A Zoroastrian Educational Institute



HomeArticlesAuthorsBook ReviewCommunityLibraryProminentsRegisterStoreArticle SubmissionAbout Us




Firuzâbâd -- A Sassanian Palace or Fire Temple?

Visual Essays

Jamshid Varza

(Slide Show)



Ardeshir in Bas Relief commemorating his victory near Firuzabad.

Aerial plan of Ardeshir's palace near Firuzabad.

In this issue of Visual Themes, I shall take our readers to a historic site on the outskirts of the town of Firuzabad Firuzabad, which means the place of victory, is an ancient town about sixty kilometers south of Shiraz in the province of Fârs in central Iran. The province of Pârs (or Fârs) is the birthplace of two ancient Iranian Zarathushti dynasties: a) The Acheamenians founded by Cyrus the Great, and b) The Sassanians, founded by Ardeshir son of Papak.

Ibn Istakhri, a Muslim Iranian historian, mentions this site as a fire temple of great importance built during the Sassanian dynasty. Other scholars, historians, and archeologists report this site to be the palace built by Ardeshir during late Parthian or early Sassanian times. Whichever proves to be true, this site is certainly a monument to the daring personality of Ardeshir, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty.

The conquest of Persia by Alexander (330 BCE) did not totally extinguish the sacred fire. The minor Princes of
Pârs in particular had preserved intact the traditions of the magi of the Achaemenid period. One of them called Papak who was a petty king of Khir, east of Shiraz, and whose father, Sassan, had fulfilled priestly functions at Istakhr, capital of the kings of Persis, had begun to increase his domain at the expense of his neighbors.

One of Papak’s sons was Ardeshir, for whom he had obtained a high military post in the town of Dârâbgird.  Ardeshir, who had conceived the ambitious project of recapturing the power of the Achaemenids for himself, took several towns in the province, defeating and killing the reigning princes. He put down a revolt which had broken out in the region in his charge and asserted his power by conquering the province of Kirmân. Having succeeded his father in the capacity of priest-king, master of the whole province of Pârs and Kirmân, he had a princely palace built at Gur (present-day Firuzabad).

This excited the jealously of Ardeshir’s sovereign, the Arsacid Ardawan-V (Artabanus), and caused discord between the King-of-Kings and his subject, as a letter from Ardawân to Ardeshir testifies: "You wretched Kurd, how did you dare to build such a royal residence?" Ardeshir, so the story goes, revolted against his sovereign and slew him with his own hand. After this battle, which took place in 224 AD, Gur was called Ardeshir-Khurra "Glory of Ardeshir." In 226AD, Ardeshir entered Ctesiphon, the southern capital of the Parthian Empire.

During the next few years Ardeshir conquered Media, and attacked Armenia and Azerbaijan. He subdued Sistân, Khurâsân, the land of Marv, Khwarazmia and Margiana. The king of Kushans, the master of the valley of Kabul and Punjab recognized his sovereignty. So five and a half centuries after the fall of Achaemenid Empire, the Persians had reconquered their Iranian domain and a new oriental empire had been created which could treat with the Roman Empire on an equal footing.

The earliest image of the site at Firuzabad was sketched by Flandin and La Coste; two Frenchmen who traveled to many ancient ruins in Persia and drew sketches of these sites during the 1830s.
The palace of Ardeshir overlooks a small lake fed by a rich spring; water flowing from this lake feeds the ancient city of Ardeshir-Khurra "Gur." The main entrance iwan of the palace enjoys the view of the lake and its vicinity. It is believed that a Persian style garden enclosed the palace and its lake.

The iwan or arched entry was a building innovation of the later Parthian era which is found  predominately in Sassanain palaces and buildings of importance. One can still see older homes in Firuzabad and nearby towns using the iwan as a main entrance overlooking its garden.

The Sassanian style iwan is usually constructed between two halls as supporting elements of the iwan hall. This style is used in other palaces in Kazerun, Qasr Shirin, Sarvestan and Damghan.

As one walks toward the main iwan of the Firuzabad palace, we see the majestic size of the 44 feet arch, built at about 224 AD using local construction techniques. The two parallel walls were gradually built closer by the arch-shaped ceiling while the main load was carried by the background thick wall. One could enter the throne room through the gate in the background wall.

The throne room is a majestic room with the height of almost a three story building. Remaining plaster works on the walls depict use of Achaemenian patterns.
A cross section of the front view of the palace drawn by art historian Oscar Reuther shows three similar domed rooms behind the main iwan.
The throne room's ceiling is a large dome built using construction material found in the area, rock set in mortar covered by stucco. It is a wonder to see this dome still standing after eighteen centuries.
All interior walls of the palace have niches built in them; every niche is covered by an arch centered on top of it.
Internal doorways and openings of the palace all enjoy the similar style of an arch centered on top of the opening or doorway.
A view of the interior court and sections of the palace. All the private sections open into this main hall. 

The exterior walls are thick and tall providing protection for the palace. This picture shows the western exterior wall of the palace.
This picture shows the southern exterior wall of the palace; built tall and thick to protect the palace.
This huge stone tower stands in the middle of the ruins of ancient city of "Ardeshir Khurra" Gur. Perhaps it was a fire tower or a commemorative structure.

With all the overwhelming archeological evidence one might think the site was a palace built and used by Ardeshir. Then why would Muslim historians refer to this place as a fire temple of great importance? It is my opinion that as the Sassanian dynasty progressed, Ardeshir as a priest-king, and his life achievements became a role model for his descendents; and so his palace was elevated into a royal fire temple.