The archaeological site of Takht-e Soleyman, in north-western Iran, is situated in a valley set in a volcanic mountain region. The site includes the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary partly rebuilt in the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period (13th century) as well as a temple of the Sasanian period (6th and 7th centuries) dedicated to Anahita. The site has important symbolic significance. The designs of the fire temple, the palace and the general layout have strongly influenced the development of Islamic architecture.
Outstanding Universal Value
The archaeological ensemble called Takht-e Soleyman (“Throne of Solomon”) is situated on a remote plain surrounded by mountains in northwestern Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. The site has strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water – the principal reason for its occupation from ancient times – and stands as an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some 2,500 years. Located here, in a harmonious composition inspired by its natural setting, are the remains of an exceptional ensemble of royal architecture of Persia’s Sasanian dynasty (3rd to 7th centuries). Integrated with the palatial architecture is an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary; this composition at Takht-e Soleyman can be considered an important prototype.
An artesian lake and a volcano are essential elements of Takht-e Soleyman. At the site’s heart is a fortified oval platform rising about 60 metres 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 (the divinity of the waters), and a Sasanian royal sanctuary. This site was destroyed at the end of the Sasanian era, but was revived and partly rebuilt in the 13th century. About three kilometres west is an ancient volcano, Zendan-e Soleyman, which rises about 100 m above its surroundings. At its summit are the remains of shrines and temples dating from the first millennium BC.
Takht-e Soleyman was the principal sanctuary and foremost site of Zoroastrianism, the Sasanian state religion. This early monotheistic faith has had an important influence on Islam and Christianity; likewise, 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. The site also has many important symbolic relationships, being associated with beliefs much older than Zoroastrianism as well as with significant biblical figures and legends.
The 10-ha property also includes Tepe Majid, an archaeological mound culturally related to Zendan-e Soleyman; the mountain to the east of Takht-e Soleyman that served as quarry for the site; and Belqeis Mountain 7.5 km to the northeast, on which are the remains of a Sasanian-era citadel. The archaeological heritage of the Takht-e Soleyman ensemble is further enriched by the Sasanian town (which has not yet been excavated) located in the 7,438-ha landscape buffer zones.
Criterion (i):Takht-e Soleyman is an outstanding ensemble of royal architecture, joining the principal architectural elements created by the Sasanians in a harmonious composition inspired by their natural context.
Criterion (ii):The composition and the architectural elements created by the Sasanians at Takht-e Soleyman have had strong influence not only in the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, but also in other cultures.
Criterion (iii):The ensemble of Takht-e Soleyman is an exceptional testimony of the continuation of cult related to fire and water over a period of some two and half millennia. The archaeological heritage of the site is further enriched by the Sasanian town, which is still to be excavated.
Criterion (iv):Takht-e Soleyman represents an outstanding example of Zoroastrian sanctuary, integrated with Sasanian palatial architecture within a composition, which can be seen as a prototype.
Criterion (vi): As the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary, Takht-e Soleyman is the foremost site associated with one of the early monotheistic religions of the world. The site has many important symbolic relationships, being also a testimony of the association of the ancient beliefs, much earlier than the Zoroastrianism, as well as in its association with significant biblical figures and legends.
Within the boundaries of the property are located the known elements and components necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including the lake and the volcano, archaeological remains related to the Zoroastrian sanctuary, and archaeological remains related to the royal architecture of the Sasanian dynasty. Masonry rooftops have collapsed in some areas, but the configurations and functions of the buildings remain evident.
The region’s climate, particularly the long rainy season and extreme temperature variations, as well as seismic action represent the major threats to the integrity of the original stone and masonry materials. Potential risks in the future include development pressures and the construction of visitor facilities in the buffer zones around the sites. Furthermore, there is potential conflict between the interests of the farmers and archaeologists, particularly in the event that excavations are undertaken in the valley fields.
The Takht-e Soleyman archaeological ensemble is authentic in terms of its forms and design, materials and substance, and location and setting, as well as, to a degree, the use and the spirit of the fire temple. Excavated only recently, the archaeological property’s restorations and reconstructions are relatively limited so far: a section of the outer wall near the southern entrance has been rebuilt, using for the most part original stones recovered from the fallen remains; and part of the brick vaults of the palace structures have been rebuilt using modern brick but in the same pattern as the original. As a whole, these interventions can be seen as necessary, and do not compromise the authenticity of the property, which retains its historic ruin aspect. The ancient fire temple still serves pilgrims performing Zoroastrian ceremonies.
Protection and management requirements
Takht-e Soleyman was inscribed on the national heritage list of Iran in 1931, and it is subject to legal protection under the Law on the Protection of National Treasures (1930, updated 1998) and the Law of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization Charter (n. 3487-Qaf, 1988). The inscribed World Heritage property, which is owned by the Government of Iran, is under the legal protection and management of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (which is administered and funded by the Government of Iran). Acting on its behalf, Takht-e Soleyman World Heritage Base is responsible for implementation of the archaeology, conservation, tourism, and education programmes, and for site management. These activities are funded by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, as well as by occasional international support. The current management plan, prepared in 2010, organises managerial strategies and activities over a 15-year period.
Sustaining the Outstanding Universal Value of the property over time will require continuing periodic on-site observations to determine whether the climate or other factors will lead to a negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity or authenticity of the property; and employing internationally recognised scientific standards and techniques to properly safeguard the monuments when undertaking stabilisation, conservation, or restoration projects intended to address such negative impacts.
Takht-e Soleyman is an outstanding ensemble of royal architecture, joining the principal architectural elements created by the Sassanians in a harmonious composition inspired by their natural context. The composition and the architectural elements created by the Sassanians there have exerted a strong influence not only in the development of religious architecture in the Islamic period, but also in other cultures. The ensemble represents an outstanding example of a Zoroastrian sanctuary, integrated with Sassanian palatial architecture within a composition, which can be seen as a prototype.
It is an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some two-and-a-half millennia. The archaeological heritage of the site is further enriched by the Sassanian town, which is still to be excavated.
Takht-e Soleyman is situated in Azerbaijan province, within a mountainous region, some 750 km from Teheran. It is formed from plain, surrounded by a mountain range and it contains a volcano and an artesian lake as essential elements of the site.
The site consists of an oval platform about 350 m by 550 m rising 60 m above the surrounding valley. It has a small calcareous artesian well that has formed a lake some 120 m deep. From here, small streams bring water to surrounding lands. The Sassanians occupied the site starting in the 5th century, building there the royal sanctuary on the platform. The sanctuary was enclosed by a stone wall 13m high, with 38 towers and two entrances (north and south). This wall apparently had mainly symbolic significance as no gate has been discovered. The main buildings are on the north side of the lake, forming an almost square compound (sides c . 180 m) with the Zoroastrian Fire Temple (Azargoshnasb) in the centre. This temple, built from fired bricks, is square in plan. To the east of the 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.
The lake is an integral part of the composition and was surrounded by a rectangular ‘fence’. In the north-west corner of this once fenced area, there is the so-called Western iwan , ‘Khosrow gallery’, built as a massive brick vault, characteristic of Sassanian architecture. The surfaces were rendered in lime plaster with decorative features in muqarnas (stalactite ceiling decoration) and stucco. The site was destroyed at the end of the Sassanian period, and left to decay. It 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 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. It is noted that the surrounding lands in the valley (included in the buffer zone) contain the remains of the Sassanian town, which has not been excavated. A brick kiln dating from the Mongol period has been found 600 m south of Takht-e Soleyman. The mountain to the east was used by the Sassanians as a quarry for building stone.
Zendan-e Soleyman is a hollow, conical mountain, an ancient volcano, some 3 km to the west of Takht-e Soleyman. It rises about 100 m above the surrounding land, and contains an 80 m deep hole, about 65 m in diameter, formerly filled with water. Around the top of the mountain, there are remains of a series of shrines and temples that have been dated to the 1st millennium BCE.
The Belqeis Mountain (c . 3,200 m), is situated 7.5 km north-east of Takht-e Soleyman. On the highest part there are remains of a citadel (an area of 60 m by 50 m), dating to the Sassanian era, built from yellow sandstone. The explorations that have been carried out so far on the site indicate that the citadel would have contained another fire temple. Its orientation indicates a close relationship with Takht-e Soleyman.
Historical background: The Persian Empire was founded by the Achaemenid dynasty (6th to 4th centuries BCE). Subsequently, a new empire was established by the Parthians (2nd BCE to 3rd CE), who were conscious of their Persian identity, even though under strong Hellenistic influence. The following Sasanian Empire (3rd to 7th CE), re-established the Persian leadership in the region, and was successful in forming a counterforce to the Roman Empire. Basing on the Achaemenid heritage and the impact of the Hellenistic-Parthian period, the Sasanians developed new artistic and architectural solutions. Their architecture had important influence in the east as well as in the west; it became a major reference for the development of architecture in the Islamic period.
Religious context: Fire and water have been among the fundamental elements for the Iranian peoples since ancient times. Fire was conceived a divine messenger between the visible world and the invisible (gods). Water was the source of life. Volcanic regions were thus of particular interest, especially when there was the presence of water as it was the case of Takht-e Suleiman.
Zoroastrianism is an Iranian religion, and has its origin in Prophet Zarathustra, who probably lived in the 7th century BCE or earlier. This religion is characterized by its monotheistic aspect related to Ahuramazda, and it recognizes the conflict between good and evil forces. Ahuramazda was worshiped by the early Achaemenids, whose rituals took place in the open on fire altars, without any temples. With the revival of new nationalism, the Sasanians established Zoroastrianism as a state religion, building fire temples for the cult. Zoroastrianism has had an important influence on Christianity and Islam, and it is still a living religion, practised in Iran, India and Central Asia.
The Sasanians also recognized the cult of Anahita, the goddess of earth, associated with water. A temple of Anahita is included in the complex of Takht-e Suleiman.
The early period: The volcanic site where the Sasanians built their sanctuary, Azargoshnasb (Fire temple of the Knights), later called Takht-e Suleiman (Throne of Solomon), has been subject to worship for a long time. The hollow, volcanic mountain, called Zendan-e Suleiman (the prison of Solomon) is surrounded by the remains of temples or shrines, dated to the first millennium BCE. These are associated with the Manas, who ruled the region from 830 to 660 BCE. The crater was once full of water, but has later dried out.
The Sasanian period: With the arrival of the Sasanians (5th century CE), Zendan-e Suleiman lost its importance in favour of Takht-e Suleiman, where construction started in mid 5th century CE, during the reign of the Sasanian king Peroz (459-484 CE). 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.
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 can thus be seen as an effort to reinforce national identity as a counterpoint to Christianity in the Roman world. The importance of Takht-e Suleiman was further increased with the introduction of the cult of Anahita. The royal ensemble was surrounded by an urban settlement on the plain. The site was destroyed by the Byzantine army in 627, a counter measure to the Sasanian attack to their territories.
Mongol period: The site regained importance in the 13th century, when the Ilkhanid Mongols rebuilt part of it as a residence for Ilkhan Aba-Qaan, then the ruler of Iran. The reconstruction phase included the fire temple and the western Iwan, as well as new structures around the lake. The Mongol rehabilitation shows cultural continuity, which is particularly interesting in the revival of Zoroastrian faith in the middle of the Islamic period. Due to its natural and cultural qualities, the site has been associated with various legendary and biblical characters and issues, such as Solomon, Christ, earthly paradise, Holy Graal, etc.
Later phases: After the Ilkhanid period, from the mid 14th century, the site was abandoned and gradually fell into ruins. It was rediscovered by the British traveller, Sir Robert Ker Porter in 1819, followed by other explorers. 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.