Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Cube of Zoroaster or the Ka’bah-i Zardusht at Naqsh-i Rustam

The Cube of Zoroaster or the Ka’bah-i Zardusht or the Jail of Solomon, whatever its name is and whatever its function was, this building remains unique and enigmatic.

Fact is that we are looking at a tower-like construction set in front of the Royal Achaemenid Tombs and the victory reliefs of the Sassanid Kings at Naqsh-i Rustam near Persepolis. So far, it has been determined that it dates from the 5th century BC (it is generally believed that it was built either under Darius the Great or Artaxerxes II) and is not a Zoroastrian shrine. A similar tower, but in worse state of conservation, can be found at nearby Pasargadae and is being referred to as the Zendan-i Suleiman translating to the Jail of Solomon. Not that Solomon ever was here but the name may arise from a Persian tactic when the Arabs were invading the country in order to protect the Tomb of Cyrus the Great (calling it the tomb of Solomon’s Mother) and the tower (calling it the Jail of Solomon).

The square tower constructed with white limestone blocks is 12.5 meters high and the sides are 7.25 meters wide, making it look rather sturdy. It stands on a 3-stepped plinth of 1.5 meters. A staircase of 30 steps leads to the stone entrance door, 1.9 meters high. The inside chamber of 3.7x3.7 meters is 5,7 meters high and has no windows as may appear at first glance on the outside walls; they are in fact blind windows. The roof has disappeared but was made of four slabs of stone set as a pyramid on top of the tower.

The tower walls carry inscriptions related to events of the reign of the Sassanid King Shapur I (241-272 AD). It is as so often, a trilingual inscription in Sassanid and Parthian dialects of central Persia and in ancient Greek, referring to the war with Rome when Shapur I defeated Emperor Valerian in 260 AD. There is also a Sassanid inscription suggesting that the structure was used as a fire altar or housed an eternal flame in memory of the nearby kings but the lack of cross-ventilation in the tower kills this theory. Another suggestion is that it served as a safe place to keep the royal flags and other memorabilia, but how safe is such a building? Other experts believe that this monument was the place where a complete copy of the Avesta (the sacred texts of the Zoroastrians) was kept, written on 12,000 sheets of parchment. More recently, an Iranian archaeologist has described the monument as a unique calendar and astronomical observatory, but that seems rather far fetched.

Separately there is an inscription of 19 lines in Middle Persian believed to be written by the highly influential high-priest Kartir in the third century AD, commenting on the first two texts and describing Shapur I’s victories.

The tower at Naqsh-i Rustam was surrounded by a wall from Sassanid times and it probably stood in a garden laid out at the foot of the nearby tomb reliefs.

Although both towers originate in Achaemenid times, they have undergone repeated modifications and improvements by the Sassanids. Still, it remains a very enigmatic construction that is raising more questions than it is providing answers. I also wonder what they must have looked like when Alexander was there, no ancient writer bothers to mention it.

[Click here to see more pictures of Naqsh-i Rustam]
[Click here to see all the pictures of Pasargadae]

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