Takht-e Soleyman is one of these names on the WH List that mean nothing unless you’ve been there. Takht-e Soleyman, also known as Azar Goshnasp, is an archaeological site in West Azarbaijan, Iran. It lies midway between Urmia and Hamadan, very near the present-day town of Takab, and 400 km (250 mi) west of Tehran.
The archaeological site of Takht-e Soleyman, in north-western Iran, is situated in a valley set in a volcanic mountain region. The site includes the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary partly rebuilt in the Ilkhanid (Mongol) period (13th century) as well as a temple of the Sasanian period (6th and 7th centuries) dedicated to Anahita. The site has important symbolic significance. The designs of the fire temple, the palace and the general layout have strongly influenced the development of Islamic architecture.
The site itself is the centre of several groups of ruins of almost simultaneous occupation, each of which was in some way devoted to Zoroastrian worship. In addition to Takht-e Soleymān and adjacent relics, these include Zendān-e Soleymān (“Solomon’s Prison”) and Kūh-e Belqeys (“Mount Bilqīs”; Bilqīs was the name for the Queen of Sheba in the Islamic tradition).
The ruins at Takht-e Soleymān were established in a geologically anomalous location. The base of the temple complex sits on an oval mound roughly 1,150 by 1,800 feet (350 by 550 metres) that was formed by the outflow of a deep artesian spring, the waters of which collect in a large lake at the southern half of the hill and have heavy concentrations of dissolved calcium. The resultant limestone formation, created by the residue of the periodic inundation of the spring, rises to about 200 feet (60 metres) above the surrounding countryside. Since early times, residents of the area have created canals to channel the overflow as well as provide irrigation for surrounding fields, which, as a result, are especially fertile. The lake itself is roughly 260 by 400 feet (80 by 120 metres), and its overall depth averages about 230 feet (70 metres) but drops to about 400 feet (120 metres) at its deepest.
The area surrounding Takht-e Soleymān was probably first inhabited sometime in the 1st millennium BCE. Some construction on the mound itself dates from the early Achaemenian dynasty (559–330 BCE), and there are traces of settlement activity from the Parthian period. At some point during its occupation—probably sometime during the Sāsānian dynasty—a thick wall of mud brick, interspersed with semicircular bastions, was constructed around the entire perimeter of the mound. Gates are located on the north, south, and southeast sections of the wall.
The site did not gain its great religious significance until the early Sāsānian period when Takht-e Soleymān—then known as Shīz—was established as a Zoroastrian religious sanctuary (in all likelihood having replaced nearby Zendān-e Soleymān as an earlier centre of cult activity) in the early to mid-5th century CE. From that time the fire altar Ādur Gushnasp—one of the three great Zoroastrian fire altars—was moved from the Atropotene capital Gazaca (Ganzak; perhaps modern Tabrīz, Iran). The large, multiroomed temple housing the altar is the central building of the Takht-e Soleymān temple complex, and it is located just inside the complex’s northern gate. Like the other buildings at Takht-e Soleymān, the fire temple was originally constructed of mud brick (although foundations were generally of rough stone), but large sections of the complex, including the fire temple itself, were rebuilt of stone and fired bricks in subsequent centuries. The fire temple is flanked on either side (east and west) by two other cultic structures. To the west, on the other side of a long central hallway, a second fire temple may have served as a personal place of worship for the royal family. Situated to the east of the main fire temple was the temple of the goddess Anahiti, who had particular importance to the royal house and the warrior class—both of which were served by the local fire altar.
It went on until the 13th century when Abagha Khan, the second Mongol ruler of the Persian Ilkhanid, gave new life to Takht-e Soleyman by doing extensive repairs and construction of new buildings. They used it as the royal summer resort for some time. Most of the construction occurred at the Southern side of the site little of which is remained. In the 14th century, Mongol princes stopped inhabiting this site and left it.
The Enduring Legacy of Takht-e Soleyman
Takht-e Soleyman, a magnificent archaeological site nestled amidst the rugged landscapes of northwestern Iran, has captivated visitors for centuries. Its captivating history, spanning millennia, interweaves the spiritual practices of Zoroastrianism with the architectural brilliance of various dynasties. From the towering fire temples of the Sassanian era to the majestic Ilkhanid palaces, Takht-e Soleyman stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Iranian civilization.
The Birth of a Sacred Sanctuary
The origins of Takht-e Soleyman can be traced back to the 1st millennium BCE, when the area was inhabited by various nomadic tribes. During the Achaemenid era, the site acquired religious significance, with Zoroastrian pilgrims drawn to its natural springs and tranquil surroundings. However, it was during the Sassanian period (559-651 CE) that Takht-e Soleyman truly emerged as a sacred sanctuary.
In the early 5th century CE, the Sassanian king Yazdegerd I established the fire altar of Adur Gushnasp, one of the three holiest Zoroastrian fire altars, at Takht-e Soleyman. This grand gesture transformed the site into a spiritual hub for Zoroastrians across the empire. The surrounding structures, including the multi-chambered temple housing the altar, were meticulously constructed using mudbrick and stone, reflecting the architectural prowess of the Sassanian era.
A Thriving Center of Worship
Takht-e Soleyman flourished as a center of Zoroastrian worship for centuries. Pilgrims from across the empire would gather at the site to pay homage to the fire altar, seeking blessings and guidance from the divine flame. The site’s tranquil setting and spiritual ambiance further enhanced its allure, making it a popular destination for religious retreats and rituals.
The Ilkhanid Legacy
The Ilkhanid dynasty (1256-1353 CE), a powerful Turkic-Mongol empire, brought a new chapter to Takht-e Soleyman’s history. In the 13th century, the Ilkhanid ruler Abagha Khan, recognizing the site’s strategic location and spiritual significance, embarked on a grand restoration project. He revitalized the fire temple, constructed new palaces and administrative buildings, and transformed Takht-e Soleyman into a royal summer retreat.
The Ilkhanid architectural style, characterized by its intricate brickwork, soaring arches, and spacious courtyards, left an indelible mark on the site. The palaces, adorned with glazed tiles and colorful murals, exuded a refined elegance, reflecting the opulence of the Ilkhanid court. These structures, though partially ruined, still stand as a testament to the artistic prowess of the Ilkhanid era.
The Lasting Impact
As the Ilkhanid empire declined in the 14th century, Takht-e Soleyman gradually fell into obscurity. The site was largely abandoned, and its ruins were left to the ravages of time and the elements. Yet, its enduring legacy remained deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of Iran.
In the modern era, Takht-e Soleyman has regained its prominence, becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003. Archaeological excavations have unearthed numerous artifacts, shedding light on the site’s rich history and cultural significance. Restoration efforts are underway to preserve the ruins and recapture the grandeur of Takht-e Soleyman’s past.
Today, visitors to Takht-e Soleyman are transported back in time, traversing through layers of history and architectural styles. The imposing fire temple, the majestic Ilkhanid palaces, and the serene lakeside setting exude an undeniable aura of spirituality and grandeur. Takht-e Soleyman stands as a poignant reminder of the enduring power of faith, the brilliance of human artistry, and the resilience of Iranian culture.