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Taq-e Bustan

Visual Essays

Jamshid Varza

(Slide Show)

On the road traveling from Tehran toward the city of Kermanshah "Bakhtaran," one reaches the ruins of Taq-e Bustan before entering the city of Kermanshah. This magnificent historic site is located on the foot of a mountain where a creek flows into a large pool of water feeding the surrounding trees and shrubs. 

It was customary for Sassanian Emperors to have their investiture carved in a prominent location on a mountain side immortalizing events of their reign. The images of investiture placed the king in the center, receiving the promise of guardianship of the kingdom from a divinity while under the protection of the second divinity. This image immortalized the role and position of each king in the house of Sassan, ruling Iran from AD 225-641 .

Sassanians practiced personification of divinities in their Investiture carvings. This seems an approach unique to Sassanian Kings.

During the second half of Sasanian dynasty this ancient site was an important post on the silk road. Sassanian Emperors up to Narseh had their investiture all carved in their homeland, Pars in Naqsh-e Rostam, Tang-e Chogan, Haji-Abad or other areas. 

This magnificent site houses three Taqs  or investiture carvings. We shall walk you through each one starting from the oldest. Investiture scenes have given scholars a window into the rich world of Sassanian history and art.

Ardeshir II chose Taq-e-Bustan for the location of his investiture. Perhaps this location, not very far from Bistun (or Bagestan) mountain, had gained importance for being a important post on the silk road which connected Persia to eastern Roman provinces.
In the center Ardeshir II is receiving the diadem from Ahura Mazda on the right while under the protection of Mitra on the left. Mitra is recognized by his rayed headdress stands on a large lotus flower holding the saber of justice -- the barsom.

Beneath the feet of the great king lies the slain enemy, apparently a Roman. Some scholars mentioned the possibility of the fallen character being the image of defeated Ahriman.

Relief depicting Shahpur III (AD 383-388) 
Perhaps the carvings of the central iwan (carved Taq) in Taq-e-Bustan was never finished. This Taq shows Shahpur III who succeeded Ardeshir II standing next to his father Shahpur II (AD 310-379), the great Sassanian Emperor. 
Close view of the central Taq shows only images of Shahpur III and Shahpur II with no detailed decorations or any investiture scene. 

It is believed that Shahpur III legitimized his reign by carving his image next to his great father, Shahpur II.

Investiture of Khosro II, Parviz (AD 590-628)
The larger iwan is the most majestic Sassanian investiture carving surviving to date. The back wall is divided into two registers. The plan indicates a triple majestic iwan which the third iwan (to the left) was not constructed.

(The small dot on lower-left corner is a man sitting in the arch's shade.)

The tympanum above represents the investiture of the king receiving two diadems, one from Ahuramazda (right), the other from protecting angel of waters, Anahita (left). 

On the lower register is the equestrian statue of the king, Khosro-II Parviz, wearing a coat of mail. 

For this figure one might cite the description of Ammianus Marcellinus (d.395AD): "Moreover, all the companies clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff joints conformed with those of their limbs; and forms of the human faces were so skillfully fitted to their heads, that since their entire bodies were covered with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings opposite the pupil of the eye, or where through the tips of their noses they were able to get a little breath."

In another place Ammanius says: "The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather."

The figure of the horseman recalls the knights of the Middle Ages of Europe. Despite the great difference in time this visual relationship is not entirely accidental, since medieval chivalry absorbed many Near Eastern traditions in the course of the Crusades.

[1] Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman general and historian served in the army of Constantius II in Gaul and Persia. He fought against the Persians under Julian the Apostate and took part in the retreat of his successor, Jovian.

Image showing stone carvings on surrounding walls and the main arch.
Close-up image of the guardian angel holding the diadem above the main arch (left).
Detail of a scroll of flowers and acanthus leaves carved on both sides of the facade of the iwan.

Boar hunting scene carved on interior right wall of the Khosro II, Parviz's investiture Taq. This scene combines two images of the king standing in a boat while targeting boars. This carving carries a stunning level of detail.
Deer hunting scene carved on interior left wall of the Khosro II, Parviz's investiture Taq. This scene combines two images of the king riding and hunting deer. Each item in this image is carved with a great degree of detail.
Ruins of a majestic building
Adjacent to three Taqs stands the ruins of a majestic building; stone made ornaments carved in Sassanian style depict images of Investiture.
These building ornaments belong to a building of immense importance which could be a palace or a memorial structure celebrating the Investitures.
Fluted stone columns still remain in on site.
Sassanians were acquainted with the practice of placing a relief or statue in a niche or a cave. The Sassanian palace in Bishapur (near Kazerun) held sixty-four wall recesses for holding statues.

Ruins of a large stone statue still stands on the grounds adjacent to the Taqs.

Remains of building ornament with carved image of Pahlavi inscriptions.
Large ceramic containers still standing on the grounds; perhaps used for storage.
Stone caskets unearthed from nearby grounds. Sassanians, as Zoroastrians did not pollute earth by burying their dead thus placing them in caskets made of stone, ceramic or practiced sky burial.