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

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 were incredible, Shiraz sits in a circular valley surrounded by mountains that should be snow capped at this time of year but are barren. There is no sign of winter, 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 of the 3 monumental sites, 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. The sun was shining however and we were off to visit the Tomb of Cyrus the Great.


Ancient Persepolis

Pasargadae is a UNESCO world heritage site and in  500 BC, it must have been an incredible site, huge pyramid like structures surrounded by fruit and vegetable gardens, with a panoramic view across the valley. 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 Iranian people visiting the sites continued to welcome us to their country and were quite surprised we would come this far, “Australia is such a long way.”

In all it took a couple of hours to wander the ancient monuments and then we were ready to head off to the Necropolis but 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.
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 you can’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.

Making new 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. There is an Aussie in every crowd.

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 another party in full swing in the courtyard, ordered a late lunch and watched as the 20 somethings posed for selfies (again we were struck by the similarities to home) arrived with birthday cake 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.


Tomb of Cyrus the Great

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