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Persepolis: Apadana

Columns. Photo Marco Prins.
The famous columns of the Apadana
Persepolis (Old Persian Pārsa, modern Takht-e Jamshid): Greek name of one of the capitals of the ancient Achaemenid empire, founded by the great king Darius (522-486 BCE). There were several satellite sites, like Naqš-i Rustam and Takht-e Rostam.
History Photos

The Apadana or Audience Hall of Persepolis (map 1) belongs to the oldest building phase of the palace complex, the grand design by Darius I the Great (r. 522-486). On this place, the great king received the tribute from all the nations in the Achaemenid Empire, and gave presents in return. One of the arguments to assume that this was the function of the Apadana, is the splendid relief on the eastern stairs, which consists of representations of all nations in the Achaemenid Empire. It was clearly important, because the same relief was repeated on the northern stairs when the main entrance was moved from the east to the north. When people came to pay tribute, they saw on the stairs representations of themselves., the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Pharnaces paying honor ('proskynesis') to king Darius the Great. Relief from Persepolis. Archaeological museum of Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins.
The gift exchange festival about to start: central relief of the northern stairs of the Apadana (National Museum, Tehran)

Perhaps, this festival was celebrated at the beginning of spring, when the Iranian nations celebrate Now Ruz, even today. Although this theory is attractive, and although the celebration of a gift exchange festival in the Apadana is very likely, there is no hard evidence for the date of its celebration.

A relief that once was the center part of the northern stairs shows king Darius on his throne, crown prince Xerxes behind him, two incense burners, and an important official, probably Pharnaces. He salutes the king, and announces the arrival of the tribute carriers, who are also represented on the wall near the stairs.

View from the southwest

The gift exchange mechanism was one of the central elements in the Persian royal ideology, and the Apadana was, therefore, one of the most important symbols of the great king's power. It is no coincidence that Alexander the Great, in 330, selected the Apadana and the Treasury (where the presents were stored) to be destroyed, together with the Palace of Xerxes. On some column bases, you can still see the black traces of burning.

Traces of fire on one of the columns of the Apadana, Persepolis. Photo Jona Lendering.
Burning traces

The Hall, the largest and probably most beautiful of the buildings at Persepolis, could accommodate hundreds of people. The seventy-two columns which supported the roof (6x6 inside the hall, the remainder in three porticoes) were twenty-five meters high.

Today, only thirteen columns are standing, but in the sixteenth century, there were forty. Back then, the ruin was called Tchilminar, "forty columns". In 1704, Cornelis de Bruijn, the first professional artist to visit the site and make drawings for scholars, saw that the columns were used by storks to build their nests upon.

A lion capital. Photo Marco Prins.
A lion capital

On top of the columns were capitals, consisting of two heads of strong animals like bulls or lions. Between the two heads was the place where the wooden beams could rest. (An ancient representation of these capitals, cut in a rock, can be seen here.)

The roof of the Apadana had been made of precious kinds of wood. When the site was excavated, the archaeologists discovered a layer of 30 to 60 centimeters of burnt cedar, ebony, and teak wood.

Chehel Sotun palace, Isfahan. Photo Maria Kouijzer.
The Chehel Sotun palace in Isfahan

A comparison to a Safavid palace (the Chehel Sotun in Isfahan), may be helpful. The Apadana of Persepolis had a similar roof, although the columns were made of stone. In fact, this type of building is much older than Persepolis: we may think of Median sites like Godin Tepe and Tepe Nush-e Jan and Cyrus' audience hall, Palace S in Pasargadae.

There were several Achaemenid Royal inscription in the Apadana. In a small box, two silver and two golden plates were discovered with an identical inscription, which is now known as DPh. The text contains a/o the statement that Ahuramazda gave Darius a kingdom "from the Sacae who are beyond Sogdia to Kush, and from Sind to Lydia".

Inscription XPg, on glazed bricks from the Apadana of Persepolis. National Archaeological Museum, Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins.
Inscription XPg, on glazed bricks from the Apadana of Persepolis (National Archaeological Museum, Tehran)

Another inscription from the Apadana was written on glazed bricks, and is known as XPg:
The great king Xerxes says: By the grace of Ahuramazda, much that had been ordered by king Darius, my father, was well. It was also by the grace of Ahuramazda that I completed these works and made it excellent. May Ahuramazda and the gods protect me and my kingdom!
A satellite photo of the Apadana can be seen here.

The Apadana at Persepolis. Photo Marin Bahrami. The Apadana of Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins. The Apadana of Persepolis. Photo Jona Lendering.
Photo Mahin Bahrami (©*) View from the east Virw from the northeast Relief with tribute bearers (Photo British Museum; ©!!!)
The four copies of DPh and their box. General view of the eastern Apadana stairs, Persepolis. Photo Marco Prins. Guardsmen near the eastern entrance of the Apadana. Photo Marco Prins.
Statue of a dog (National Archaeological Museum, Tehran)
The box with the inscriptions DPh (Photo Chicago Oriental Institute; ©!!!)
General view of the eastern stairs Two guardsmen, dressed as civilians, at the entrance of the Apadana, on top of the eastern stairs, were guardsmen. Their sticks indicate that they are officers.
The northeastern corner of the Apadana of Persepolis. Photo Jona Lendering. The Northern Portico Apadana of Persepolis. Photo Jona Lendering. A column base in the Apadana of Persepolis. Photo Jona Lendering. One of the northern doors of the Apadana of Persepolis. Photo Jona Lendering.
The northeastern corner The Northern Portico A column base One of the northern doors

History Photos
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 14 June 2010
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