Statue of Shapur I

Top choice in Iran

High above the gorge, around 6km from Bishapur, a series of natural caves riddles the upper strata of the surrounding cliffs. In one of these caves lies buried the 7m-high statue of Shapur I, the founder of Bishapur. Weighing about 30 tonnes, this Sassanian-era statue is carved from a single limestone block, with the ball of the crown chiselled from the cave roof. Damaged probably during an earthquake, the statue was re-erected in 1958 and reinforced somewhat unsympathetically with concrete.

Despite its war wounds the statue, with its intelligent gaze, its sensitively carved tresses of hair, the tucks and pleats of its costume and the bow-tie sash around the hips, is a moving sight in the middle of the cave's pitch darkness. The cave opens into a series of pool-filled caverns, roped off from casual exploration. Even if the cave and its treasure fail to convince, the views across the gorge into the neighbouring valley are impressive and well worth the climb.

The cave is reached by tracing the road through Chogan Gorge and crossing the dry river bed in the village of Shapur (6km from the ruins at Bishapur). From here it's a rough ride (or 30-minute walk) to the beginning of the ascent and a further 1½-hour hike up the steep path (there are a few fixed steel ladders at the end) to the cave. Walking shoes, a hat, water and an early start in summer are advisable as there are no facilities.

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