Trans Eurasia travel

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Highlights

Ancient Shush

(Darius' Winter fortified palace where Alexander the Great Married Darius III daughter.8am-7pm, closes after heavy rain) The main remains at Shush date back to the Achaemenian period and are dispersed on two of the four hills of the site. Entered from YaZahra Sq on Khomeini Blvd, the archaeological site occupies the whole southern flank of modern Shush. To the right as you enter, the landscape is entirely dominated by the, sadly closed to the public, Chateau de Morgan. On the site of an Elamite acropolis, this crenellated masterpiece looks like an Omani desert fortress but was in fact built by the French Archaeological Service between 1897 and 1912 to defend researchers from raids by local Arab and Lurish tribesmen. Notice a cuneiform-inscribed brick incorporated into the castle's west doorway.

column in the Apadana Hall of Susa's Achaemenid Palaces Turning left at the top of the site's main entry ramp, you can walk through the site of the 521 BC Palace of Darius. The palace was built on a partly artificial terrace; the only access to it was from the eastern side, by a ramp that led to Darius' Gate. The palace was composed of a series of courtyards aligned on the same axis and flanked by smaller chambers, which probably served as apartments. The site is now just a muddy rise on which a 30cm-high labyrinth of brick-and-wattle wall fragments marks the former room layout. To the north of the terrace was the apadana, a hypostyle room of 36 columns, each topped by a capital in the shape of animals set back to back. Three of the sides of the apadana opened out onto columned porticos. A couple of double-horse capitals are partly preserved on the paved terrace. Even the solid base of each column in the Apadana Hall of Susa's Achaemenid Palaces is destroyed. The diameter would suggest the columns might have stood even taller than those of the Apadana Hall in Persepolis. The reassembled glazed reliefs at The Louvre give some impression of the grandeur of the Susa Apadana during the reign of Darius.

To the east of the apadana was the royal city with the residential quarters of the court and officials; this site was also occupied in the Parthian, Sassanian and Islamic periods. It's more sensible to loop back towards the castle amid muddy gullies, pottery shards and thorn thickets alive with darting desert foxes. In the 1970s, a second palace, which is thought to date from the reign of Artaxerxes II, was discovered on the other bank of the Shur behind Daniel's tomb.

Modern access to the hill is from the west, through the apartments surrounding the courtyards. The latter are still easily recognizable by their paved floors and the walls separating the various rooms partly rebuilt in brick and clay so that the overall plan of the palace is visible. The famous glazed brick lion frieze that Dieulafoy took back to Paris was found at the foot of the north wall in the east courtyard. In the apadana, a few fragments of columns and capitals left on the ground.

Shush Museum

(Susa Park, Khomeini St; 7.30am-1pm & 3.30-7pm Tue-Sun) Some tourists visit this bright new museum quite by mistake, thinking that they have actually entered the archaeological site (whose access track is right beside it). The museum's five rooms display ancient stone- and pottery-work from archaeological sites in the region. Highlights include a giant bull-head capital from Shush's apadana, a lion-hugging Hercules statue from Masjid-i Soleiman and some spooky clay masks from Haft Tappeh.

Tomb of Daniel

Tomb of Daniel(Aramgah-e Danyal) As in a typical imamzadeh, Muslim pilgrims crowd the glittery interior of the Tomb of Daniel, kissing the zarih grate around a green-draped grave slab. Here this behaviour is particularly intriguing given that Daniel has at best tangential relevance to Islam. In fact, he is a semi-mythical Jewish figure who supposedly served as a faithful satarap (administrator) to Darius I (r 522-486 BC). Dubiously recorded in the Bible as having 'tender love with the prince of the eunuchs' (Daniel 1, 9) he is best remembered for unenviable ordeals in lions' dens. These exploits were already over 300 years old when recorded in the Old Testament (Daniel 6, 16-23).

Whatever the real provenance of the Daniel relics, they brought Shush an extremely lucrative flow of Jewish pilgrims from across the Middle East. Great wealth accrued to the townsfolk living nearby but those living across the river were missing out on the bonanza and wanted a share of the pilgrims' shekels. A compromise was arranged whereby Daniel's bones would spend alternate years on either riverbank, bringing prosperity to both communities. In the XII century, travellers reported that an even more fanciful arrangement had left the holy remains dangling in a crystal coffin suspended from a metal bridge across the middle of the river.

What happened to them during the Mongol destruction is not recorded, but the present structure with its distinctive, pine-cone faceted spire, so typical of Khuzestan tombs, was only built in 1871. The front of the tomb, with its central iwan flanked by two short minarets, is decorated in blue tiles.

The tomb complex is easy to find in the bazaar area, two blocks from the museum. It remains open late into the evening. Men and women enter the building by separate doors (chadors must be worn by women and may be hired at the entrance) and remain apart during the entire visit.

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