Once dominating the Iranian plateau, Persia was a succession of immense empires that began with nomadic Indo-European communities in 1,000 BC. These nomads soon came under the rule of the Achaemenian dynasty (559–330 BC), who encountered the ancient Greeks as they expanded their territory.
The Achaemenids dominated until Alexander the Great, who paved the way for the rise of the Sāsānian dynasty, that ruled until the end of the 7th century. The legacy of the Persian Empire includes ruins such as Taxila, Ephesus and Persepolis, as well as the imposing Tomb of Cyrus the Great, palatial complex Pasargadae and ancient city of Perge.
To help get you started, we’ve put an experts guide to the top 10 surviving sites of the Persian Empire.
Persepolis was the ancient capital of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid era. Founded by Darius I around 515 BC, the city stood as a magnificent monument to the vast power of Persian kings.
Today, it is among the world’s greatest archaeological sites, bearing witness to the sophisticated fields of architecture, urban planning, construction technology, and art that characterised the ancient and sophisticated civilisation.
Pasargadae was the capital of the Persian Empire from the 6th 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.
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 6th century BC.
What makes Taxila such a significant archaeological site is the fact that, over its 500 year lifespan, it witnessed the evolution of numerous civilisations, including the Persians, Greeks and Hindus.
Ephesus, or ‘Efes’, was a vibrant classical city which now borders modern day Selçuk in Turkey. It represents some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great, located in the former Persian capital of Pasargadae, is a monument thought to have once housed the corpse of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the ancient Achaemenid Empire.
Legend has it that when Alexander the Great conquered Pasargadae in 330 BC, he had the tomb renovated in honour of Cyrus the Great.
The ancient city of Perge near Antalya in Turkey is now an impressive archaeological site containing a wealth of ancient ruins, mostly dating back to the Roman period, though the city itself has a history dating back well into antiquity.
Though the early history of Perge is obscure, it is known that the site was captured by the Persians and then later by the armies of Alexander the Great in around 333 BC.
Sagalassos is an active archaeological site in southwest Turkey which contains mostly Hellenistic and Ancient Roman historic ruins, some of them very well-preserved. In particular, the (working!) Fountain of Antoninler at Sagalassos still has its pretty façade.
In 334 BC, Alexander the Great arrived in the region and attacked Sagalassos, eventually succeeding in destroying it, although its citizens did put up a good fight.
Gordion, also spelt Gordium, in the modern Turkish village of Yassıhöyük, is home to what is popularly said to be the tomb of the famous King Midas. This ancient city was once the capital of the Phrygian Empire, who ruled the region from roughly 1200-700 BC.
Today, visitors to Gordian cannot miss the huge burial mound, or Tumulus, associated with Midas. Visitors can enter the mound through a modern tunnel and view information about the site and the remarkably well-preserved burial chamber.
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.
Today, outside the entranceway to the tomb a number of partially preserved carvings can be seen on the rock face of a type identified with the Achaemenid period.
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 3 different languages – Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian.