1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Persian Architecture: Buildings at Persepolis

(Part 32)

Persian Architecture (cont'd.)

Buildings at Persepolis

Some 50 years after Cyrus, the chief building at Persepolis and Susa were constructed; large portions still remain, and form some of the grandest ruins in existence. Of these we have measured drawings worked out by Messrs Texier and Flandin, from which we derive the chief part of our knowledge, although we have very interesting accounts by Sir R. K. Porter, Mr. Rich, Mr. Morier, Mr. Loftus, &c..

The existing buildings at Persepolis occupy a remarkable position on an elevated platform (partly, it would seem, artificial) at the foot a steep rock in the face of which were cut out the tomb chambers of the Persian kings. The platform was 1425 feet on the west side, and 926 feet on the north, about the size of the Horticultural Gardens in London, including the arcades and conservatory. It was raised about 40 feet above the level of the adjoining country, and faced with a wall, built with stones of an immense size.

The platform was approached by the grandest flight of steps in the world, each step being 22 feet long. Having scaled these, the stranger would pass through the first building, viz., the Propylaeum of Xerxes, a building whose remains have given rise to several theories as to its original plan and purpose.

There remain two grand gateways 24 feet apart, with portions, more or less perfect, between these, of four columns 45 feet high. The gateways had openings of 13 feet, and each of their piers was partly composed of bulls, admirably executed, and strikingly like the Assyrian sculptures at the Louvre from Khorsabad. The human heads of these animals are crowned with coronets of leaves, and from the top of the coronets to the hoofs, the animal measures 19 feet.

Nothing further has been discovered which would throw light on the general plan of the building, Mr. Fergusson believes that it was enclosed and roofed, and served as a justice hall, or place of assembly at the entrance of the palace. M. Flandin’s idea is, that the structure was a mere open portico proofed, but without walls, except perhaps for a few feet in height.

Through this structure was the entrance to the grand palace, the Chehil Minar, i.e., hall of 40 columns, an Eastern mode of expressing a great many, as there were really 72. It was approached by a magnificent staircase, each step of which served as a pedestal to a figure (1 ft. 9 in, high) in bas-relief, the whole representing a procession, and of great value as giving the varied costumes, &c., of the period.

The columns of the palace are arranged in four divisions, viz., one of 36 columns in the center, and three each of 12 columns in two rows, divided from the center by a space of about 60 feet. Of all these only 10 are standing, but the bases of most remain, and the whole ground is covered with the ruins of the columns that have fallen. Their height varied from 60 feet (including capital and base) in the front division, to 67 ft. 4 in. in the centre one.

In these columns there is an advance upon the architecture of Egypt, for they have bases, richly carved, and capitals of a form unknown to our art, before or since. The typical form is that of the double-headed bull with a deep cavity between the heads, evidently intended to hold a beam. There is a quaint grandeur about these columns, from their design and their gigantic size. The capitals of one division, the western, are 7 feet high, and 12 ft. 2 in. wide, whilst the shafts, 54 ft. 10 in. high, are each composed of only four great marble blocks.

Unfortunately we have only fragments of these buildings, with no history or tradition to guide us as to their perfect forms. There are no walls, no doorways, and no roofs. Mr. Fergusson in his restoration places walls between the several divisions, and thus forms them into one grand, enclosed structure, with a mass of columns in the centre, and three porticoes at the sides. He also believes that there was an upper story, to which, indeed, some Persian writers have alluded.

Sir R. K. Porter’s restoration, with that of Messrs Flandin, Coste, and Texier, is quite different. They believe that the four groups of columns were isolated and had no enclosing walls, but were simply screened by curtains; that the centre division had a flat roof with an opening in the center, protected by an awning, for light and ventilation; that the roof, cornices, and superstructure of all kinds, were of wood, as no fragment of a stone cornice, lintel, or tile has been found.

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