Naqsh-e-Rustam: The necropolis of Iran

History Contributor
Panorama of Naqsh-e Rustam Necropolis - Hossein Mount with mausoleums on its front. © Evgeniy Fesenko |

Known as Iran’s necropolis, Naqsh-e-Rustam is one of the most spectacular ancient sites of the country. It consists of the enormous tombs of Persian rulers of the Achaemenid empire dated back to 500-400 BCE. It can be considered as an impactful memory of a once-mighty empire that ruled over the ancient world.

The city is situated approximately 12 km to the northwest of Persepolis, which was the capital of the former Achaemenid Empire of present-day Iran. Engraved on the front of the mountain range which was considered sacred are the tombs of the rulers and their families. This date back to the 4 and 5 century BCE. Also, we can find the elaborately decorated reliefs carved by Sasanians in the 3rd century BCE. Naqsh-e-Rustam was also a primary ceremonial hub for the Sasanians until the 7th century CE.

The description of Naqsh-e-Rustam

The place gives you an eerie peaceful feeling once you enter. Literally, it is a city of sand with colossal funerary arts depicting history.

The Tomb of Darius I

Though there are only four prominent tombs, only one of those can be identified properly. As the entrance of it is inscribed by a long trilingual inscription. This is the tomb of King Darius I, who was the third ruler of the Achaemenid empire. Above the entrance of his tomb, there is a relief. This is relief is an interesting feature, it shows that Darius is worshipping while standing on a three-stepped pedestal in front of an altar. The king was a pious person. The relief also depicts the power of the Achaemenid empire.


Similarly, the tomb of his descendent Xerxes is also interesting. It is decorated by a lot of ancient sculptures and paintings which disclose the societal structure of that time. Moreover, cultural change and impacts are also shown in his tomb.

The tomb of Cyrus the Great

Another interesting tomb is the tomb of the first king of the Achaemenid empire. Though it is situated in Pasargadae, which is a part of Naqsh-e-Rustam. Cyrus the Great founded the empire by conquering Medians, Lydians, and Babylonians. He was called a ‘predatory bird’ coming from the ‘sunrise’. Interestingly, his tomb is made by piling large blocks of stones. Instead of curving the tomb on the face of the mountain range. The great king was buried here after he died in the summer of 530 BCE. According to historians, two centuries later, Alexander the Great restored his tomb. According to Strabo, who visited his tomb, the inscription was very simple. It depicted,

“O man! I am Cyrus the Great, who gave the Persians an empire and was the King of Asia. Grudge me not, therefore, this monument.”

After the fall of the empire, no new tombs were built in Naqsh-e-Rustam. Only, the Sasanians tried to connect with the Achaemenids by carving reliefs on the rock walls of the necropolis.

Recent development

The Iranian government is talking to UNESCO and other historical concerns. The plans are underway to incorporate the whole site on the UNESCO Heritage list. The adjacent city 0f Persepolis already has world heritage status, the inclusion of Naqsh-e-Rustam is only a matter of a brief time.

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