Takht-e Soleiman Ruins


Sitting in a lonely bowl of mountains, ringed by 1500-year-old walls, these Unesco-listed ruins are one of the most memorable sights of western Iran. In the 3rd century the state religion of Sassanian Persia was Zoroastrianism, and Takht-e Soleiman (then called Azergoshnasb) was its spiritual centre. Today only fragments remain: you shouldn’t expect Persepolis-style carvings. Nonetheless, the site's sheer age and magnificent setting are attractions enough. Taxis (US$18 return including waiting time) can be negotiated in Takab's Ghalam Sq.

The site was perfect. Zoroastrianism had by this stage incorporated many magi-inspired elements, including the veneration of earth, wind (plenty here), water and fire. Water (albeit undrinkably poisonous) was provided in abundance by the limpidly beautiful, ‘bottomless’ crater lake that still forms the centre of the site. This pours forth 90L per second and would have been channelled through an Anahita-style water temple. Fire was provided thanks to a natural volcanic gas channelled through ceramic pipes to sustain an ‘eternal flame’ in the ateshkadeh (fire temple).

Takht-e Soleiman’s name isn't based on real historical links to the Old Testament King Solomon, but was a cunning 7th-century invention by the temple’s Persian guardians in the face of the Arab invasion. Realising Islam’s reverence for biblical prophets, they fabricated a tale of Solomon’s one-time residence here to avert the site’s certain destruction. The ruse worked, the complex survived and the name stuck.

In the 13th century Takht-e Soleiman became a summer retreat for the Mongol Ilkhanid khans. The remnants of their hunting palace are now covered with a discordant modern roof forming a storeroom (often locked) for amphorae, unlabelled column fragments, photos and a couple of ceramic sections of those ancient gas pipes.

A guide is often available at the site gate, and can help you make sense of all the piles of stone if you share enough language. Alternatively, navigate on your own using a glossy bilingual Farsi and English map-brochure (US$1), which is sold at the ticket booth but not displayed – ask.

Takht-e Soleiman is 2km from Nosratabad. Archaeologists believe that beneath that mud-and-haystack village is the site of Shiz, once a Nestorian-Christian centre of Greco-Persian learning. Savaris and minibuses run sporadically to the village, but traffic is often very thin, making hitchhiking beyond it difficult. It's worth checking to see whether a rumoured guest house has opened in Nosratabad.

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