There’s a host of top ancient Persian ruins to visit and among the very best are Taxila, Ephesus and Persepolis. Other popular sites tend to include the Tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae and Perge.
We’ve put together an experts guide to surviving sites from the Persian Empire, with our top places to visit as well as a full list of Persian sites, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best surviving Persian ruins?
Persepolis was the capital of the ancient Persian Empire and today contains many Persian ruins as well as the remains of ancient buildings and monuments. Founded by Darius I around 515BC, the city stood as a magnificent monument to the vast power of Persian kings. The city 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. Today the imposing remains stand in modern-day Iran and include the Gate of All Nations, Apadana Palace and The Tryplion Hall.
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 are several palaces – including the Presidential Palace – making up a royal complex and a fortress known as the Tall-e Takht.
Taxila, also known as the Ancient Gandhāran city of Takshashila, is an ancient site in the Punjab Province of Pakistan dating back as far as the sixth century BC. One of the factors which make Taxila such a significant archaeological site is the fact that, over its five century lifespan, it witnessed the evolution of numerous civilizations, including the Persians, Greeks and Hindus. It was also an important site in the development of the art of Gandhara. If you’re only planning a day’s visit, the Taxlia Museum is probably the best place to get an overview and to see some of the relics as well as the artwork.
Ephesus in Turkey was a Greek colony which was later conquered by the Persian Empire before falling to the Macedonians and then Romans. Thought to have been founded in the 10th century BC by an Athenian prince named Androklos, Ephesus was eventually conquered by the vast Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great and city was involved in the Greco-Persian wars until its liberation by Alexander the Great. Fought over continuously by Alexander’s successors and their descendants, Ephesus, like so much of the region, was eventually absorbed into the Roman Republic, in the late second century BC. Today, the city is a treasure trove for enthusiasts of ancient history, allowing them to walk through its streets and view its magnificent houses, community buildings, temples and stadiums.
One of the most famous Persian sites, 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. A stepped limestone structure crowned with a rectangular chamber, the Tomb of Cyrus the Great dates back to approximately 540-530 BC.
Perge is a Turkish archaeological site containing mostly Roman ruins, but has a history dating back to Ancient Greece and the Persian Empire. Though the early history of Perge is more obscure, it is known that the site was captured by the Persians and then later by the armies of Alexander the Great in around 333BC. It then became part of the Seleucid Kingdom. Today, though Perge may not be as well-known as many ancient cities in the region, there is plenty to see and it’s not far from the popular resort of Antalya.
Sagalassos is an active archaeological site in southwest Turkey which once formed part of the Persian Empire. In particular, the Fountain of Antoninler at Sagalassos still has its pretty facade. Part of the Phrygian kingdom from the ninth century BC and then part of the Lydian kingdom, Sagalassos became more urbanized under the Persian Empire from 546BC, becoming a focal point in the region of Pisidia over the course of two centuries. There are also the remains of a 9,000 seat theatre, a council hall (bouleuterion), a library, rock carved tombs, temples and baths.
Gordion in the modern Turkish village of Yassıhöyük is home to what is popularly said to be the tomb of the famous King Midas. Gordion itself saw many rulers and empires through the centuries. After the fall of the Phrygian Empire, Gordion was conquered by the Lydians, the Persian Empire and Alexander’s Macedonians. It later became a Roman city and survived through to the Byzantine era. The city was also famous as the place where Alexander the Great cut the Gordian Knot – with the legend stating that whomever achieved this feat would become king of all Asia. Today visitors cannot miss the huge burial mound, or Tumulus, associated with Midas.
The Rawansar Tomb is an Achaemenid-era ancient rock cut tomb located in the hilltops overlooking 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.
Bisotun 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. 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.