Takht e Soleyman, World heritage site of Ancient Persia
Our plan was, to visit the Unesco World Heritage site of Takht e Soleyman. A 280km round trip (from Zanjan) over the Zagros Mountain Range, under which Iran has access to the second largest gas field on Earth. Approximately 5 hours drive (one way).
No wonder most cars have been converted to run on CNG here, with its abundance. We passed a very large mining operation on the mountainside, running with what could only be described as a modified ski lift, carrying a blue coloured rock to a processing center 10’s of km away towards Zajan. The normal chairs carrying excited skiers up the mountain had been replaced with buckets, pulling down on the wire visibly with their weight when loaded. We did not found out what they were mining here. The highest point of the mountain pass was around 2000 meters and the seldom-used road was covered with snowdrifts along parts, which we navigated less carefully than I would have liked.
When we arrived, it was clear that we had the Unesco World Heritage site all to ourselves. The sites guards were busy washing their cars in the entranceway, and we squeezed between them and the building to enter the complex.
The sites guards were busy washing their cars in the entranceway
A large expansive area folded out in front of us, hemmed in by a circular perimeter wall such as found on a castle. At the center of this large open area, was a crater lake with water that was warm to the touch, but not hot. This geothermal pool was the central feature of the complex and archeological remains were scattered around its edge. Two small streams drained off from this central pool, and through irrigation channels it flowed out onto the plains on one side, and through the entrance gate on the other, which now provided the water for the guards washing their cars. Not exactly what the designers some 1600 years ago had in mind, I’m sure.
The ruins were a mix of wooden beam supported stone tower remains. At the back of the site, restoration work was underway and a small part of the site has been restored to its former glory, which allows an insight into a fascinating society that lived within.
The site was built during the Sassanid period, which was the ruling society for the Middle-East/Asia around the same time as the Romans. They believed in the Zoastrian religion that saw fire as a sign of the gods, and as such had ‘fire temples’ for worshipping which had an ‘eternal flame’, discovered now to be a fissure in the rock that natural gas seeps through. Although the flame is no longer there. Hm..
Sassanid rulers humbled themselves before it in order to ascend to the throne. Armenian manuscript relating to Jesus and Zarathustra, mention the Crater Lake, and the foundations of the fire temple around the pond is attributed to that legend. Coins belonging to the reign of Sassanid kings, and that of the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II (AD 408-450), have also been discovered there (Wikipedia source).
Worshippers had an ‘eternal flame’ powered by natural gas.
The setting of the site was beautiful, with snow-capped mountains in every direction, and thick snow partially covering the ancient remains. We were there a little before sunset, and the golden glow of the setting sun illuminated the ruins and reflected from the snow in the rear.