The Gate of Nations UNESCO world heritage area includes the ancient ruins of:
- Persepolis– Ancient city built in the 6th century BC
- Pasargadae– the site of the tomb of Cyrus the Great and
- the Necropolis– the site of the tombs of Darius I and II , the builders of Persepolis
There are some big names in history associated with this area and as amateur history nuts we were really excited to visit the first of our ancient historical sites for the year. All of whom seemed to be pretty “great” namely Alexander and Cyrus, of course.
An unexpected bonus of a day trip to Persepolis and the surrounding monuments, for us was enjoying a day out with Iranian families. As there were few western tourists on the day we visited, we were surrounded by proud Persians, taking in their history and culture.
Shiraz to Pasargadae
We organised our day trip to the Gate of Nations UNESCO world heritage area through our accomodation in Shiraz. They organised a driver to meet us at the house early in the morning, about 8 o’clock and whilst Rahim the driver did not speak a lot of English, he managed to let us know we would have the best day and avoid the traffic because “he knows the genuine Shirazi way”. He was so proud and visibly happy to be sharing all the sites of Shiraz with us, explaining in both Farsi and broken English each and every landmark.
We were really moved by the efforts he made for us and again were reminded that just like us, the Iranian people are just trying to get along with their lives regardless of world politics. He, like everyone else drove like a complete maniac, but oddly we felt safe and were soon heading into the countryside.
The mountains are incredible, Shiraz sits in a circular valley surrounded by mountains that should be snow capped at this time of year but were barren during our visit. There was no sign of snow, it was a bright sunny morning and the rivers and country are totally dry. The man we met on the plane must have been right, everywhere there are signs of a very bad drought.
Rahim provided a commentary on roadside restaurants, shrines and monuments as we headed to Pasargadae, the furthest and first stop, for the day.
It is about a 2 hour drive and was 6 degrees when we left Shiraz, but as we ascended the mountains and reached the plateau, it was a chilly 3 degrees at Pasargadae. It must have been pretty chilly in the time of Cyrus the Great, whose tomb and capital we were off to explore.
Pasargadae is a UNESCO world heritage site and in 500 BC, it became home to the new ruler of the Empire of the Persians and Medes. The city must have been an incredible site, huge pyramid like structures surrounded by fruit and vegetable gardens, with a panoramic view across the valley. There remain clues to the shape and size of the gardens in the ruins, it must have been a paradise. That is until Alexander, the (not so) Great arrived and started knocking stuff over.
The walk up to the top of Cyrus’ palace was arduous and it was only when we took some time to recover that we realised it was possibly the altitude. The views across the plateau and mountains were spectacular and well worth the climb.
We did not have a guide to explain the sites to us, we prefer to read extensively and prepare for a trip, so that we can wander, chatter and enjoy our visits. And although we saw few non-Iranian tourists, there were signs around the area in English and Persian.
The Iranian people visiting the sites, appeared bemused by a couple of Aussies wandering, unguided but all were quick to welcome us and practice their English. “Australia is such a long way” became the phrase of the morning.
In all it took a couple of hours to wander the ancient monuments and then we were ready to head off to our second stop, Necropolis.
Rahim insisted that we have the “best coffee outside Shiraz” in the small town outside the monuments. It is likely that he did not notice that we spotted the “tip” he received from the guy making the coffee. Having said that, it was good coffee, and a little chocolate on the side didn’t hurt either.
Naqsh-e Rustam, Necropolis
The Necropolis or Naqsh-e Rustam is on the way from Pasargadae to Persepolis and is the tomb of kings from the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods, approximately 500 BC, Darius I and Darius II. The Darius’ are the guys who built Persepolis.
The Necropolis is carved from the side of the mountain and whilst very impressive and quite daunting to think about the amount of work in it, you can actually see most of it from outside the fence and we couldn’t enter the tombs anyway. So like many others outside the fence, we took a few photos and headed on our way to Persepolis.
Along the way Rahim pointed out many Iranian families by the side of the road, sitting on gravel, or rocky cliffs, with their carpets out having a picnic. Another English word he was proud to use, frequently saying “picnic, Shirazi people, picnic, water pipe, food, family, good time, good time” with a huge grin and many nods.
On arriving at Persepolis we were met with many “hello’s” and “how are you?” from the local people. We were approached by three very brave young girls who wanted to practice English and so we started playing a game of “Where do you think I come from? You guess the country.” They had a picture taken and proudly wandered off to share their experience with family and friends.
It is difficult to explain Persepolis, it blows the mind to think about the engineering, stonemasonry, time, money and hard labour that must have gone into building the structures here. As we are sure we will experience again and again, as we move through the ancient world, there is a sense of awe and wonderment at the people who did this and those who thought it was a good idea in the first place. Google the images and then plan a trip because it is well worth the visit.
On the way out we were again playing the “Where do we come from?” game with Iranians and as we called out the answer to yet another passing questioner, her husband called out to us “G’day mate”, which had us all laughing.
We located Rahim, who had found his picnic with some fellow drivers which included a water pipe. We were treated to some local dance music on the way home, as Rahim had his own little dance party in the front seat.
We arrived at Parhami Traditional House to find a party in full swing in the courtyard. We ordered a late lunch and watched as the 20 somethings posed for selfies (again we were struck by the similarities to home) and generally had a good time. Another amazing meal was produced and we are fat, happy little Aussies ready for a rest and some downtime.
You can read more of our Iran Travel Tales here.
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