Istakhr: royal residence of the Sassanid kings

TEHRAN – The ancient city of Istakhr, which includes many magnificent palaces, fortifications and temples, was once a royal residence of the Sasanian kings of Persia and is located near Persepolis in southern Iran.

The political history of Istakhr dates back to 224 CE when a Persian nobleman Ardashir dethroned Artabanus IV, king of the Parthian Empire, who was recognized as a legitimate ruler in Persia.

The new ruler eventually chose Istakhr as one of his residences. It allowed the new Sassanid dynasty to identify with a glorious past. The builders of Istakhr often reused architectural elements from the monuments of Persepolis. The Achaemenid royal tombs of Naqsh-e Rostam are not far from Istakhr as well.

The city itself was not entirely new: human settlement had already begun in the fourth millennium BC. and the site was certainly occupied by the Bronze Age, by the Achaemenids, by the Seleucids (who used it as a mint town), and beyond by the Parthians.

Finally, Istakhr, which had strong walls, repelled the first Arab attack in c. 644, but was captured and sacked in c. 650. Although the site was not abandoned, most people settled in Shiraz (which was founded in 684).

According to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, geographer Istakhri wrote that in the 10th century houses were built of clay, stone, or plaster depending on the wealth of their owners.

A drawing of the ruins of Istakhr in the 19th century

Archaeologically, Istakhr has proven to be a very valuable source of finds. Among the types of pottery mined from the Islamic layer, most commonly found is molten pottery. These light green vases were not only of the highest quality, but also showed a unique way of making the vases. The upper and lower halves, with their carved decorations, were always fused separately; the two halves, which often featured the same design, were then joined.

Also from the Islamic period, but less frequently, jugs with red, yellow and black floral designs have been unearthed. Unfortunately, excavations at the site have returned only a few of the famous and very rare polished ceramic vessels with their metallic sheen on a golden yellowish body. There is much controversy over this pottery and whether it was made in Iran or imported from Mesopotamia.

Among other finds were clay animal figurines. There were also stone and bronze objects, such as lamps, small containers and several utensils used in daily life. Also found were iridescent glass objects and personal ornaments ranging from clay to gold.

Additionally, clay animal figurines have been found. There were also stone and bronze objects, such as lamps, small containers and various utensils of daily life. Iridescent glass objects and personal jewelry ranging from clay to gold have also been found.

Today, Istakhr is nothing more than a plain full of shards, scattered architectural remains and a few ruins. The fortified area measures 1400 x 650 meters and was surrounded by a moat connected to a seasonal river.

Under the Sassanids, Iranian art experienced a general renaissance. The architecture often took on grand proportions, such as the palaces of Ctesiphon, Firouzabad and Saravan.

The most distinctive and striking art of the Sassanids are figures carved on steep limestone cliffs, for example at Shapur (Bishapur), Naqsh-e Rostam and Naqsh-e Rajab. Metalworking and gemstone engraving became very advanced.

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