Taq-e Bustan


Inscribed into the base of a towering cliff, these extraordinary Sassanian bas-reliefs of ancient victorious kings divide opinions. Some travellers feel disappointed by the Taq-e Bustan experience, as there's a relatively high admission price for a few stone carvings and a duck pond, both of which are viewed easily from outside the fence. For Iranians, a visit is a joyous celebration of their incredible Persian heritage. Whether you immerse yourself or crank up the zoom lens is up to you.

Taq-e Bustan was originally the site of a Parthian royal hunting garden, but the Sassanians later added their own regal stamp. The biggest alcove features elephant-mounted hunting scenes on the side walls and highlights the coronation of Khosrow II (r 590–628), beneath which the king rides off in full armour and chain mail (half a millennium before the European Black Prince made it fashionable). The second niche shows kings Shapur III and his Roman-stomping grandfather Shapur II. To the right of the niches is a fine tableau again showing Shapur II (r 379–383), in which he is depicted trampling over the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (whom he defeated in 363) and receiving a crown of blessings from the Zoroastrian god Mithras.

Late afternoon is the best time to visit, as the cliff turns a brilliant orange in the setting sun, which then dies poetically on the far side of the duck pond. The surrounding open-air restaurants rock out till late in the evening, and the carvings are warmly floodlit. The site is 10km north of Kermanshah's city centre.

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