Takht-i Suleiman

A MYS­TE­RI­OUS FIRE-TEM­PLE HIGH IN THE ZAGROS MOUN­TAINS OF IRAN

Timeless Travels Magazine - - IRAN -

Ar­chae­ol­o­gist John Tid­marsh writes about one of his favourite sites in Iran, the lit­tle vis­ited fire tem­ple of Takht-i Suleiman

High in the Zagros moun­tains, that vast lime­stone range run­ning some 1,600 km from north-west to south-east, es­sen­tially sep­a­rat­ing Iran from Iraq, lies one of the most re­mark­able (and lit­tle known) sites of an­cient Per­sia. Con­cealed by some of the high­est moun­tains in the Zagros Range and thus hid­den from the Eu­ro­pean world for some 1,000 years or more, Takht-i Suleiman was only 're­dis­cov­ered' in 1819 by the in­vet­er­ate Scot­tish trav­eller (as well as author, artist and diplo­mat) Sir Robert Ker Porter.

With its plen­ti­ful and per­ma­nent sup­ply of wa­ter, fer­tile val­leys, oak and pis­ta­chio forests (which to the south are still ex­ten­sive de­spite the de­for­esta­tion due to the de­mand for wood and the grow­ing of crops), wild wheat and bar­ley, and once-abun­dant game it is not sur­pris­ing that the Zagros range was home both to Early Man (Ne­an­derthals) and some of the first vil­lages of the Ne­olithic Pe­riod (c. 8,000–4,000 BCE)—the era when per­ma­nent set­tle­ments first evolved as a re­sult of the be­gin­nings of do­mes­ti­ca­tion of plants and an­i­mals.

As we travel through the Zagros to­day (es­pe­cially pic­turesque in early spring with its ser­rated moun­tain peaks—many of which are higher than 4,000 me­tres—still cov­ered with snow and its val­leys full of new green shoots and thick stands of red anemones, or in au­tumn when green fo­liage gives way to a won­der­ful va­ri­ety of yel­lows, browns, and mauves) we pass through nu­mer­ous vil­lages (many Kur­dish or Tur­kic speak­ing) that have changed lit­tle through the mil­len­nia. On the roofs of their mud-brick houses, tucked within small court­yards pro­tected by high fea­ture­less

As we travel through the Zagros to­day... we pass through nu­mer­ous vil­lages (many Kur­dish or Tur­kic speak­ing) that have changed lit­tle through the mil­len­nia

walls, we see large mounds of chaff dry­ing out for the win­ter months when it will be used to feed the small herds of snow-bound sheep and goats. Dur­ing these cold, bleak months many of the houses still rely on heat from burn­ing the cakes of an­i­mal dung that lie in or­derly piles within the court­yards. Each vil­lage usu­ally has a rudi­men­tary mosque, of­ten sit­u­ated next to a small ceme­tery where sim­ple earth mounds cover the re­mains of gen­er­a­tions of vil­lagers who have rarely trav­elled far from the place of their birth.

Orig­i­nally known as Gan­zak (Mid­dle Per­sian) or Shiz (Ara­bic), Takht-i Suleiman ('throne of Solomon') was given its cur­rent (Bib­li­cal/Qu­ranic) name after the Arab con­quest – prob­a­bly in Safavid times – as hap­pened to many pre-Is­lamic sites.

Although prob­a­bly an im­por­tant re­li­gious cen­tre in ear­lier times, for traces of Achaemenid (pot­tery, ar­row­heads, beads) and Parthian (for­ti­fi­ca­tion re­mains) oc­cu­pa­tion are present, Takht-i Suleiman reached its apogee dur­ing the Sasa­nian pe­riod (c. 224–650 CE) when Zoroas­tri­an­ism had be­come the state re­li­gion. By late Sasa­nian times it was home to the im­por­tant Fire Tem­ple of the King and War­riors as is demon­strated by the re­cov­ery dur­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions of clay bul­lae or seals bear­ing this ti­tle ( Atur Gush­nasp). The tem­ple with its now col­lapsed dome sup­ported by four arches ( cha­har taq), low al­tar, and side cham­ber where the eter­nal fire that was such an im­por­tant fea­ture of Zoroas­trian rit­ual may have been tended, forms the cen­tral core of the re­li­gious struc­tures in the north­ern part of the com­plex.

To­day Takht-i Suleiman is still de­fended on its flat-topped hill by an im­pres­sive but­tressed wall with its well-cut stone ma­sonry in header-

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