Located in the heartland of the ancient Persia, northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran, Naqsh-e Rostam (Rostam Inscription) is an ancient necropolis, a site believed by archaeologists to have been a cemetery for Persepolis, where Achaemenid kings were laid to rest, dating back to 1000 BC.
Naqsh-e Rostam consists of four tombs belonging to Achaemenid kings carved out of the rock face at a considerable high mountain. One of the tombs is explicitly identified by accompanying inscriptions as the tomb of Darius I the Great, containing ethical themes. The other three tombs are believed to be those of Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II respectively.
The tombs are known locally as the Persian crosses, after the shape of the facades of the tombs. The entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross, which opens onto to a small chamber, where the king lay in a sarcophagus, showing the distinctive architectural feature of the era.
The carvings of Artaxerxes I’s tomb are considered unique examples of the art of stone carving which was at its peak during the reign of this monarch.
Built with white and grey limestone without using mortar, Naqsh-e Rostam is believed to be the first to use colors to decorate stone carvings which is the particularly striking feature of the monument.
The eight Sassanid stone reliefs cut into the cliff beneath the facades of the Achaemenid tombs depict scenes of royal ceremonies and imperial conquests including the investiture of Artaxerxes I and the triumph of Shapur I over the Roman Emperor Valerion and Philip the Arab which are among the finest and the most splendid ones.
Facing the cliff is the cube of Zoroaster, a square tower with reinforced corners that stands on a three-stepped base. The structure is built of light-colored stone with false windows made of dark stone and the walls are marked with inscriptions cataloguing Sassanid victories.
Currently pending approval by UNESCO for inclusion on its World Heritage list, Naqsh-e Rostam is a unique and beautiful reminder of Persia’s rich artistic history, which is well worth a visit.