Deep in History

Glamour the Earliest Cities of Iran

Author:  Roshanak Masuri/ Translated by: Nazanin Moayed/ Photo by: Mehrdad Misaghian

For ancient Iranians, a city was much more than simply a large and permanent residence. The equivalent word for ‘city’ in the Persian language (shahr) is derived from the term ‘xšaθra’ that has been repeatedly mentioned in Avesta, the ancient Zoroastrian’s holy book in ancient Iran. In Avestan texts, this word has been used with different meanings including a territory, a kingdom, a realm, and a court manifesting divine power.

Susa, the capital city of the Elamites, is one the first ancient cities of Iran and it is still inhabited today. There is little information about this city in the Elamite period, except that it was built on a broad hill overlooking vast surrounding fields. Another city from the same era is Dur Untash, near the modern-day city of Haft Tappeh. It was mainly a religious centre.

One of the few discoveries of this period is the district for artisans and craftsmen in the city of Susa. In Hamedan, if we believe it is an Achaemenid city, the houses belonged to wealthy people and were built based on a pre-designed plan where the street was considered a central courtyard. In Dahan-e Gholaman, in Sistan and Baluchestan Province, some residential areas have been excavated and these may be evidence of an Achaemenid city, with the remains indicating houses were built according to plans and hierarchies around 550–330 BCE. There was also a city called Parseh near the royal citadel of Persepolis which was probably built using a chess-board plan or grid pattern, but we do not have sufficient information about it yet.

Bishapur is one of the first cities to have a written urban history. There is a rock relief, installed on one of the two columns in the city centre, with both Sassanid Pahlavi and Parthian Pahlavi scripts, indicating the date of the completion of the city’s construction was 266 CE, exactly six years after Shapur I defeated Valerian, the Roman Emperor (253–260). French archeologist Roman Girshman (1895–1979) who specialized in ancient Persia considers Bishapur to be a royal city.

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