In southwestern Iran, roughly 650 kilometers (400 miles) south of the capital city of Tehran, and roughly 70 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Shiraz, a cultivated plain gives way to the Zagros Mountains. At the transition between flat land and rugged mountain, at the base of Kuh-i-Rahmat, or “Mountain of Mercy,” lies Persepolis. Founded around 518 B.C. by Darius the Great, the site served as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid (or Persian) Empire.
The Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite captured this natural-color image of Persepolis and the surrounding region on January 5, 2004. The boundary between agricultural land and mountain runs roughly northwest-southeast. West of the boundary, the land appears as a patchwork of brown fallow fields and green growing crops. East of the boundary, mountain peaks on Kuh-i-Rahmat cast dark shadows to the north.
A tree-lined road leads to the site of Persepolis from the southwest. Persepolis itself is roughly rectangular, and rivals the size of nearby modern settlements. The L-shaped, off-white structure at Persepolis is a modern covering, providing some protection from the elements to part of the ancient complex. Although the vast roofs that once covered the buildings are long gone, pillars, stairways, and sculptures remain.
For nearly two centuries—roughly 518 B.C. to 333 B.C.—Persepolis served as the capital for an empire that stretched from Greece to India. Sacked by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C., however, the site lay hidden under its own ruins until rediscovered in 1620 by García de Silva Figueroa, a Spanish ambassador to the court of Shah Abbas. Persepolis has become a popular destination for foreign tourists and Iranian citizens alike. The site became a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1979.
Oriental Institute. (2010, May 19). Persepolis and Ancient Iran. University of Chicago. Accessed June 16, 2010.
Steves, R. (2008). Iran Travel Journal. Rick Steves Europe. Accessed June 16, 2010.
Wikipedia. (2010, June 14). Persepolis. Accessed June 15, 2010.
World Heritage. (2010). Persepolis. UNESCO. Accessed June 16, 2010.
NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Michon Scott