments at Pasargadae, I am going to concentrate on one that is undoubtedly the most important of all; the Tomb of Cyrus the Great.
The tomb has six broad steps leading to the sepulchre, the chamber of which measures 3.17 m long by 2.11 m wide by 2.11 m high, and has a low and narrow entrance. The style and construction of the tomb show strong connections with Anatolian tombs of a similar period. In particular, the tomb at Pasargadae has almost exactly the same dimensions as the tomb of Alyattes II, father of the Lydian King Croesus. (Croesus was spared by Cyrus during the conquest of Lydia, and became a member of Cyrus' court.) Some scholars believe that Cyrus may have "imported" Lydian stonemasons for the construction of the tomb. 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.
The most detailed account about the tomb come from one of Alexander's warriors, Aristobulus who was ordered to enter the tomb when Alexander decided to pay a visit to the Tomb of Cyrus the Great. Aristobulus describes the seen as such:
The tomb was in the royal park at Pasargadae; a grove of various sorts of trees had been planted round it; there were streams of running water and a meadow with lush grass. The base of the monument was rectangular, built of stone slabs cut square, and on top was a roofed chamber, also built of stone, with access through a door so narrow that only one man at a time - and a little one at that - could manage, with great difficulty, painfully to squeeze himself through.
Inside the chamber there was a golden coffin containing Cyrus' body, and a great divan with feet of hammered gold, spread with covers of some thick, brightly colored material, with a Babylonian rug on top. Tunics and a candys -or Median jacket- of Babylonian workmanship were laid out on the divan, and Median trousers, various robes dyed in amethyst, purple, and many other colors, necklaces, scimitars, and inlaid earrings of gold and precious stones. A table stood by it, and in the middle of it lay the coffin which held Cyrus' body.
Within the enclosure, by the way which led up to the tomb, a small building had been constructed for the Magi who guarded it, a duty which had been handed down from father to son ever since the time of Cyrus' son, Cambyses. They had a grant from the King of a sheep a day, with an allowance of meal and wine, and one horse a month to sacrifice to Cyrus. There was an inscription on the tomb in Persian, signifying:
"O man, I am Cyrus son of Cambyses, who founded the empire of Persia and ruled over Asia. Do not grudge me my monument."
Account has it that Alexander had always intended to visit the Tomb of Cyrus the Great. But by the time he got the chance to make this dream come true he found that all it contained except the divan and the coffin had been removed. Even the royal remains had not escaped desecration, for the thieves had taken the lid from the coffin and thrown out the body; from the coffin itself they had chipped or broken various bits in an attempt to reduce its weight sufficiently to enable them to get it away. However, they were unsuccessful and went off without it.
Aristobulus tells us that he himself received orders from Alexander to put the monument into a state of thorough repair: he was to restore to tie coffin what was still preserved of the body and replace the lid; to put right all damage to the coffin itself, fit the divan with new strapping, and to replace with exact replicas of the originals every single object with which it had previously been adorned; and, finally, to do away with the door into the chamber by building it in with stone, covered by a coat of plaster, on which was to be set the royal seal. Alexander also had the Magians who were guarding the monument at the time arrested and punished.
During the Islamic conquest of Iran, the Arab armies came upon the tomb and planned to destroy it, considering it to be in direct violation of the tenets of Islam. The caretakers of the grave managed to convince the Arab command that the tomb was not built to honor Cyrus, but instead housed the mother of King Solomon, thus sparing it from destruction. As a result, the inscription in the tomb was replaced by a verse of the Qur'an, and the tomb became known as "Qabr-e Madar-e Sulaiman," or the tomb of the mother of Solomon. It is still widely known by that name today.
I wrote this post since lately there has been many talks about the Seyvand Dam and how its construction may possibly destroy this 2,500- year- old historical ruin. The Seyvand Dam is schedual to open at the end of May 2006 and currently many archaeologists are working at the area that will soon be covered under water.
Also see the biography of Cyrus the Great and some pictures that I took while visiting the area.
Watch this beautiful documentary by Farzin Rezaian about Cyrus the Great and the Empire he built.