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On the road Zanjan - Takht-e Soleyman (Solomon's Throne)
I visited Takht-i-Suleiman in 1892. I traversed the same road as in going (from Tabriz)
to Teheran, as far as Zenjan. (..) The entire absence of
farm-houses from the open country - all being collected into
villages - gives additional weariness to the long distances, without the sight or sign of a habitation. When a village does appear it looks so much like the dry hills around it as to be scarcely
Samuel Graham Wilson - Persian Life and Customs - 1895
Takht-e Soleyman seen from Zendan-e Soleyman (Solomon's Prison)
Our visit to this place was one of the
pleasantest excursions of my Persian sojourn. Striking off
the caravan road, we went higher and higher up the hills.
From certain peaks there were visible wide regions of Kurdistan, very picturesque and grand. By noon we were nine
thousand feet above sea-level. We lunched by the ruins of
Takht-i-Suleiman. This means the "Throne of Solomon",
and the popular idea is that Solomon, king of Israel, here held
court, with the divs and jinns to do his service, and the birds
as his messengers. Wilson
The archaeological ensemble called Takht-e Soleyman is situated on a remote plain surrounded by mountains. The site has strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water, the principal reason for its occupation from ancient times, and stands as an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some 2,500 years. Located here, in a harmonious composition inspired by its natural setting, are the remains of an exceptional ensemble of royal architecture of Persia's Sasanian dynasty. Integrated with the palatial architecture is an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary.
From the UNESCO synthesis of the universal value of Takht-e Soleyman which in 2003 was included in the World Heritage List.
Takht-e Soleyman is situated at about 2,200 m elevation, surrounded by mountain chains of more than 3,000 m height. The place was chosen for its natural peculiarity; an outcrop of limestone, about 60 m above the valley, built up by the sediments of the overflowing calcinating water of a thermal spring-lake with about 80 m diameter and more than 60 m depth on the top of the hill.
At a short distance from the place is a "bottomless
pit", where the divs were confined. Natives say that it goes
through to the New World. Such is Takht-i-Suleiman in
About three kilometres west is an ancient volcano, Zendan-e Soleyman, which rises about 100 m above its surroundings. At its summit are the remains of shrines and temples dating from the first millennium BC. UNESCO
The names Takht-e Soleyman and Zendan-e Soleyman were mentioned only after the Timur's conquest of Persia at the end of the XIVth century. The site was called Praaspa and Canzaca in antiquity, Siz in early Islamic time and Soqurluq later on.
Zendan-e Soleyman: (left) tip; (right) crater (photo courtesy of Marina Bastianon)
We climbed its steep,
rocky sides and looked down into the crater - an immense pit
left by an extinct fountain of a lime-sinter. Its size is seventy
feet by one hundred and twenty, and three hundred and fifty
feet deep. Pigeons and other birds have built their nests in
the recesses of the cone. Its bottom is dry, and a strong
sulphurous smell exhales from it, appropriate indeed as coming from the prison of the divs. Wilson
It is likely that Zendan-e Soleyman was a fortified site controlling the western access to Takht-e Soleyman.
This hill (..) is of peculiar
formation. An active lime-sinter has been flowing copiously
for ages, and has deposited the limestone on its side until it
has formed a hill two hundred feet high and of large circumference. On the summit of this hill is a fountain or lake
three hundred paces in circumference, of pleasant taste, clear
and beautiful, and flowing strong enough to form a small
creek. (..) The fountain or lake
was supposed to be bottomless; but an Afshar girl having
thrown herself in because of disappointment in love, a chief
ordered it to be sounded, and it was found to be about one
hundred and sixty feet deep. Wilson
At the site's heart is a fortified oval platform rising about 60 metres above the surrounding plain and measuring about 350 m by 550 m. On this platform are an artesian lake, a Zoroastrian fire temple, a temple dedicated to Anahita (the divinity of the waters), and a Sasanian royal sanctuary. This site was destroyed at the end of the Sasanian era, but was revived and partly rebuilt in the 13th century. UNESCO
Stream flowing out from the lake
The stream has flowed to one side and made its deposit in a winding, serpent-like shape, from ten to twenty feet
high and several yards wide. This formation, possibly an incrusted wall of the old defenses, is what the native imagination has called the petrified dragon.
Today the water is poisonous; assuming it was poisonous also in antiquity this could have been a factor in the site being chosen for a shrine. Priests of all religions knew well how to utilize poisonous waters or vapours to demonstrate their sanctity, as they did at Hierapolis.
Fire Temple: main hall and passage leading to a courtyard
Anciently it was the capital of the Medes, where
Cyrus deposited the wealth of Croesus. (..) Pompey and Antony marched against it. Here
Heraclius destroyed the celebrated fire-temple in which the
image of Khosru (Chosroes II) was enthroned, and surrounded by emblems
of the sun, moon, and stars. (..) When the Arabs took it the
jeweled throne of Khosru was thrown into the lake. (..) The solid masonry arches of a cellar
are in a good state of preservation, with walls fifteen feet thick.
Rawlinson thinks they are a part of the great fire-temple. Wilson
It was midsummer of 36 b.c. when the Antony's campaign, with an army which exceeded 100,000 men, started. The Euphrates was found to be strongly held, and Antony thereupon moved northwards into Armenia, where he was welcomed by his ally. His plan of campaign was now changed by the advice of Artavasdes, who pointed out that the entire Parthian army was collected on the Euphrates, and that an invasion of Media Atropatene (..) and the capture of Praaspa (this is identical with ruins now termed Takkt-i-Sulayman, or "The Throne of Solomon", situated about one hundred miles south-east of Lake Urumia) its capital, would be a magnificent achievement. Antony agreed to make the attempt, but apparently did not fully realize the mobility of a Parthian army. He divided his command, leaving the siege-train and baggage to follow, while he pressed forward by forced marches, hoping perhaps to surprise Praaspa; but this was found to be impossible and he was forced to await the arrival of his siege-train. (..) All his efforts to capture the naturally strong fortress failed, supplies began to run short, and, as the Parthians pursued their national tactics of envelopment and retreat, in spite of all his efforts to engage them, the situation as the autumn drew near became increasingly serious. An attempt to "save face", by agreeing to abandon the siege if the standards and Roman prisoners taken at Carrhae were restored, was treated with derision and contempt, and at last Antony decided that retreat was imperative.
Sir Percy Molesworth Sykes - A History of Persia - 1915
Excavations have identified evidence of a small Parthian fortification and only fragments of Parthian ware, therefore today not all archaeologists agree on Takht-e Soleyman having been Parthian Praaspa.
Fire temple: (left) arch; (right) pillar
The ensemble of Takht-e Soleyman is an exceptional testimony of the continuation of cult related to fire and water over a period of some two and half millennia. (..) Masonry rooftops have collapsed in some areas, but the configurations and functions of the buildings remain evident. (..) The ancient fire temple still serves pilgrims performing Zoroastrian ceremonies. UNESCO
The foundation of a large town with two major temples is now attributed to the Sassanid Emperors. Adur Gusnasp, the fire of the warriors and kings and one of the three most revered fires was worshipped in one of the temples. Initially the construction was based on mud bricks and it is dated early Vth century. The replacement of the mud brick architecture by masonry constructions of stone and baked brick was a process which was completed by Khosrow I, Emperor in 531-579 who supported the establishment of a Zoroastrian state church. The temples and many other parts of the site were damaged by treasure hunters.
Assumed Water Temple dedicated to Anahita, goddess of fertility, to whom perhaps a temple was dedicated also at Bishapur, capital of the Sassanid Empire in ca 260 AD
The eastern rooms of the Temple of Fire might have housed a treasury or a room for ritual washing, as a water temple, but because quantities of fine greyish material were found in the basin, which might have been ashes, it seems possible, that the ashes of the sacred fire were collected and stored here, to be distributed to the faithful, a tradition which still exists in contemporary fire temples, where believers mark their foreheads with ashes before attending major ceremonies.
The temples were damaged by Heraclius and were partially restored in the period between the peace with Heraclius in 628 and the Arab conquest of Persia which was completed in 651. After an undetermined period during which Zoroastrian practices were tolerated by the Arabs the shrine was closed.
Walls and Southern Gate
Around the fountain the palaces
were built, the walls of the fortifications encircling one another
on the hillsides. The wall is three quarters of a mile in circuit
and twelve feet thick. Wilson
Excavated only recently, the archaeological property's restorations and reconstructions are relatively limited so far: a section of the outer wall near the southern entrance has been rebuilt, using for the most part original stones recovered from the fallen remains; and part of the brick vaults of the palace structures have been rebuilt using modern brick but in the same pattern as the original. As a whole, these interventions can be seen as necessary, and do not compromise the authenticity of the property, which retains its historic aspect. UNESCO
First archaeological campaigns were carried out by the American Institute of Iranian Art and Archaeology in 1937. Between 1959 and 1978 excavations were conducted by the German Archaeological Institute together with the Iranian Antiquity Services. At present restoration and research are done by the Iranian Archaeological Research Center.
Ilkhanid palace: (left) covered passage; (right) hammam
In the XIIth century the place developed as a small town, under the name of Siz. After the Mongol invasion, Abaqa, the second Ilkhan of Persia, dislodged the inhabitants and had a palace built on the foundations of the ancient sanctuary shortly after his accession to the throne in 1265. The decision to revive a location which had been so important in Persian history had the objective of developing a national identity which was hostile to the Mamelukes, a Cairo based dynasty, who posed as defenders of Islam and in general of the Arab component of the Muslim world. The Mongol/Mameluke conflict lasted from 1260 to 1323 and it had a great impact on the Crusader States of the Levant which supported the Mongols in the capture of Damascus. The palace was to be used mainly by women and princes of the Ilkhanid dynasty.
An octagonal hall of the palace and its western "iwan"; (inset) the "throne"
magnificent arch, tall as a four-story building, and covered with tiles and stucco-work, is the ruin of a palace or mosque
built by Abaka Khan Mongol. Wilson
The imposing collapsed walls of an iwan (gigantic niche which favours the circulation of air, see an iwan at Bimaristan Argoun in Aleppo) resemble those of a gigantic throne, hence the likely origin of the name of the site, similar to what occurred in Rome to an ancient mausoleum.
The Ilkhanid palace followed the layout of the Sassanid structures in a more gigantic scale. The buildings were decorated with stucco and glazed tiles, for the production of which kilns have been identified. The interest for the palace ended soon after 1345 when the Ilkhanate split into smaller states fighting each other. The adjoining town was abandoned by the end of the XIVth century, perhaps as a result of Timur's conquest of Persia.
Local Museum: (left) Sassanid column; (centre) Ilkhanid stucco; (right) Ilkhanid glazed tile; the image used as background for this page shows an Ilkhanid decorative motif on the pillar of a portal
The complete wall decoration of glazed tiles in the palace was cut down and probably sold to be reused somewhere else. Only great amounts of small, broken off fragments were found, dumped in corners of rooms and in debris pits, some reused as decoration of the new peasant's houses.
Victoria and Albert Museum: Ilkhanid glazed tiles from Takht-e Soleyman (ca 1270): (left) Bahram V, a Sassanid Emperor and also a popular folk hero; (right) a dragon, a symbol of power which the Mongol rulers adopted from China; see other Ilkhanid glazed tiles at the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford
You may wish to see a page on the Mausoleum of Oljeitu, a Mongol Ilkhan, at Soltaniyeh to have an idea of the likely decoration of the palace at Takht-e Soleyman.
Plan of this section:
Tabriz: The Blue Mosque
Tabriz: Azerbaijan Museum
Republic of Azerbaijan:
Baku: The Old Town
Baku: The New Town
Environs of Baku
Qobustan National Park