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Bishapur


Head of a statue of the Sassanid king Shapur I, in a cave near Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins.
Shapur (cave monument)
Bishapur: important Sasanian city in Iran, founded by king Shapur I, and built by Roman POWs.
    
History Castle City Palace "Temple" Cave
Relief I Relief II Relief III Relief IV Relief V Relief VI

History

Bishapur, "the beautiful [city] of Shapur", is situated south of modern Faliyan on the ancient road between Persis and Elam, which connected the Sasanian capitals Istakhr (very close to Persepolis) and Firuzabad to Susa and Ctesiphon. The city was built near a river crossing.
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Perhaps Ardashir I. Museum of Bishapur (Iran). Photo Marco Prins.
This man wears a diadem and may be a prince, or even king Ardašir I (224-241), who had a similar crown.

As the name indicates, the city was founded by king Shapur (241-272). Like the bridge at Shushtar, it was built by Roman soldiers who had been captured after the defeat of the Roman emperor Valerian in 260. Perhaps, they belonged to the Sixth legion Ferrata, because this unit disappears from our sources after Valerian's defeat.

Many aspects of Bishapur's architecture look Roman and do not belong to Iranian building traditions. An example is what specialists call the "Hippodamian street plan", which means that the city looks like a gridiron. It was not a completely novel settlement: archaeologists have found remains from the Parthian and Elamite ages.

The river at Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins.
The river Shapur and the Tang-e Chowgan gorge, where the rock reliefs can be found

The core of the city is the old castle, situated in a steep rock, which is in itself one of the most interesting geological features of the southern Zagros. The oldest monument was relief I, in the Tang-e Chowgan gorge, which celebrates one of Shapur's earliest victories. Reliefs II and III commemorate the defeat of Valerian. While these were cut, the city, palace, and the so-called Temple of Anahita were built by the Roman POWs. Another monument from the founding period is the cave monument.

The city, surrounded by walls that stood ten meters high, was inhabited by some 50,000 to 80,000 people. Later monuments include reliefs V (investiture of Bahram I), IV (an Arabian embassy to Bahram II), and VI (victory of Shapur II).

The city remained important until the Arabian invasions and the rise of Islam in the second quarter of the seventh century. Bishapur became a center of Islamic learning (a madrassah has been excavated) and there were still people living over here in the tenth century, but the decline has started.

The main monuments have been excavated between 1935 and 1941. Still, most of the city is still buried, and incidentally, teams of archaeologists returned to the site (e.g., in 2009). Perhaps they will focus on the living quarters of the ordinary people of Bishapur. There's a small museum.


History Castle City Palace "Temple" Cave
Relief I Relief II Relief III Relief IV Relief V Relief VI
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 7 Dec. 2009
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other