Louis Vanden Berghe (1923-1993) was a Flemish Iranologist, the founder of Irania Antiqua, the excavator of a/o Pusht-i Kuh in Luristan, and a member of the prestigious Society of Antiquaries of London. He is also the author of a useful list of Iranian rock reliefs, published in Reliefs rupestres de l’Iran ancien (1983). Because I am now changing my pages on Naqš-i Rustam, a site with many Sasanian reliefs, the book is on my desk, and I decided to make it available online. So here it is, with links to photos of the sites.
The Sarvestan Palace (satellite photo), built in the fifth century by the Sasanian king Bahram V, is about an hour and a half east of Shiraz. The trip itself is half the fun, because the road passes along a salt lake and through some orchards (the pomegranates are now ripe). Finally, you reach an immense plain, where the only sounds you hear are the ones you produce yourself, and where your only company consists of an occasional twister. The palace is in the center of the plain, splendidly isolated.
The monument is made of bricks and used to have three domes, of which two survive. Just like the Qalah-e Dokhtar and the palace of Ardašir, both near Firuzabad, the Sarvestan Palace is being restored. There were large scaffolds in the great dome. On our way back, we bought some pomegranates, and enjoyed the chaotic traffic of Shiraz. All in all, the visit was extremely worthwhile.
If you want to go to the Sarvestan palace, too, it may be useful to know that it is not near the town called Sarvestan; it is in fact ten kilometers east of it, close to a small village. I read the sign while we were passing along it in the car and I could not read it well – it may have been Mohsenabad. Amusingly, I wrote in my notes “Mohinabad”, Nothingville.
“Iwan-e Karkheh” is the name of a region west of modern Andimeshk (Khuzestan), and is also the name given to the ruins of an ancient city, largely unexplored by archaeologists. Yet, the first conclusions were intriguing. It is a Sasanian city, founded in the fourth century and surrounded by a large wall of about 4×1 km. The enceinte can be seen over large distances. The archaeologists also found a building, perhaps a palace, with a cross-vault of a type that was to become popular in churches but has not been attested earlier than Iwan-e Karkheh.
I was attracted to the site because I had read that it had been converted into a garbage dump, and wanted to see it before it would be destroyed. But the site turned out to be not threatened at all. In all countries of the Near East, people throw away their waste along the roads. Garbage can be seen everywhere, and I have heard in both Syria and Iran the joke that it’s not garbage at all – the farmers grow plastic on their fields. Iwan-e Karkheh is not exceptionally dirty; in fact, it seems to be well protected by the police post in the northeast.
The city must have looked something like Bishapur, but there is, apart from the wall, not much to be seen. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our visit and received an inevitable invitation from a nearby farmer. I do not know whether to recommend a visit, but if you decide to go, take the road from Andimeshk to Ahvaz, turn to the right to Deloran, and after about fifteen kilometer, when the road forks and the Deloran road leads to the right, turn to the left. By then, you will already have seen the walls. Your satellite photo is here.
One of the things I like best in Iran, is its ancient rock art. From the Bronze Age to the Sasanian dynasty, and even later, kings have ordered workers to cut reliefs. Some of them are rightly famous, like the Behistun relief and its inscription, others are not so well-known. Every time I visit the country, I try to make photos of at least one relief I’ve not yet seen; you may remember that I’ve blogged about Sar-e Pol-e Zahab and Dukkan-e Daud in March.
I’m not the only one who is interested. Mr Patrick Charlot from Niort, France, is another fan. Today, he surprised me with two articles for the Livius website and photos of an Elamite relief at Kurangun, which dates back to the seventeenth century BCE, and a Sasanian rock relief at Sarab-e Qandil.
In the first quarter of the third century CE, the Sasanian dynasty overthrew the Parthian Arsacids, who had until then been ruling an empire that consisted of what is now Iran, Iraq, and parts of Afghanistan. The first Sasanian king, Ardašir, celebrated his victory with a splendid relief near his castle. Soon, a second relief was added, which commemorated his capture of the Parthian Empire, Ctesiphon.
South of these monuments, the conqueror founded a large, circular city, which he called Ardašir Khureh, “fame of Ardašir” (satellite photo; map). His palace is one of the most delightful monuments in Iran, certainly worth a day trip from Shiraz. (Make sure you have good shoes when you decide to climb to the castle.)
The Sasanian Rock Reliefs belong to the most beautiful monuments I have ever seen in Iran. Unlike Achaemenid court art, which is dignified and static, Sasanian art is dynamic and almost expressionist. And where the Achaemenids wanted to express that their monarchy was eternal and therefore refrained from individualism, the Sasanian sculptors show us particular kings and noblemen, who can be identified from their crowns and badges.
The reliefs can be found on several places in Iran: for example, in Bishapur, Sarab-i Bahram, Taq-e Bostan, Barm-e Dilak, Naqš-e Rajab, Guyum, Firuzabad, and especially Naqš-i Rustam. The standard book on the subject is Louis Vanden Berghe’s Reliefs rupestres de l’ Iran ancien (1983 Brussels).