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Persepolis: Palace of Darius (Tašara)

Photo Mahin Bahrami
Persepolis (Old Persian PÔrsa, 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 online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Palace of Darius. Photo Marco Prins.
Palace of Darius

The palace known as Tašara, "winter palace", in Persepolis (#3 on the map) was, according to the inscription known as DPa, built by king Darius I the Great. However, the great king did not live to see it finished. It was completed after his death in 486 by his son and successor Xerxes, as we can read in an inscription he left behind (XPc). Its ruins are immediately south of the Apadana. Compared to Xerxes' Palace, the Apadana and the Treasury, Tašara has remained well-preserved. The big stone structures have survived; only the parts of wood have vanished.

Inscription DPa

This strongly suggests that the Palace of Darius was spared when the Macedonian king Alexander the Great destroyed Persepolis in 330. His men were especially interested in the palace of the man who had once sacked Athens, and in the two two buildings that symbolized the Persian redistribution economy. Darius was, in European eyes, not a criminal.

There were several building inscriptions, like the one near the doors, known as DPa. It says: "Darius, the great king, king of kings, king of countries, Hystaspes' son, an Achaemenid, built this palace".

Northern entrance. Photo Marco Prins. The Royal Warrior. Photo Jona Lendering. Inscription XPc. Photo Marco Prins. Part of the decoration of the stairs. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (USA). Photo Marco Prins.
Northern entrance The Royal Warrior Inscription XPc. This giant column must once have carried a heavy wooden lintel. Part of the decoration of the stairs (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
The southern fašade. Photo Marco Prins. The palace, seen from the south. Photo Jona Lendering. In the palace. Photo Marco Prins. The central part of the second tomb. Photo Marco Prins.
The southern fašade The palace, seen from the south In the palace This is what the southern fašade must have looked like. The tomb of Darius at Naqš-i Rustam has the same width as the southern entrance of his palace. This picture, incidentally, shows a copy of the copy, viz. the tomb of Xerxes, also at Naqš-i Rustam.
Part of the decoration of the stairs. Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis, Brussel (Belgium). Photo Jona Lendering.
Part of the decoration of the stairs (Koninklijke musea voor kunst & geschiedenis, Brussels)
The sculptors who cut the reliefs of the Palace of Darius used, for the first time, motifs that were to become very popular in later Achaemenid art. For example, you can see the king entering the building, attended by servants with a fan. This type of decoration can also be found in the Palace of Xerxes, the Hall of a Hundred Columns, the Tripylon, and the Queen's Quarters. (It is remarkable that the same motif was used in public and private space.)

Another motif is the royal warrior, who kills a lion, a winged bull, or another wild beast. The stairs were decorated with small people who were bringing animals and ingredients upstairs, a motif that was repeated in other buildings.

An interesting innovation can be found on the lintels. They are made in an Egyptianizing style, which inspired later generations. The same type of decoration was used, more than seven centuries later, in the palace of the Sasanian king Ardašir I (r.224-241 CE) in Firuzabad.

The western entrance, added by Artaxerxes III Ochus. Photo Marco Prins.
The western entrance, added by Artaxerxes III Ochus

In the third quarter of the fourth century, more than a century after the palace had been completed, Artaxerxes III Ochus added a western gate with a staircase, an added inscription known as A3Pa, which can also be found on several buildings in the neighborhood. There must have been a garden near this new western entrance: one of the small canals is still visible, and it is perhaps not too far-fetched to assume that the great king could sit down over here, enjoying the view of the western plain.

The rooms were of course beautifully decorated. Even the window cornices and doorknobs were inscribed (DPcDPi).

A satellite photo of the palace of Darius can be seen here.

One of the lintels. Photo Jona Lendering. Decoration of the stairs. Photo Marco Prins. A sphinx in the Archaeological Museum of Tehran. Photo Marco Prins.
One of the lintels, inspired by the art of ancient Egypt. Darius took part in its conquest as an officer and later returned to the ancient country. Decoration of the stairs. A similar theme is shown on the stairs of the Apadana,  Part of the decoration: a sphinx, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Tehran. A drawing of this palace by the Dutch artist Cornelis de Bruijn. He visited Persepolis in 1704/1705 and returned to Europe with the first reliable scholarly drawings of the ancient city.

History Photos
ę Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 9 July 2010
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