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Bishapur


The palace of Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins.
The cross-shaped hall; photo Mahin Bahrami (*)
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

Palace

The palace of Bishapur has been excavated by French archaeologists in the late 1930s. They found a cross-shaped central room and several smaller halls adjacent to it. The interpretation of these structures is very difficult.
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The French reconstruction of the cross-shaped hall

In the first place, there is the puzzle of the cross-shaped hall. According to the original excavators, there was a large dome (20 meters) that covered the entire area, but the walls appear to be not strong enough to support such a heavy superstructure. Probably, the building in reality consisted of four half vaults (iwans) and an open square. If so, it belongs to the same building type as the "four iwan mosque", which was designed in the Middle Ages to create a real, Iranian space for prayer.

Western mosaic hall. Photo Jona Lendering.
Western Mosaic Hall

Another puzzling feature is the presence of sixty-four niches, which were apparently decorated with statues. However, freestanding sculpture, although not unheard of in Sasanian Iran - the Bishapur cave is a case in point- is rare.

Mosaics have been found in several rooms, and we can be certain that they were not made by Iranian artists. The Dionysiac mask, for example, does not fit into the Iranian tradition, if only because it has a laurel wreath, a Roman symbol not known in Sasanian Persia. Almost certainly, the makers of the mosaic were from Antioch, which was well-known for its mosaic makers and was captured by Shapur in 253 and 260.

Stucco. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
A stucco apse (Louvre, Paris)

On several places, stucco decorations were found. Again, the patterns were inspired by Greek art, like leaf scrolls. On many places, traces of yellow, black, and red paint are still visible.

To the west and east of the central, cross-shaped hall, are the rooms that are known as the western and eastern mosaic halls. To the north was the mysterious building that is commonly known as the "temple of Anahita".

The palace of Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins. The palace of Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins. The palace of Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins. The palace of Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins.
The cross-shaped hall Remains of stucco One of the corridors of the palace Charging hirseman from the Eastern Mosaic Hall; traces of paint are still visible
Mask. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins. The palace of Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins. The palace of Bishapur. Photo Marco Prins. Man dressed as an ostrich. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.
Dionysiac mask (Louvre, Paris) Veiled musician (Louvre, Paris) Lady with flowers (National Museum, Tehran) Man dressed as an ostrich  (Louvre, Paris)

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: 8 Dec. 2009
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other