I count myself fortunate that travel is my “thing”. I wish I had the finances to do more of it but that anticipation, the building excitement towards the next trip, only adds to the fun factor.
And, being Autistic. And, knowing other people’s obsessions and intetests, sometimes I think I chose the most un-Autistic friendly of all. Crowded airports, noise, delays, people, smells, all the sensations that Autistic people can find uncomfortable. The loss of routine, the loss of control, surrendering yourself to the whims of others in countries where the concept of time is very different.
But if I didn’t travel I wouldn’t have seen the Taj Mahal, I wouldn’t have seen the Pyramids or the Temples of Bagan, or Teotihuacan or Petra. So, in my mind, I make up my own routine which I follow and I adapt, I steel myself for the hassle and I block out the unwanted intrusions and zone into the happy place and focus on what I want to see and do. It’s exhausting but oh, so rewarding.
And if I hadn’t travelled, I would never have seen Persepolis.
Persepolis is extraordinary. It’s not grand. It’s not colourful. It’s not bright and shiny. It’s not famous in the Taj Mahal league. In fact it’s easy to ignore. But rather majesty of Persepolis lies not in what remains but what once was. It’s historical context, both ancient and modern.
In 518BC, Darius 1st, fresh from his constructions at Susa, decided that he would build his Royal Palace at Persepolis. The site is basically a plinth to which you climb via a stairway of broad granite steps. You enter through the Xerxes Gateway or, as it’s more commonly known, The Gate of All Nations, decorated with two, seven metre high winged Bulls.
Following the path brings you to the Apadana where the King held public audience. Once, in ancient times, the vast hall had a roof supported by 36 stone columns each 20 metres high. And then there is the staircase.
If you’ve never seen a picture of the Apadana staircase then I urge you to seek one out. It’s amazing. Bas reliefs over 300 metres long dominate the western edge. They depict the Parade of Nations with 23 distinct nations coming to pay homage to the King. Other reliefs depict the 10’000 strong palace guard, lions and antelopes. But what is particularly striking is the carving. It’s so clean, so well defined yet it’s ancient. It looks like it was carved yesterday by modern tools instead of painstakingly by hand.
There is a hill behind Persepolis which I climbed to better view the site. I stood beneath the tombs of Artaxerxes 2nd and 3rd for a spectacular view of the palace in the foreground and the vast, featureless plain beyond.
Persepolis has few visitors. Even Iranians don’t come. But then, as I said earlier, perhaps there’s not much to see, in their eyes.
For that, of course, we have to thank Alexander the Great who, in 330BC, conquered Persia and captured Persepolis. He then looted it and, perhaps at the suggestion of a lover or, in a drunken rage, had it burnt to the ground.
Two and a half thousand years later, during the Iranian revolution and the deposing of the Shah, a new threat emerged to Persepolis. When Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran he ordered the destruction of many ancient sites that could be linked to the concept of kingship. Thus bulldozers were assembled and they set off to destroy the site.
The fact they did not is down to a single man, Ali Reza.
Ali was a watchman in his 40s. A simple man who led a simple life and when the bulldozers arrived he asked a simple question. On whose authority was Persepolis to be destroyed ?. When he was told “The Revolution”, he was unimpressed and asked to see the permit that ordered the destruction. The workmen ponders this request and told Ali that whilst they waited for the necessary permit they would move on to to Bishapur and destroy the reliefs there. Ali was not impressed. He went to the men and told them, “So you will go to Bishapur and destroy the likeness of the son in law of the Prophets grandson ?”. The men looked at each other as he continued, “One of the figures at Bishapur is that of the man who married the daughter of the saintly martyr, Hosein”. This was not only implausible but untrue but the drivers huddled together and then, without so much as a backwards glance, they climbed into their bulldozers and drove away. They did not return.
So that is Persepolis.
Not great. Not grand. Just significant and wonderful.