HASANABAD | If you’re going to be buried, one way to ensure that you’re remembered is to place your tomb inside a cliff and get some impressive designs carved into the side of the cliff. The Achaemenid kings must have had this in mind when deciding where they would be buried when they passed, as the ancient necropolis of Naqsh-e Rustam, about 12km northwest of Persepolis, is one very impressive burial site.
Buried at Naqsh-e Rustam are 4 Achaemenid kings. The tomb of Darius I is the only one that has been identified with 100% certainty (c. 522-486 BC) while the other 3 tombs are believed to be those of Xerxes I (c. 486-465 BC), Artaxerxes I (c. 465-424 BC), and Darius II (c. 423-404 BC). For reasons obvious to anyone who sees them, the tombs are refereed to colloquially as the “Persian Crosses”. The entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross, which opens onto to a small chamber housing the king’s sarcophagus.
There are several reliefs carved into the stone at Naqsh-e Rustam, the oldest dating back to around 1,000 BC. This original relief is heavily damaged. The ones that are best preserved today are from the Sassanid era and depict a range of events. The relief below depicts the victory of Sassanid king Shapur I over two Roman emperors, Valerian and Philip the Arab.
The Ka’ba-ye Zartosht (“Cube of Zoroaster”) lies across from the tombs, its exact purpose unknown. It was once thought to have been used as a fire temple, or to house an eternal flame however this was later proven to be impossible. Today it’s believed that the most likely use of this tower was as an Achaemenid royal tomb.
If you’re in Iran and visit Persepolis, a small detour to Naqsh-e Rustam is a highly recommended activity. The sheer scale of the site cannot be captured in photos or truly appreciated until you are there in person, taking in the majesty of it all.