Written by Kieran Proctor

Naqsh-e Rostam and Ka’ba-ye Zartosht

Naqsh-e Rostam or 'the necropolis' holds the tombs or mausoleums of four prominent Archaemenid kings. Namely Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I 'The Great' and Xerxes I 'The Great'. Here's what you could see if you visit.

Naqsh-e Rostam and Ka’ba-ye Zartosht are located on the same site in Fars Iran. The first is the ‘Necropolis’ and the second is the ‘cube of Zoroaster’. A third site Naqsh-e Rajab lies a little less than 2km away and is a series of bas-reliefs.

Here’s what you should know about the site and why you should visit if you’re travelling to Fars Iran.

Naqsh-e Rostam in Fars Iran
Naqsh-e Rostam

The Necropolis | Naqsh-e Rostam

Naqsh-e Rostam or ‘the necropolis’ holds the tombs or mausoleums of four prominent Archaemenid kings. Namely Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I ‘The Great’ and Xerxes I ‘The Great’.

The site also contains reliefs or carvings from the Elamites who predate the Archaemenid empire and the Sassanian who came after the Achaemenid Empire.

The oldest relief carved at Naqsh-e Rostam is of Elamite origin and dates to around 1000BC. It’s from this relief that the site gets its name. As the now mostly destroyed relief is believed to have depicted the ancient Persian hero Rostam.

Today the tombs lie empty as they have since the conquest of Alexander ‘The Great’. Whose men looted the tombs. Alexander’s conquest of Persia is also the reason that the fifth tomb in the sequence remains unfinished.

Cube of Zoroaster | Ka’ba-ye Zartosht

Located on the same site as the Naqsh-e Rostam is Ka’ba-ye Zartosht. Or in english, the ‘Cube of Zoroaster’. Ka’ba-ye Zartosht faces onto Naqsh-e Rostam.

The exact purpose of the cube is unknown. Though it is said to be dated to the early Achaemenid era and was likely used to hold Zoroastrian religious texts such as the Avesta.

When we visited the site I was told that the inside joke about the cube was that it survived destruction by the Khan’s through a ruse. I was told that it wasn’t destroyed as a non-islamic religious site because the Khan’s were made to believe it held a relative of the prophet or some holy islamic artefact. But I can’t confirm whether or not the story is true.

What is for certain is that it has some of the most important Sassanian era inscriptions. And walking around the outside of Ka’ba-ye Zartosht a couple of times I couldn’t see them. But the structure even without the inscriptions is a sight to behold.

It sits facing the tomb of Darius II like a little square millennia old lighthouse.

Visiting Naqsh-e Rostam and Ka’ba-ye Zartosht

Both sites are located together with a third site Naqsh-e Rajab a short walk. Make sure you bring sunscreen and good shoes when visiting or you’ll regret it.

The sites themselves are about an hour from Shiraz in Fars Province Iran. We visited Naqsh-e Rostam and Ka’ba-ye Zartosht as part of a circuit including Takht-e Jamshīd better known as Persepolis and Pasargadae which is the site of the Tomb of Cyrus. Naqsh-e Rostam and Ka’ba-ye Zartosht were our second stop in this circuit.

You will need a vehicle to visit all these sites as there’s no bus or trains. Either hiring a vehicle and driver as our group had or going on an organised tour would be the better options for visiting.

Iranian traffic is a whole other world of danger and I’ve personally witnessed people reversing down the middle of a freeway in peak hour traffic. So if you’re unfamiliar with Iranian road rules I wouldn’t recommend trying to drive yourself with a hire car. Better to be driven by a professional who understands Iranian roads.

At the entrance to the site you’ll find a couple of small vendors selling trinkets and drinks. And when we went there as a gentleman with a couple of camels that would take you for a ride if you wanted to sight see via camel.

Naqsh-e Rustam
Naqsh-e Rostam

Conclusion | Naqsh-e Rostam and Ka’ba-ye Zartosht

My first words and thoughts upon stepping out of the van at Naqsh-e Rostam was ‘oh, wow’. It’s an impressive site to behold. And it is definitely a site I’d visit again.

If I was to return to Iran and to Fars province I would likely do the circuit of three sites again. But I would do them in reverse starting at Pasargadae and moving to Naqsh-e Rostam before finishing at Takht-e Jamshīd. In this reverse order you’re moving from the oldest site with the least remaining artefacts to the newer sites with more of their artefacts intact.

I know, I said ‘newer’ for something that’s 2500 years old. But when you start at a site like Persepolis that has many remaining structures, statues, reliefs and columns and move to those sites with less remaining artefacts each site feels a little less grand. When in reality it was Pasargadae and Cyrus The Great who kicked off the Achaemenid empire.

I also found myself marvelling at the relative modesty of the structures they built for themselves as their final resting places. Achaemenid kings didn’t build mountain sized mausoleums like the Egyptians with their pyramids. They didn’t build phallic signifiers like Trump and his big ugly buildings. They didn’t even slap their names all over everything like Trump. And these relatively modest tombs contrast with the power these Persian rulers held.

At its height the Achaemenid empire controlled most of the known world. What today is dozens of independent countries. And Cyrus The Great’s last resting place is what today would be a small mausoleum. In places like Buenos Aires Recoleta cemetery or Cuba’s Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón you’ll find mausoleums that dwarf the one Cyrus set for himself.

Let that sink in for a bit.

The man who built an empire controlling most of the known world had himself entombed in a small mausoleum. Set in his favourite garden.

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Bonus images of نقش رستم