The ruins of Bishapur, one of the largest Sasanid cities, sprawl over a green valley on the southwestern bank of the Shapur River, near the point where it merges with the Sasan Spring, passing through the scenic Chogan Gorge. In addition to the beauty of its location, Bishapur had another great advantage. It was situated along the most important imperial roads, which under the Achaemenians linked Persepolis and Susa, and during the Sasanid period connected Estakhr and Ctesiphon. In its heyday, Bishapur successfully rivaled the most prosperous cities of the ancient world, including Byzantium and Antiochus, and by its later visitors were often given the sobriquet of the Sasanid Versailles.
The Maiden's Fortress and Fortifications
Dominating the main approach to the city and the Chogan Gorge, Qal'e-ye Dokhtar* ("the Maiden's Fortress”), was created as an observatory post and as a shelter for the king and courtiers when the enemy threatened. The structure was built of rubble stone and gypsum mortar and consisted of several tiers of fortified terraces, each enclosed by a separate wall. These terraces were intended to disperse the enemy's organized rows should they attack the fort. The installations on the top floor were the most strongly fortified and were intended to house the king and his military headquarters. Additional protection was provided by an abyss on the eastern side. This part of the fortress is the best-preserved, and one can still the typical Sasanid squinch work of its buildings.
The fortress had only one entrance, located on the side overlooking the city. The northeast and southwest sections of the structure were reinforced by two round watchtowers. Three-fourths of the towers' diameter protruded to the outside. Between the watchtowers, there were two smaller, semi-circular bulwarks. Water was brought to the towers from the river and collected in stone reservoirs.
Yet the complete plan of Qal'e-ye Dokhtar has not been completely worked out. The situation is rendered more difficult by the fact that during the Islamic period the fort was encroached upon by marginal structures. Qal'e-ye Dokhtar constituted only a part of the town's fortifications. It was linked with the ramparts around the Imperial District and its watchtowers by a series of corridors sheltered behind the curtain walls. These corridors connected the round towers, each 12 m high and 9 m in diameter. At first, these towers were built side by side; later, to provide for a better view of the surroundings and a more successful defense against enemy attacks, every second tower was demolished.
The watchtowers of Bishapur seem to be the earliest example of using a round plan in Sasanid fortified buildings. This plan was chosen instead of the rectangular one employed during the earlier periods because it was more appropriate for defense purposes. The round towers allowed a better survey of the area and were more stable in recoiling from the blows produced by heavy weaponry. The watchtowers, like the rest of the fortress, were built of rubble stone and gypsum mortar. They were decorated with rectangular apertures which served as a sort of a psychological weapon, in that they gave enemies the impression that archers were concealed behind them. Supervisors of the site restrict tourists from climbing the fortress for safety reasons.
The Imperial District occupied the east part of Bishapur. It included the royal palaces, with their majestic facades placed so as to catch the immediate attention of visitors, who entered the city via the main, eastern gate. This technique was much in practice with Greek and Roman architects. Incidentally, it took Iran more than two centuries to overcome the influence of the Hellenistic art implanted in the country after its conquest by Alexander the Great. Bishapur is the only place where the achievements of Greek architects were freely chosen, not forced upon the builders. The Temple of Anahita, the Mosaic Porches, the Palace of Shapur, and the Palace of Valerian was the most conspicuous landmarks of the ancient town. This area was guarded by a fortress, from which a rampart with a moat stretched to enclose the southeast side of the area.
Temple of Anahita
This imposing stone building consists of an intricate assortment of passageways, arches, and vaulted corridors arranged around an open inner courtyard which is a perfect cube measuring 14 m per side. The floor of the courtyard, paved with slabs of polished stone, is sunk 6 m below ground level, an essential element for collecting water from the Shapur River. In the middle of the courtyard is a square pool 40 cm deep. The walls consist of two shells of skillfully trimmed stone plates, joined in an Achaemenid manner without mortar, and using iron clamps; the space between the outer shells is, however, filled with rubble stone and mortar. The walls were dominated by the proteomes of kneeling cows on their tops. Of these, two have been preserved on the north wall, and there is another lying in a courtyard west of the temple. In addition to their decorative functions, the effigies of cows may have symbolized fertility and life, as patronized by Anahita. In the center of the walls around the courtyard were doorways, leading to adjoining corridors, each more than 1.5 m wide. A staircase of twenty-three steps led from the Palace of Shapur to the inner courtyard of the temple, implying that the ceremonies may have had a private character, and were attended only by the king and his relatives. Remarkable techniques were employed to guide the water as it flowed to the central receptacle. The river water was channeled into a stone canal about 250 m long via one of two openings and was carried to a stone reservoir in the northeastern corner of the temple. There was also a chamber for a person who was in charge of distributing the water. When the water level exceeded the height of the reservoir, it flowed into the temple through an outlet on the opposite side. There the water flow was distributed among three channels by a special allotment stone with three vents that could be closed with sliding lids. The water entered the left or the right channel which ran along the eastern corridor. The middle vent helped to regulate the water flow. A conduit branching off the eastern channels brought water to the central pool. Air vents below the portals on the south, east, and west sides served to prevent waves and ensured that the water in the pool maintained a mirror-like surface. Excess water was directed into a conduit entering two channels of the western corridor. After the ceremony was over, another outlet leading to the river was opened, and the water was returned to its source. The water remaining in the central pool was brought to a reservoir outside the temple, where it was used by the public, The Temple of Anahita may be a clue to the understanding of a similar structure in Estakhr, of which no information except the scanty historical evidence about its existence is available.
The Eivant of Sasanid palaces has always functioned as a link between the palace and the open area around it. This is not the case with Bishapur. Here the porches were independent structures, perhaps used initially as reception areas, and after the construction of the Palace of Shapur, integrated into the complex as its distinctive part. The corridors, which connected the porch with the cruciform hall, may be a later addition, At that time, the larger of these may have been reserved for the private use of the king and his family. This porch had three crescent arches (a triple Eivan), the central rising to 15 m, and each side arch 5 m high.
The porches took their name from the mosaics that covered their walls. These mosaics presented portraits of individuals, pictures of birds, and foliated scrolls. Only fragments have escaped deterioration; some of these are now preserved in the Louvre, and not nearly so many are in the National Museum in Tehran. The other surfaces were covered with painted stuccowork, matching the splendid mosaic patterns, or with whitewash.
Palace of Shapur
Although Bishapur was built as a recreation site for Shapur I, the king could never completely distance himself from his duties; in this town too he needed an appropriate place for holding royal audiences. Initially, the Mosaic Porches served as a reception area, but soon a special palace was built to meet the need. Shapur is said to have planned its layout himself. The Palace of Shapur turned out to be one of the most architecturally elaborate buildings of the Sasanid age. Its construction marked for the first time the creation of a structure with four Eivans, on four sides of the hall. This plan proved to be so successful that it was copied not only in other Sasanid buildings but also in Islamic structures.
The Palace of Shapur consisted of a large central hall surrounded by corridors. This hall was built in the shape of a polygon. It began with a square core measuring 22 m on a side and had a large, zig-zagging alcove in each of the four corners, each alcove being 8 m long and 7 m wide, and provided with niches. Thus, the plan ultimately developed into an icosagonal (twenty-sided) design. (See plan, p269). Each alcove had a doorway, which connected the hall to the corridors. On each side of the four doorways were two narrow niches, and three wall niches were also made in each of the other sixteen sides of the hall. Altogether, there were sixty-four niches in the hall; all these were decorated with carved and painted plaster acanthus leaves, foliated scrolls, and intersecting crosses. Many of the decorative motifs were borrowed from Greco-Roman prototypes, but here foreign influence has been happily combined with Persian taste and tradition.
The square section of the hall was surmounted by a dome about 25 m high, perhaps the highest in Iran at that time. The thickness of the walls of the hall, more than 7 m, was thus essential for sustaining the weight of the dome. This dome did finally collapse, perhaps in an earthquake, and was never restored. The west corridor linked the structure to the Temple of Anahita, the south and east corridors led to the Mosaic Porches, and the east corridor also connected the hall with one of the entrances to the palace (perhaps with the main one), while the north corridor opened onto a terrace. The palace also had a basement, which could be approached by a staircase, and was lit by nine slots in the keystones of its vaulted ceiling. This section also had some discreet plaster decoration. The building material used in the structure is mainly rubble stone set in gypsum mortar. Plates of hewn stone, found in the northwest and northeast walls of the hall, may have remained from the later repairs.
Palace of Valerian
About 150 m east of the Palace of Shapur, a mass of crumbling ruins is all that has survived of the once splendid structure known as the Palace of Valerian. This building was created as a residence for the Roman Emperor was taken prisoner by Shapur I, who had it built so he could keep a close eye on his captive. After the victory of Persian troops over Roman legionaries, Valerian and 70,000 of his warriors were captured by the Sasanid army. Those of the captives who had some I knowledge of architecture and construction were brought to the western part of Iran to participate in the Persians' building projects, and many palaces, dams, and bridges were built using the experience of Roman soldiers. Valerian himself is said to have been familiar with construction techniques and may have contributed to the design of his palace in Bishapur.
Today, the Palace of Valerian lies in ruins, and the modern road built over a section of it! has made it impossible to restore the building to its original condition. The archaeological investigation, however, has revealed some of its main features. The palace is known to have occupied an area of more than 3,000 sq. m. It was the only structure in pre-Islamic Iran made entirely of stone. The stones, all of equal size and shape, were of the same quality as the stones used in the Temple of Anahita, and many were bonded together with clamps. Shallow depressions, which can be seen in the stone bonding, and which impart an interesting look to the palace, were originally filled with molten lead to give more solidity to the structure. Some early Islamic historians related that Yaqub Leis Saffarid, in pursuit of the Abbasid envoy to Baghdad in 876, had to melt the lead used in the Bishapur palaces to replenish his stock of arms. It is more probable, however, that the lead clamps were looted by the locals in their unceasing search for hidden treasures.
The Muslims turned the Palace of Valerian into a mosque during the early Islamic period. By doing this, they killed two birds with one stone. First, the building was splendid enough to accommodate the Muslim sanctuary; and second, during the earliest stage of their raid, the Arabs feared both to damage Zoroastrian temples and to convert them into mosques (which they successfully did soon afterward). fa theology, Therefore, e Buyid period they used continuity of Valerian's CIC traditions Islamic era. formerly secular structure, which they believed could not harm them. Archaeologists think that another building, located opposite the Palace of Valerian and similar to it, may have existed, but such a building has not yet been found.
Northwest of the Temple of Anahita, archeologists have unearthed a building that functioned as a mosque during the Islamic period. According to scholars' opinion, this building, which may have served as an armory during the Sasanid reign, was converted into a mosque under the Buyids. The number of rooms inside the mosque suggests that it became a college for religious instruction. The two separate classrooms also indicate that women may also have attended the college. In the middle of the mosque, a well was dug to provide water for the needs of the people. Bases of stone columns, engraved with decorative patterns and inscriptions, have survived at the site.
Two obelisks, commemorating the inauguration of Bishapur by its royal patron, rise in the middle of a central square of the town, formed by the intersection of the town's main streets. This square was encroached upon by marginal structures in later periods. The stelae were built at the initiative and expense of the city's chief architect Apsai; naturally, he fully recovered his outlay by receiving from the king gold and silver, a garden, many male and female servants, and a robe of honor.
Shapur and two fire-altars on the square, but these have disappeared. One of the columns also tumbled into nineteen pieces. (The column has now been restored.) The other column has survived intact. It features a bilingual inscription in the Sasanid and Parthian Pahlavi languages; this inscription is one of the principal sources of our knowledge regarding Bishapur. In its sixteen lines, this inscription tells us about the visit of Shapur to Bishapur at the time when most projects of the city were still underway.
Each of the memorial obelisks is 3.7 m high. Each stands on a platform and consists of a three-tiered stone base, a plain shaft of single white stone, and a Corinthian capital. Two stones were installed beside the obelisks to mark the sentries' posts. It is likely that Shapur's official guests started their visit to the city with a ceremony held beside these obelisks in the presence of Shapur himself or his deputies, and then were conducted in the state to the royal palace (the Palace of Shapur).
The only bridge over the river in Bishapur was located at the eastern end of the street that crossed the town in an east-west direction. A bridge, known as the Gabri, or Jabri ("Zoroastrian") Bridge, spans the banks of the Shapur River. The building materials used in the bridge are rubble stone and mortar made of slaked lime and sawdust; this mortar was used for bonding in Iran up until the invention of modern cement. The piers of the bridge, which rest against the riverbanks, are still standing. Another pier may have existed in the middle of the river, providing support for the adjacent ends of the two bridge spans. This bridge resembles the bridges built by Roman captives around Susa, and may also have been built by them.
On the street crossing the town from east to west, archaeologists have unearthed a bathhouse, which dates from the early Islamic period. It consisted of a bathing section and a water reservoir, filled by a Qanat and by the Shapur River. Interestingly, its heating system and the methods employed to preserve the temperature inside the bath are much the same as those used in later times.
Mosque (Governmental Building)
Another building in Bishapur was also converted into a mosque during the Islamic period. Because the mosque was used at this time for political and social purposes as well as for community worship, the structure was also known as the Governmental Building. The mosque had a courtyard and an eivan, parts of which have been restored. Its courtyard is a perfect square, with each side measuring 110 m. Some of the walls and columns inside the mosque have been renovated. The mosque's north section, which constituted the main part of this religious structure, was destroyed, and today is blocked with stone. The main building materials here are mortar and rubble stone, which may have been brought from the Temple of Anahita.
The small, but well-organized museum of Bishapur preserves the vulnerable historical objects excavated in the city. The main hall exhibits an impressive fossil of a fish, dating from forty million years ago, and found in the Shapur Cave; stone instruments from the Paleolithic period; pieces of stucco carvings used in the decoration of Bishapur buildings; samples of Sasanid Pahlavi script; glass, bronze, and stone objects from the Sasanid and Islamic periods; and coins and seals. The objects on display in the second hall include fragments of stone bas-reliefs, pillar bases, | and earthenware.