Persia's Greatness. Its Early History. Tomb of Cyrus. Remains of Ecbatana.
Persia was one of the greatest of ancient nations. At one time it embraced all Upper Asia, and Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Egypt, Thrace, and Macedonia, and though the greatness of its glory has departed, it was still a great living nation even in the 18th century when its king Nadir Shah invaded India. Compared thus with Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia, long since extinct, it has had a wonderful existence, reaching down from Cyrus to our own time.
We know little of its early history. It cannot be doubted, that long before the rise of the Persian power, mighty kingdoms existed in these regions, and particularly in the eastern part of Bactria, yet of those kingdoms we have by no means a consistent or chronological history -- nothing but a few fragments. It is probable that from dynasties which ruled in Media properly so called, immediately previous to the Persians, the style of architecture may have been in some measure derived, though indeed we know of no remain of earlier date than those which are properly called Persian.
Of the early times of the empire no authentic remains exist, except those of the tomb of its founder, Cyrus, at Murgab or Pasargadae (east of the head of the Persian Gulf), and some of the walls, &c., of the ancient capital, Ecbatana, in North Media. The former is still in a wonderful state of preservation, but it can scarcely be reckoned amongst Persian edifices, as it is clearly a work designed by some architect from a Greek colony of Asia Minor. The tomb stands on seven bold steps of white marble, the lowest being 43 feet by 37 feet. The tomb itself is 21 feet by 16 ft. 5 in. outside, with bold mouldings to the door; it has a sloping roof of marble, with a pediment at each end, enriched with mouldings. The chamber itself is only 7 feet by 10, the walls being built up with thick blocks of marble. Near the tomb was the famous inscription. "I am Cyrus the king, the Achaemenian," and though this is now wanting, recent discoveries seem to have disinterred the stone which had borne it, and which had been torn away. Round the tomb outside had evidently been a colonnade of 24 columns, fragments of which, with the bases, alone remain. They resemble those commonly used by the Greeks. This singular structure seems to have been unique in Persia. It is evidently the work of a foreigner, although the outline may represent, as is supposed, a temple.
The famous walls of Ecbatana, the ancient capital, are said to have been 75 feet broad and 105 high, its stones 9 feet by 4 ft. 6 in., and its gateways 100 feet high and 60 wide. The remains, however, show walls only 12 feet wide, stones only 2 feet by 1 ft. 2., and a gateway only 12 feet high and 10 feet wide. They deserve particular mention on account of their being among the earliest examples of constructive colouring on a grand scale. The walls are said to have been seven in number, one over the other on the sides of a conical hill, and coloured in succession, white,. Black, scarlet, blue, orange, silver, and the innermost gilt. From what has been discovered at Warka (see above), it is possible that this gorgeous description may have been founded on fact; and we know that the Easterns in early times were profuse in their employment of glazed coloured bricks.
Of the domestic structures of the same early time we have no remains, but it would appear that the grander buildings had courts, surrounded by colonnades, somewhat in the Egyptian style, the columns and beams being of wood, coloured, and sometimes gilt, or coated with metal. Above was a sloping roof. We learn particularly from this that the Persian or Median architects were thoroughly well used to a wooden construction.
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