Naqsh-e Rustam is home to the tombs of four Persian kings from the Achaemenid Empire: Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xerxes I. It is 12 kilometers northwest of Persepolis. The spectacular sight of these royal tombs, coupled with each king’s amazing story, attracts thousands of visitors every year to Shiraz.
Four tombs are carved into the southern side of Ḥosayn Kuh Mountain high above the ground and out of reach. The cliff face is carved flat into a cross shape and at the center is the entrance to the chamber. Inside each of the four tombs, a great king lay peacefully, away from curious eyes and greedy hands.
Near ground level, you can see a different set of reliefs. Interestingly, an entirely different dynasty created these reliefs hundreds of years later. The Sassanid Empire was Persia’s greatest empire after the Achaemenids. Sassanid kings ordered the creation of reliefs showing them receiving their kingship from God and also depicting their triumphs over their enemies. That is because they were looking to connect themselves to the glorious past.
Ardashir I, the founder of the Sassanid dynasty, ordered the creation of the first relief. The relief depicts his coronation ceremony where he receives the symbolic seal of kingship from Ahuramazda, the Great God of Zoroastrianism. Ardashir I’s successors created other reliefs representing scenes of imperial conquests and royal ceremonies.
Facing the tomb of Darius II is Kornay Khane which came to be known as Kabeye Zartosht from the 14th century onward. The structure is a square tower above 3 steps previously believed to be a fire temple. Today historians argue that it might have been a treasury.
Moreover, three walls of the structure contain inscriptions which speak about Sassanid victories. In fact, the inscriptions are among the most important documents about the dynasty. They read as follows:
I am Darius, the great king, the king of kings
The king of many countries and many people
The king of this expansive land,
The son of Wishtaspa of Achaemenid,
Persian, the son of a Persian,
‘Aryan’, from the Aryan race