Takht-Soleyman,  Fire and Water

Takht-Soleyman, Fire and Water

At the northwestern corner of Iran, in a remote plain surrounded by high mountains, lies an ancient city once called Shiz, later renamed Takht- Soleyman or (“Throne of Solomon”).
The city is located in the southeastern highlands of Western Azerbaijan Province, midway between Urumia and Hamedan, about 40 km northeast of Takab. The originally fortified site, which is located on a volcano crater rim, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003.
Takht-Soleyman is an outstanding ensemble of royal architecture, joining the principal architectural elements in a harmonious composition inspired by their natural context which includes an artesian lake and a volcano.
The ensemble represents an outstanding example of a Zoroastrian sanctuary, integrated with Sassanid palatial architecture.
At the heart is a fortified oval platform rising about 60 meters above the surrounding plain and measuring about 350 m by 550 m. On this platform are an artesian lake, a Zoroastrian fire temple, a temple dedicated to Anahita, and a Sassanid royal sanctuary. The massive stone walls and towers around the lake can still be seen from a distance today.
In ancient times the area was known as Shiz or otherwise Aazr Goshnasp literally meaning the ‘fire of the warrior kings’. Later, after the Arab conquest, the region was named Takht-Soleyman or (“Throne of Solomon”).

The construction of Takht-Soleyman started in the mid 5th century. The site became a royal Zoroastrian sanctuary under Khosrow I (531-579) and Khosrow II (591-628), and it was the most important of the three main Zoroastrians sanctuaries. The other two have not been identified so far, as stated on the UNESCO official website.
The construction of this temple site coincides with the introduction of Christianity as the main religion in the Roman Empire. The need to strengthen Zoroastrianism could thus be seen as an effort to reinforce national identity as a counterpoint to Christianity in the Roman world. The importance of Takht-Soleyman was further increased with the introduction of the cult of Anahita. The royal ensemble was surrounded by an urban settlement on the plain.
The designs of the fire temple and the royal palace, and the site’s general layout, had a strong influence on the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, and became a major architectural reference for other cultures in both the East and the West. Masonry rooftops have collapsed in some areas, but the configurations and functions of the buildings remain evident.
The site was destroyed by the Byzantine army in 627, a counter measure to the Sassanid attack on their territories.

The sanctuary was enclosed by a stone wall 13m high, with 38 towers and two entrances at the North and South. The main buildings are on the north side of the lake, forming an almost square compound, with a Zoroastrian fire temple long known as Azargoshnasb in the centre. The temple, built from fired bricks, is square in plan.
To the east of Azar Goshnasp temple there is another square hall reserved for the ‘everlasting fire’. Further to the east there is the Anahita temple, also square in plan. The royal residences are situated to the west of the temples.
In the north-west corner of the lake, there is the so-called western Iwan, ‘Khosrow’s gallery’, built as a massive brick vault, characteristic of Sassanid architecture. The surfaces were rendered in lime plaster with decorative features in muqarnas (stalactite ceiling decoration) and stucco.
The site was revived in the 13th century under the Mongol occupation, and some parts were rebuilt, such as the Zoroastrian fire temple and the Western Iwan. New constructions, including a residence for Ilkhan Abaqa Khan, were built around the lake, including two octagonal towers behind the iwan decorated in glazed tiles and ceramics. A new entrance was opened through the main walls, in the southern axis of the complex. A brick kiln dating to the Mongol period has been found 600 meters south of Takht-Soleyman.

  Conceptual Significance
As the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary, Takht-Soleyman is the foremost site associated with Zoroastrianism, the Sassanid state religion, one of the early monotheistic religions of the world. The ancient fire temple still serves pilgrims performing Zoroastrian ceremonies.
The ensemble of Takht-Soleyman also bears an exceptional testimony to association of ancient beliefs, much earlier than Zoroastrianism, such as a cult related to fire and water over a period of some two and half millennia.
The Sassanids also recognized the cult of Anahita, the divinity associated with water. Fire was conceived to be a divine messenger between the visible world and the world of gods beyond; and water was considered as the source of life. Volcanic regions were thus of particular interest, especially when there was water in proximity, as in Takht-Soleyman.

The lake is an integral part of the composition and was surrounded by a rectangular ‘fence’. According to Zoroastrian beliefs, the waters of the Takht-Soleyman lake belonged to Anahita; thus people dropped their votive offerings into the lake which is 62 meters deep, 100 meters long, and 80 meters wide.
Archaeological excavations unveiled traces of occupations earlier than the Sassanids in Takht-Soleyman; thus the lake now hides many historical treasures from the Sassanids, Parthians, and even Achaemenids.
Some three kilometers from the lake is a volcanic conical mountain, known as Zendan-Soleyman ‘Solomon’s pit’. At its summit, rising 107 meters above the surroundings, are the remains of shrines and temples dating to the first millennium BC. The site gets its name from a deep giant hole on the top, 80 meters deep, and 65 meters wide.
With the arrival of the Sassanids in the 5th century, Zendan-Soleyman lost its importance in favour of Takht-Soleyman. Centuries ago, fed by floor springs, the hole was full of water, but later, after an earthquake, waters sank and the hole was left dry.

  Tepe Majid
The 10-ha site also includes Tepe Majid, an archaeological mound culturally related to Zendan-Soleyman. It is a large hill 3 km northeast of Takht-Soleyman, where Parthian potteries were discovered.

  Mount Belqeys
Some 7 km northeast of the lake is Mount Belqeys. The highest point on the mountain’s dual peak rises to about 3,300 meters above sea level. A Sassanid fortress is located on the highest part of the mountain. It covers an area of 60m by 50m.
Explorations revealed another fire temple within the fortress. The orientation of the fire temple indicates a close relationship with the temple down in Takht-Soleyman.

In 1937, the site was photographed by Erich F. Schmidt, and surveyed by Arthur U. Pope and Donald N. Wilber. In 1958 it was explored by Swedish archaeologists. The first systematic excavation was undertaken by the German Archaeological Institute under R. Naumann and D. Huff, in the 1970s.


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