An ancient bas-relief carving has been discovered in Naqsh-e Rajab near the UNESCO-designated Persepolis in southern Iran. The bas-relief, which bears an inscription in Pahlavi script, is associated with the tomb of a Zoroastrian individual believed to be a citizen of Istakhr, which was once the royal residence for Sassanid Kings of Persia.
The tomb is akin to a tiny stone pit called ‘Dakhmak’ which was extensively used near Istakhr and the surrounding Marvdasht plain. The archaeological site, Naqsh-e Rajab (meaning the carvings of Rajab) lies just three kilometers north of the ruins of Persepolis, along the road to the Sasanian city, Istakhr. These carvings were made by the first two Sasanian kings – Ardashir I (r.224-241) and Shapur I (r.241-272).
Istakhr is deeply rooted in history with a human occupation dating back to the 4th millennium BC. The site was occupied in the Bronze Age by the Achaemenids, the Seleucids (who used it as a mint town) and later, the Parthians. The city had strong walls was able to resist the first Arab attack in c.644, but was eventually captured in c.650. Although the site was not entirely abandoned, most people moved to Shiraz (founded in 684). Once made into an Islamic town, it was fortified by walls with rounded towers. Today, Istakhr is just a plain full of sherds, scattered architectural remains and a few ruins. The walled-in area measuring 1,400 x 650 meters is surrounded by a ditch that was connected to the river Pulvar.
Under the Sasanians, Iranian art experienced a general renaissance and architecture took grandiose proportions, with palaces at Ctesiphon, Firouzabad and Saravan; Sassanid rock sculptures carved on abrupt limestone cliffs at Shapur (Bishapour), Naqsh-e Rostam, and Naqsh-e Rajab; and metalwork and gem engraving became highly sophisticated.
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