24 October 2009
Sarvestan Palace

Sarvestan Palace

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.


15 March 2009
The tell, seen from the west

The tell, seen from the west

The Bronze Age city of Anšan lies northwest of modern Shiraz. With a car, you reach Tall-e Malyan (its modern name) in an hour. I was impressed by the fertility of the wide valley that was once dominated by this city, which was the capital of a kingdom that was sufficiently powerful to be known to the scribes of ancient Babylonia. They called it URU an-ša-an. Dozens of towns appear to have to obeyed the ruler of this city: in 2000, seventy-seven other settlements were known from this valley alone.

All of these belonged to the third millennium, and that is why the discovery of Tall-e Malyan in 1971 was a sensation: it suggested that the growth of urban life (“the rise of civilization”) was not an isolated phenomenon in Iraq, but took place in a much wider area. This idea has in the meantime been corroborated by the excavations in Jiroft and the Burnt City.

Judging from its ceramics, Anšan was founded in c.5000 BCE and destroyed by a great fire in the Middle Elamite period. That the sixth-century authors of the Nabonidus Chronicle and Cyrus Cylinder still identify Cyrus the Great with the title “king of Anšan” does not prove that the town was still/again alive in the sixth century: it is one of those archaisms that are so often used in Babylonian literature (cf. the third millennium names “Gutium” for all countries in the east and “Hanaeans” for Macedonians).

Today, the low hill lies more or less abandoned, although thousands of sherds prove that this must have been a major city once. I spotted one big, artificially cut stone that may or may not have been part of a large wall. The part that has been excavated is now used as a garbage dump.