Past Heritage in the Land of Farhad

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Kermanshah is the land of history and myths; the land of eternal lovers; the land of Shirin and Farhad. It is very difficult, if not impossible to describe Kermanshah province and its historical and cultural rich; as difficult and impossible as when we want to have a simple glance at the old “Farhad Tarash” building; and as difficult as when we want to pass by the world’s biggest stone inscription without thinking about it.

This is the land of zealous Kurds where love is red and warm. There are still people who have not been transformed by mechanical life and are ready to lay down their lives for their zeal.

Taq Bostan, Yazdgerd Castle, collection of historical relics in Qasr-e Shirin (Ban Qala’, Khosrow Building, Chahar Qabi), Bistoon complex (Khosrow palace, Khosrow bridge, and Farhad Tarash), historical complex in Harsin (water color, stone gate…) in addition to hundreds of other historical and natural attractions draw tourists to this province.

There are 3,000 historical monuments in this province of which about 716 monuments have been registered as national heritage and one of them has been registered as world heritage. There are also many natural attractions like ponds and lakes and lagoons in mountainous areas including natural ponds in Bistoon and Kangavar, Hashilan lagoon, Piran waterfalls, Qouri Qala’ Cave, Paraw, Dalahou, and Sefid Kouh, Bamou, Nava, and Qallajeh mountains as well as Sahneh, Binavar, Bistoon, Harsin, Eslamabad, and Kerend plains; and Qareh Sou, Gamasiyab, Dinevar, Razavar, Mereg, Jamishan, Siravan, and Alvand rivers.

Bistoon, however, enjoys a special status among cultural and natural heritages of the province and has been registered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its 30th meeting in Lithuania, as a world heritage. It was the eighth Iranian wonder after Persepolis, Choghazanbil Ziggurat, Naghsh-e Jahan Square, Takht-e Soleiman, Pasargad, Citadel of Bam and Sultaniyeh Mausoleum to be registered by UNESCO as a world heritage.

Bistoon is located 30 km east of Kermanshah along Kermanshah – Hamedan road. Behestan Mountain is located 30 km east of the city and has been called Baghestan, Bagestan, Bahestan, Behestoon, Behistoon, Begistan, and Bistoon in various historical texts and is currently called Bistoon. In its vicinity, 29 cultural works have been registered as heritage.

Naderi Hill

Naderi Hill is the first historical site (moving from east) in the complex. The hill is 1,200 m long and 300 m wide. In addition to the fact that the hill is 5,000 years old, remnants of pottery and castles dating back to Nader Shah era can be seen on it.

Famous bridge known as Safavid Bridge

Before the existing concrete bridge which is located along Kermanshah road to Sahneh, there is a huge brick bridge built under Safavid dynasty. It has been built along a road which was constructed from Qazvin to Hamedan and Kermanshah at the time of Safavids and reached Baghdad. The bridge is 115 m long and 690 cm wide considering two shelters built on its sides. Each of them is 37 cm wide and 50 cm higher than the surface of the bridge. Only part of them still remains. Along the bridge there are two main conduits and two smaller ones on the east of the main conduits.

Merkher Cave

Merkher literally means a cave with a round entrance and it has been erroneously called “Khor Cave”. The cave is located near Bistoon village and is 27 m long. It dates back to middle Paleolithic period and Mousterian culture. The cave is located opposite of Gamasiyab River on the slopes of Bistoon Mountain.

Mertarik Cave

The cave is located in between slopes of Bistoon Mountain and a high wall and overlooks a natural platform. The mouth of the cave is located 3 m higher than the wall.

Maraftau Cave

This is located near Mertarik Cave and is 26 m deep. Its mouth is located to the northeast. The mouth of the cave is 6 m high and its height decreases gradually, to that it is not higher than 2 m at the end of the cave.

Mardoudar Cave

This is the highest remnant of Paleolithic period in this part of Bistoon Mountain. The cave is 20 m deep and about 170 square meters in area. The ceiling is 1-3 m high and the cave has two mouths. The main mouth opens in south – southwest direction and overlooks a steep valley which ends in a precipice. Another mouth opens to east – southeast and overlooks a dirt road which leads to Meraftab and Mertarik caves.

Parthian Fireplace

There is a Parthian building to the north of bas-relief of Darius at Bistoon. Professor Lushai, head of a joint Iranian – German excavation mission, maintains that this place has been a temple at the time of Ashkanid kings. The Parthian temple which is built on two inscribed rocks is connected by 10 steps which are fashioned out of the mountain rock. Each step is 80 cm long and is irregularly designed. Part of this place was used as a cemetery in the Islamic era.

Ashkanid City of Baghestan

On the slopes of Bistoon Mountain and northeast of the lake, there is a spring, Median castle and bas-relief of Darius. Nearby, there is a residential quarter dating back to Ashkanid era which is 800 m long and about 300 m wide and relics found there have prove its Ashkanid origin.

Belash Stone

On the slopes of Bistoon Mountains and about 400 m east of Goudarz, there is a big rock with inscriptions. It is an irregular quadrangle 250 cm high and 6 m in perimeter. On three sides of the rock, there are low relief designs. The middle design shows one of the successors of Goudarz II, that is, Valgash (Valkhash or Valaash).

Statue of Hercules

In February 1958, when roadwork continued along the new road from Hamedan to Kermanshah at the foot of Bistoon Mountain, excavations revealed a piece of solid stone in the form of a statue part of whose shoulder had been unearthed. In the Parthian era, Varther Ghaneh was one of the most favorite gods which was represented as a clay or stone body. The Statue of Hercules (Varthar Ghaneh) is one of them. Hercules has been cast as a powerful, naked guy with curly hair and beard who is resting on a lion’s skin. He has put its weight on his left elbow and is lounging on a stone platform 2.2 m long.

Hunters’ Cave

On the slopes of Bistoon Mountain, and above Hercules Statue, there is the famous Hunters’ Cave. It seems that more than being a shelter, the cave has been a hiding place for hunters because the cave is located such that you won’t be able to see it unless you get close enough.

Bas-relief of Mitridat II

There is a lasting work of Mitridat II at Bistoon. The monument is located between the Statue of Hercules and inscription of Darius. Unfortunately, the inscription of Sheikh Alikhan Zanganeh has somehow erased part of it, but still two big faces can be discerned on the left side of it. The remnants of Greece inscription are over it and vestiges of another work of art can be seen to its right. On the left side, there is a picture of three horse riders along with a short Greek inscription.

Professor Girshmann maintains that it is no accident that this inscription has been created on the foot of the bas-relief of Darius, the powerful Achaemenid king. The Ashkanid king has intended to introduce himself as a progeny of the glorious Achaemenids and create a link between Ashkanid and Achaemenid dynasties.

On the east of the bas-relief of Mitridat II and on the same rock, one of his successors, that is, Goudarz II (46-51 AD), has left an inscription behind. The inscription demonstrates triumph of Goudarz II over his rival, Mehrdad.

Inscription of Sheikh Alikhan Zanganeh’s Endowment

Sheikh Alikhan Zanganeh, who lived under Shah Soleiman Safavid, had endowed some lands and buildings, including a caravansary to be used by seyeds (those descending from Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his progeny) and the letter of endowment has been inscribed on one of the ancient inscriptions (Goudarz and Mehrdad inscription).

Bistoon Inscription (Darius Inscription)

Just 30 km to the east of Kermanshah and at a height of 100 m on a cliff, there is the famous Darius Inscription, aka. Bistoon inscription, which had not been discovered until 2006 (?). The first person to climb that cliff was Rawlinson, who copied the first column of the ancient Persian text. He was a British officer assigned to train Iranian soldiers. His studies in 1857 drew the attention of the Royal Asian Society of London as well as many scientists. Then in 1948-49, George Cameron, studied the inscription again and thoroughly. The results of his studies on Bistoon inscription was that it is consisted of three ancient new Elamite, new Babylonian or Acadian handwriting. After the ancient Persian text was deciphered, it was made clear that the pictures belonged to Darius, two of his military commanders, and 10 rebels who had risen against his rule when he had just ascended to the throne and the inscription explains how the insurgents were punished.

The inscription is 20.5 m by 7.8 m in area. Total lines of designs have an area of 120 square meters. It is said that Bistoon Inscription is the most important reason why the whole complex has been registered as world heritage.

Bistoon Pond

If we considered Iran the gate of Asia, there is a place beside Bistoon Pond which has been a good camping place for caravans who happened to show up there. Although relics found around the pond are much older, the pond contains evidence at its bottom and on its sides which show that it has not been suitably explored thus far. It was only in 1999 that remnants of an old road were found there.

Old Road near Bistoon Pond

The existing road has been the sole road connecting Kermanshah to Hamedan until the 1950s. It has, no doubt, been built over older roads. When digging around the road, remains of ancient rods as well as clay and adobe walls can be found. Excavations near the road show that there is an old road dating back to Islamic era which is certainly standing atop of cultural and historical relicts dating back to pre-Islamic eras.

Farhad Tarash

Farhad Tarash can be seen on an inscribed wall on Bistoon Mountain. The wall is locally known as Farhad Tarash (which means carved by Farhad in Persian). It is 180 m long and 33 m high. No other place in Iran has a mountain been carved so extensively.

Half-finished Sassanid Palace and Remains of Ilkhanid Caravansary

There is a building in Bistoon area in the distance between Safavid caravansary and Bistoon Pond, which dates back to Sassanid and Ilkhanid eras.

The building had been founded under Sassanid rulers, but it has not been finished and the work has stopped in early stages for unknown reasons.

Under Ilkhan rulers, the building was turned into a caravansary using the same stone walls of Sassanid building and Sassanid bricks. Since brick ceilings have fallen down, some speculate that maybe a natural disaster like a quake has been the reason. There are clay ovens in the vicinity which probably dated back to Teimuri era, in addition to ruins of a mosque and its altar, all built under Ilkhan rulers. They have been repaired after several instances of excavations. Unfortunately, the repairs have not been in line with original architecture of the building.

Huge Sassanid Wall

On the right side of Gamasiyab River to the south of Bistoon village, there is a long wall made of carved stone, rubble and mortar. The wall is 1,000 m long and 250 cm in thickness. The outward appearance of the wall is carved stone backed by rubblework. The wall is 4-5 m high. In view of capitals found at Bistoon, it seems that it has been probably a palace as big as the one whose remains could be seen in Qasr-e Shirin, which has not been finished.
Another theory has it that the wall has been a barrier for the royal hunting grounds pictures of which have been found at Vassan Arch. There is a cane field on the left side of the big arch which abounds in fish and ducks. The remains of another building dating back to Ilkhanid and Mongol era could be seen on top of the Sassanid wall.

Khosrow Bridge

There are stones scattered around Gamasiyab River which seem to be remnants of a Sassanid dam. After studies carried out in 1960-1971 by archeology institute of Germany, it was announced that “the Sassanid Bridge which has been built here over nine pillars and is locally known as Khosrow Bridge, has been built over Gamasiyab River." The riverbed under the bridge is cobblestoned and, from this viewpoint, it looks like bridges which had been built by Sassanids. The bridges are expected to regulate water distribution to downstream areas and, somehow, acted like modern dams.

Carved Sassanid Stones

Throughout Bistoon village and lands around it, there are carved stones carrying one or several signs dating back to Sassanid era. About 427 signs have been carved on stones (by Sassanid stonecutters). Surprises at Bistoon historical complex were so numerous that the representative of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) has proposed it to be registered among natural heritage of the world.