It’s hard to talk about Kermanshah without bringing Taq-e Bostan to mind. This city is not only famous for its ancient sites but also for its traditional cuisines.
In this article from SURFIRAN, we plan a journey to Kermanshah to explore Taq-e Bostan.
Taq-e Bostan: A Sassanid Empire Legacy, Kermanshah
Located in the majestic Zagros mountains, just 5 km from Kermanshah’s bustling city center, lies Taq-e Bostan, a breathtaking example of Persian Sassanid art. This ancient site, surviving nearly 1,700 years of wind and rain, offers a glimpse into a bygone era of grandeur.
Originally, the site was graced by several natural springs, some of which are now hidden from view, while others continue to flow, feeding a large basin in front of the rock, adding to the site’s natural beauty. The reliefs and arches of Taq-e Bostan, carved into the mountain’s heart, stand as a testament to the artistic mastery of the Sassanian era.
In local dialect, Taq-e Bostan is known as “Taq Vasān,” located in the northeast of Kermanshah. Despite efforts, it’s not yet a World Heritage Site, but this doesn’t diminish its value and beauty.
Built in the 3rd century AD, Taq-e Bostan was chosen by Sassanid kings over the surroundings of Persepolis for their sculptures. Its geographical location on the Silk Road and its pristine environment were key factors in its selection. Taq-e Bostan is of great significance to historians and archaeologists, showcasing the artistry and skills of its era.
Visitors can see several Sassanid historical events and coronations depicted in its reliefs. Coronations of Ardeshir II, Shapur II, Shapur III, and Khosrow II, along with Pahlavi inscriptions, are highlights that have withstood centuries.
The site has undergone restoration and conservation. A narrow water channel separates visitors from the reliefs to prevent damage.
Its green spaces, a lake, and an underground spring add a unique charm, where you can watch ducks and geese in the pond.
What Does ‘Taq-e Bostan’ Mean?
In Kurdish, “Taq” means “arch,” “Vasān” means “stone.” So, “Taq Vasān” translates to “Stone Arch.” Historically, it’s also known as Shabdiz, Qasr-e Shirin, Taq-e Vastām, Taq-e Bistoon, Takht-e Bostan, and Taq-e Behistun, with “Taq Vasān” being the most relevant.
Exploring Different Parts of Taq-e Bostan
Famous as a hunting ground for Sassanid kings, Taq-e Bostan may also be considered one of the world’s first reliefs adhering to painting principles. Its unique and skillfully carved images breathe life into this extraordinary tableau.
Taq-e Bostan features two adjoining arches carved into the mountain, made of unpolished grey stone. Each part tells a story with its historical significance.
The Large Arch, depicting Khosrow II’s coronation, is the most significant part. This section has an ivan (porch) approximately 8 meters wide, 12 meters high, and 8 meters deep. It shows the king, flanked by the god Ahura Mazda and the goddess Anahita, symbolizing the coronation of Ardeshir II.
The Small Arch, situated between the Large Arch and Ardeshir II’s relief, narrates the coronations of Shapur II and III. It measures approximately 6 meters wide, 5.3 meters deep, and 5 meters high.
Reliefs and Inscriptions of Taq-e Bostan, Kermanshah
The Taq-e Bostan site features two carvings at the top of the arch and two inscriptions. These inscriptions, written in Pahlavi script, are translated as follows:
Shapur II inscription :
This is the figure of Mazda-worshipping Lord Shapur, the king of kings of Iran and Aniran, whose race is from the Gods. Son of Mazda-worshipping Lord Hormizd, the king of kings of Iran and Aniran, whose race is from the Gods, grandson of Lord Nersi, the Shahanshah (king of kings).
Shapur III inscription:
This is the figure of Mazda-worshipping Lord Shapur, the king of kings of Iran and Aniran, whose race is from the Gods. Son of Mazda-worshipping Lord Shapur, the king of kings of Iran and Aniran, whose race is from the Gods, grandson of Lord Hormizd, the king of kings.
The Relief of Ardeshir II’s Coronation
Beside the Small Arch, one can see the first relief of Taq-e Bostan in Kermanshah. To the right of the Small Arch, the relief depicts the coronation of Ardeshir II, the ninth Sassanid king.
In this scene, the Sassanid king stands at the center of the relief, holding a sword in his left hand and receiving a ribboned ring from Ahura Mazda with his right hand. Zoroaster or, as some interpret, Mithra, with a halo of light, is positioned to the left and behind the king.
At the bottom of the image, beside Ardeshir II’s feet, is a depiction of the captured Roman Emperor Julian. Ardeshir II is characterized by large eyes, prominent eyebrows, curly beard, and long hair, adorned with earrings, a necklace, and bracelets.
Behind the king stands the Amesha Spenta Vohuman, interpreted as a mediator between humans and Ahura Mazda. The book “History Studies of Iranians” by Hashem Razi describes Vohuman as having taken Zoroaster to the bright sky, a place of eternal and endless radiance, where Ahura Mazda existed as pure and unadulterated light.
The Relief of Deer Hunting
In a 4 by 6 meter frame depicting a deer hunting ground, mahouts can be seen in three rows leading the tamed deer, distinguished by ribbons around their necks, towards the hunting ground’s gate on the right.
The image of the king, with a sword at his waist and a bow around his neck, riding a horse, is carved here. Behind the king stands a woman holding an umbrella over his head.
Additionally, women are depicted in three rows; the first two standing and the third playing musical instruments. Those taming the deer are portrayed standing and playing the harp.
In the next section, the king is seen on horseback chasing the deer. Then, in the following relief, the king is depicted with a bow hung around his neck, indicating the end of the hunt. Several camel riders are also seen transporting the hunted deer.
The Relief of Boar Hunting
This historical bas-relief, depicting a boar hunt, spans approximately 6 meters in length and 4 meters in width. In the center of the scene, the king, on a boat with a bow and arrow in hand, shoots at two boars fleeing towards him. Inside the king’s boat, there are four others, including rowers at the front and back, a servant, and seemingly a harpist.
To the left of the frame, 12 elephants are carved, each with two riders. These elephant riders are engaged in driving the boars out of their hiding spots. Behind the king’s boat, another boat is depicted, where female musicians are playing.
The image of the king standing on the boat, holding his bow in his left hand, signifies the end of the hunt. In the final part of the scene, five elephant riders are gathering the hunted boars.
The Relief of an Armored Horse Rider
This prominent relief shows a figure, with a three-quarter face and a full-frontal body, seated on a strong horse. Although the identity of this rider is uncertain, the depiction symbolizes the majesty and power of the king and the Iranians. There are various stories about this warrior; some identify him as a combatant, while others believe the figure represents Khosrow Parviz seated on his famous and beloved horse, Shabdiz.
The rider wears a helmet covering his face, revealing only his eyes, with a crown also visible on it. He is dressed in a shirt adorned with images of birds and mythical creatures, and chainmail armor extends down to his knees. A decorated belt is also visible on his attire.
The rider has attached a quiver to his belt and holds a long spear, indicating his readiness for combat. He also holds a circular shield, used for defense. The horse is decorated with ornamental tassels.
The Relief of Mohammad Ali Mirza (Qajar Era Carving)
One of the most regrettable events for this valuable site was the carving of a bas-relief during the 19th century Qajar era by Mohammad Ali Mirza. This carving inflicted significant damage to this unique Iranian heritage.
These incongruent and valueless images depict Mohammad Ali Mirza, son of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar, and his sons, as well as Agha Ghani, the royal chamberlain, standing
before him. Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, in his travelogue, wrote about these images: “Above this page, Agha Ghani, the chamberlain of the late Mohammad Ali Mirza, who was from Talesh, Gilan, has carved the portrait of the late prince, sitting with his son Hashmat al-Dowleh and his younger son. Agha Ghani is also depicted standing in front of the prince in an unsightly manner. The way it is done is truly appalling and has defaced the arch, with the poorly carved figures being colored. Truly, it has spoiled the beauty of the arch.”
Taq-e Bostan Spring Site
Taq-e Bostan in Kermanshah, besides its ancient Sassanid relics, is also renowned for its millennia-old water springs. During the Sassanid era, these springs served as a source of drinking water and irrigation for agriculture.
Today, these springs still provide drinking water for the village of Taq-e Bostan and contribute to the area’s beautiful and lush nature. Upon visiting Taq-e Bostan, you’ll see a stream flowing in front of the site, where you can spot the small water springs. The water is so clear and cool that even in summer, its chill makes it hard to keep your hand submerged for long.
Taq-e Bostan Stone Museum
Located north of Taq-e Bostan Boulevard, the Stone Museum is another attraction in this complex. After visiting the Taq-e Bostan site, it’s worth taking a tour of this museum. It houses stone artifacts from the Sassanid and Islamic periods, including Sassanid capitals with depictions of Anahita, Ahura Mazda, and the Tree of Life, a bust attributed to Khosrow Parviz, and remnants of the Qajar era palace in Qasr-e Shirin.
The museum is aptly named the Stone Museum due to these stone artifacts. If you are interested in Iran’s ancient history and its artifacts, a visit to this museum is highly recommended.
Nature and Climate Around Taq-e Bostan
The climate of Taq-e Bostan, located in a mountainous area, is cool and pleasant. Especially in spring, the greenery of the region is a sight to behold. In autumn, the multicolored leaves add a special charm to the complex. Summers are not too hot, allowing you to sit near the lake and enjoy the gentle breeze. Winter, of course, has its charm, draping Taq-e Bostan in a white cloak.
If you visit this historical site, you might notice a large, ancient tree. This robust and massive tree is over six centuries old and is, in a way, Taq-e Bostan’s signature. Capturing memories with this tree is a delightful experience.