The Grand Stairway and the Gate of All Nations

The Grand Stairway, the Gate of All Nations, the Avenue of the Army and the Throne Hall are all parts of a concept. Together they form the processional route of the army from the level of Marv-Dasht to the Throne Hall and back. One can vividly imagine the formations of soldiers marching between the Throne Hall and the Army Gatehouse and further through to the Gatehouse flanked by the huge carved stone bulls of the southern portal, then through this building and exiting through the north portal and into the arrow-straight Avenue of the Army heading west toward the Gate of All Nations - there greeted by the huge winged bulls with human faces. From the exterior of the grounds on the level of the Marv-Dasht an observer would be offered an impressive display: the "Immortals" marching through the stone bull guarded west portal of the Gate of All Nations and on to the Grand Stairway. Here, the rows of soldiers would split left and right marching down the seven meter wide stairs in perfect step with the drumbeat. Upon arrival at the mid landing they would turn 180 degrees and rejoin into single rows. With their colorful clothing and banners and the sunlight reflecting off of their armour they would have resembled two slow flowing rivers splitting and then reuniting.

Who was the visionaire of this architectural concept: Darius the Great or his son and successor Xerxes? A question that still remains unanswered. Friedrich Krefter believes it was Darius. However, Prof. Heidemarie Koch provides two clues that would indicate that it was, in fact, Xerxes:

1. The earlier entrance to the terrace was forseen and built in the south wall. At this exposed place the inscription of Darius the Great can still be read. The placement of the stairs in the present position shield the inscription from view and therefore could not have been the intention of Darius.

2. The north portal of the Apadana or entrance vestibule appears to be the result of an alteration. Earlier the Apadana was supposed to have had only two porticos - in the east and west sides. The east portico with its especially fine reliefs and column bases with lotus blossom motif was the main facade of the building and placed along the path taken by visitors who entered from the southern side of the terrace. With the transfer of the stairs to the northwest corner - the visitors now saw the Apadana from the north side first. Therefore, it must have been rebuilt as the main facade.

Regardless of who was responsible for the current form of the steps - it remains an architectural masterpiece. Persepolis was a ceremonial city and, as all ancient cities, a fortress. The Grand Stairway was designed specifically to support these two important functions. The massive seven meter (23 ft) wide steps were open, rising gradually (so that horse and rider could ascend comfortably) and were supported at the platforms with high mud-brick walls. The massive height of these walls made them impossible to scale even with the aid of ladders. The two-sided, mirror image design of the stairway emphasized the majestic character.

The Gate of All Nations is the exact translation of the Ancient Persian cuneiform script which to date are visible on the door jam of the building between the other two inscriptions of Babylonian and Elamic languages.

The Great Entrance Vestibule was the first building that a visitor reached arriving from the Grand Stairway. A pair of carved stone bulls overlooking the west portal stood guard and symbolized the strength of the empire. It was here that the delegates of all nations were greeted before they made their entrance into the interior. Like the west portal, the east portal is guarded by stone bulls carrying wings and staring out from human visages - a reference to the art of the Assyrians with the exception of their facial expression. While the Assyrian lamassu expressed horror, those of Persepolis expressed meditative calm and humanity.

In comparison to a reception hall, the Great Entrance Vestibule was more of an intersection at which the east-west axis connected to the Avenue of the Army which in turn led to the Gate of the Army and the Army Plaza. Through the south portal one passed into the entryway of the Apadana.

There also appears to have been a third function: along the interior of the north wall was a stone bench which was interrupted in the center with what appears to be an elevated seat or throne. This indicates that hearings took place presided over by a high ranking official.

  Gate of All Nations
  Plaza of Army
  Gate of Kings

  Hall of Army
  Banquet Gate
  Hall of Nations
  Harem West Wing
  Harem Main Wing
  Royal Treasury
  Terrace Wall
  Tomb I
  Tomb II
  Southern Area

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friedrich krefter
nouruz 2005