There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Iran to visit and among the very best are Persepolis, the Tomb of Cyrus the Great and Pasargadae. Other popular sites tend to include Kandovan Village, Tchogha Zanbil and the Rawansar Tomb.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Iranian cultural places and landmarks, with our top places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Iran, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Iran?
Persepolis was the ancient capital of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid era. Founded by Darius I around 515BC, the city stood as a magnificent monument to the vast power of Persian kings.
Persepolis remained the centre of Persian power until the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great. The Macedonian conqueror captured Persepolis in 330BC and some months later his troops destroyed much of the city. Famously, the great palace of Xerxes was set alight with the subsequent fire burning vast swathes of the city.
Persepolis does not seem to have recovered from this devastation and the city gradually declined in prestige, never again becoming a major seat of power.
Today the imposing remains of Persepolis stand in modern-day Iran and the site is also known as Takht-e Jamshid. Located roughly 50 miles northeast of Shiraz, the ruins of Persepolis contain the remains of many ancient buildings and monuments. These include The Gate of All Nations, Apadana Palace, The Throne Hall, Tachara palace, Hadish palace, The Council Hall, and The Tryplion Hall.
Persepolis was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great is located in the former Persian capital of Pasargadae, now a UNESCO-listed town in Iran.
Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus II, founded the Achaemenid Dynasty in the sixth century BC and with it the capital, Pasargadae. The Achaemenid Dynasty was vitally important, being the first ruling dynasty of the Persian Empire.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great is one of the main historic sites of modern Pasargadae. A stepped limestone structure crowned with a rectangular chamber, the Tomb of Cyrus the Great dates back to approximately 540-530 BC.
Legend has it that when Alexander the Great conquered Pasargadae in 330 BC, he had the tomb renovated in honour of Cyrus the Great. However, it has never been conclusively proved that this is indeed the tomb of the great Persian king. In fact, it was thought at one point to have been the tomb of the mother of the prophet Sulayman, accounting for various additions such as its carved mihrab, added in the 1970’s.
Pasargadae was the capital of the Persian Empire from the sixth century BC until it was conquered by the Macedonians led by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Now a town in Iran, Pasargadae was established by the first ruler of the Achaemenid Dynasty, Cyrus the Great.
Amongst the sites still visible at Pasargadae, which is a UNESCO World Heritage historical site, are several palaces – including the Presidential Palace – making up a royal complex and a fortress known as the Tall-e Takht.
Most of these structures were built in the sixth century BC under Cyrus the Great and expanded and renovated over the years. King Cyrus’ successor, Cambyses, carried out some of these works, as did Darius the Great.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great can also still be seen nearby.
Kandovan Village in North-West Iran is an historic cave-settlement which was likely founded in the late 13th or early 14th centuries, though these dwellings may date back as far as the 7th century.
It is believed that the Kandovan caves were used as a place of refuge by people fleeing a Mongol invasion. These inhabitants are thought to have decided to stay on permanently, turning the area into a settled village which is still occupied.
Today, some of these dwellings are still in use and are made up of cone-shaped rock-formations which are truly astounding to gaze upon.
In recent times, Kandovan has started to become a tourist destination and a few hotels and restaurants cater for the tourist trade. It is also possible to take a tour of the cave-dwellings for a small fee.
Tchogha Zanbil is home to the impressive remains of the ancient city of Dur Untash, the holy capital of the Elamite Kingdom.
Located between Anshan and Suse, the city of Tchogha Zanbil would have been founded in 1250BC by King Untash-Napirisha. It would finally be abandoned in 640BC, following a devastating attack by King Ashurbanipal of the Assyrians. It was never completed.
The undeniable focal point of the ruins of Tchogha Zanbil, also spelt Chogha Zanbil, is one of the greatest – if not in fact the greatest – ziggurats to have been built in Mesopotamia. Originally a temple dedicated to the deity Inshushinak, it developed to become the ornate pyramid-like structure – ziggurat – that stands today, although at 25 metres high it is now just a shadow of its former self having once risen to 60 metres.
Beyond its great ziggurat, visitors to Tchogha Zanbil can also view ancient temples and palaces, including its 13th century BC Untash-Gal Palace. Tchogha Zanbil is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Rawansar Tomb, also called Dekhmeye Rawansar, is an ancient rock cut tomb located in the rocky hilltops which overlook the modern town of Rawansar in western Iran.
Though the evidence relating to the origins of the Rawansar Tomb has been sparse, the archaeological and decorative features of the tomb have seen it dated to the Achaemenid Empire period between the 6th and 4th centuries BC.
The tomb is cut directly into the rock and consists of an entranceway and interior chamber which would likely have contained the remains of those buried inside. It has been speculated that this may have been a private family tomb, but there is no direct evidence that this is the case.
Outside the entranceway a number of partially preserved carvings can be seen on the rockface of a type identified with the Achaemenid period.
The Rawansar Tomb was badly damaged by fire around 2007.
The Bisotun Archaeological Site near the modern city of Kermanshah, Iran, is known for containing one of the most important artefacts to have survived from the Persian Empire – the Behistun Inscription.
Carved directly into high rocks, the Behistun Inscription recounts the life and victories of Darius the Great in three different languages – Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian. Though hard to date exactly, it would have been produced around 520 BC and recounts the campaign waged by Darius to secure his supremacy over usurpers to the throne.
In the mid-nineteenth century a British officer, Sir Henry Rawlinson, was able to copy and translate the inscription and this work was influencial in the future study of these languages, prompting many to liken the Behistun Inscription to the Rosetta Stone.
As well as the inscription, the archaeological site also contains remains from the Median, Achaemenid and post-Achaemenid periods, including a statue of Heracles and a number of other rock-carved reliefs.
The Bisotun Archaeological Site is UNESCO-listed.