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On the road to Esfahan and Yazd, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) from Persepolis, are the ruins of another Achaemenian city, Pasargadae (Pasargad). Cyrus the Great (r. 550-529 BC) decided to build his capital, on the same spot, according to legend, where he defeated the Median army led by Astyages in 550 ВС. This decisive battle marked the beginning of the years of conquest, which lead to the formation of the Achaemenian Empire. It has been suggested that the city was built on the site of earlier constructions, which could date back to the very first Achaemenian rulers of Anshan in the VII century ВС. Although this theory has yet to be verified by further excavations, the ruins of Pasargadae nonetheless represent the earliest known examples of Achaemenian architecture.

The city of Pasargadae was quickly superseded by Darius I's magnificent palace at Persepolis. Some travellers have questioned whether it's worth the effort of getting there. The construction work at Pasargadae, like at Persepolis, was never completed, perhaps because of Cyrus' untimely death in battle in 529 BC. The site is beautiful in a lonely, windswept way. With the accession to the throne of Darius I in 522 BC, who belonged to a different branch of the Achaemenian family, Pasargadae was relegated to a secondary role and the new ruler quickly began building other cities, first Susa and then Persepolis. Pasargadae was used mainly for the investiture ceremonies of the Achaemenian kings. The hard-to-discern remnants of Darius' garden have recently been added to the World Heritage list as part of a joint entry for Persian Gardens.

All that remains of the Pasargadae Gardens, the earliest known example of the Persian garden concept. The garden had several small channels and must have been very green. The garden had several small channels and must have been very green. This was more than just a nice and lofty place to stay on a hot afternoon: the king here presented himself as a gardener, as the man who brought culture to the wilderness. Gardens and parks were an important element of the royal ideology.

About 1km north of the tomb begin the insubstantial remains of the early Achaemenid empire. The largest of the buildings, Cyrus's Private Palace is first, notable for its unusual plan, central hall of 30 columns (the stumps of which remain), and wide verandahs front and back. This hall illustrates well one of the characteristic building techniques seen at Pasargadae, the use of alternating blocks of black and white limestone for the column bases. About 250m southeast is the rectangular Audience Palace, which once had an 18m-high hypostyle hall surrounded by smaller balconies. One of the eight white limestone columns has been reconstructed on its uncommon black limestone plinth. In both the Audience Palace and in Cyrus's Private Palace there is a cuneiform inscription in three languages that reads: 'I am Cyrus, the Achaemenid King'.The ruins of Pasargadae are much less well preserved than those of Persepolis and are dispersed over a wide area across the plain. The austere and awesomely simple Tomb of Cyrus, and known locally as the tomb of Solomon's mother, stands proudly on the Morghab Plain. Set apart from the other ruins, the mausoleum is built of white limestone. It consists of six stone tiers with a modest rectangular burial chamber above, and its unique architecture combines elements of all the major civilisations Cyrus had conquered. During the Achaemenid period it was surrounded by gardens and protected, but was plundered by the armies of Alexander the Great, an act that greatly distressed the Macedonian conqueror. Classical historians recorded how distressed Alexander the Great was when he arrived in front of the tomb in the spring of 324 BC, only to find that it had been desecrated: the bones of the body were scattered on the ground and there was no trace of the king's clothes and jewellery, his gold sarcophagus, or the rich draperies which Alexander's soldiers had described when they had visited the tomb some years previously. The Macedonian, who considered himself to be the heir of Cyrus, ordered that the tomb should be repaired and sealed to prevent further profanations.

The tomb of CyrusA second, slightly smaller building, surrounded by porticos on all four sides, can be seen a few hundred metres to the south. Near it, stands a gatehouse, which is notable for the decoration of one of the door jambs (now under cover). This unique sculpture, 2.7 metres high, representing a four-winged genie, is the oldest intact Achaemenian carving have been found. From these ruins, one can see the remains of a square tower in the distance, known as Solomon's Prison (Zendan-e Soleiman), similar to the one at Naqsh-e Rostam. Local historians believe the references to Solomon date from the Arab conquest, when the inhabitants of Pasargadae renamed the sites with Islamic names to prevent their destruction.

About 200 kilometres (124 miles) further along the same road that leads to Esfahan, one comes to the small but very picturesque village of Izad Khast (between Abadeh and Amin Abad). Above the modern village, which spreads out at the foot of a cliff, are the ruins of an ancient fortified settlement, perched on a rocky outcrop. There is also a Safavid caravanserai by the stream.

Solomon's prisonGetting There & Away

By far the easiest way to get here is to charter a taxi from Shiraz for the round trip. If you will be travelling between Shiraz and Yazd by car, it makes a lot of sense to stop here, at Persepolis, at Naqsh-e Rostam and at Naqsh-e Rajab on your way.

By public transport, when you get from Shiraz to Marvdasht take another savari to Saadat Abad (45 minutes), and then a taxi dar baste to Pasargadae and back to Saadat Abad.