Mahtab Chahartaqi * – It might seem crazy to miss your younger sister who lives in the country’s hottest region exactly in the hottest summer days of the year. But we did it!
We had only three days off and the distance was too far. However, we decided to travel by bus from Tehran to Ahvaz and that’s how our family of four got in the 8:30 am bus with four tickets in hands and two backpacks. We arrived 20 something hours later at Susa (current Shush), a city located in 110 km north of Ahvaz.
It was not our first trip to Khuzestan, however it was the first time we were traveling there with kids. The bus trip would be really tiresome, but I thought it’s better for them to come with us this time, so that they will start to learn about their country’s history and get to know their origins.
For the same reason, we planned to start from Susa. Susa is possibly the oldest city in Iran, one of the first cities founded on the face of the earth with a civilisation dating back to 6000 years ago.
Our first stop was the tomb of Prophet Daniel. We changed our clothes after the long bus trip and had a brief breakfast at the Shavor river. The nice morning breeze which was blowing from the river helped us to unwind.
Daniel is one of the biblical prophets who lived around 7 BC in Babylon and later moved to Iran. Today the Tomb of Daniel in Susa is a popular attraction among local Muslims and Iran’s Jewish community alike. The shrine which was built during Qajar era, adheres to the traditional architecture styles found in Khuzestan. The beautiful and white dome of the tomb is hexagonal in the shape of Iranian sugar cone.
We then went directly to the site of ancient Susa located in a wide area in front of the tomb of Daniel and consists of Apadana palace, Acropolis castle, ancient hills, museum, the remaining of the Royal Road and so on. When people talk about history of Iran, they often remember the Persepolis at first glance, but they barely know about the ancient civilization in Susa which now lies in between the grass and sand, lonely and forgotten.
The ruins are remaining of a glamorous palace constructed by Darius I of the Achaemenid empire and was connected to Persepolis and other important cities in the ancient world through the Royal Road. Alexander the Macedonian looted the palace and until the 19th century it was buried under the ground.
From the 19th century throughout the first and second World War the French archaeologists came to the area and took with themselves as many precious antiques as they could, even the huge stone statues and columns. They decorated Louvre museum with the historical and national belongings of Iranians, left behind the medieval style castle on the Acropolis hill and on the layers of Elamite, Achaemenid, Parthian, Sassanian and Islamic civilizations.
After visiting the area outside the castle, as the castle was not open to public, we headed to the Susa museum and visited the precious Apadana antiques, the most beautiful of which were the ceramic pieces with designs of rampant griffins with in-curving wings and flowers. It was not allowed to take photos inside the museum though.
In the yard, there is also an open air museum where the thousands-years-old statues are protected in display glass cases, one of which are the 3400-years-old Statue of Queen Napir-Asu and handle of a coffin, Parthian age.
By exploring the Archaeological museum, my sister, her husband and my mother joined us from Ahvaz and together with them we continued our journey to Chogha Zanbil located in 30 km west of Susa.
First time I heard of Chogha Zanbil was in the descriptions of the statues in Tehran’s National Museum of Iran. I was so curious to know what kind of place the Chogha Zanbil really is with such a long history. When the concentric walls of Chogha Zanbil appeared from far, I screamed with excitement.
Choga Zanbil means basket hill. The clay Elamite complex was built by King Untash around 3200 years ago to honor two great gods of Elam, Inshushinak and Nepirisha. Even though it’s written on a clay board that whoever destroys the temple will be cursed by gods, Assyrian king Ashurbanipal destroyed the temple and this huge complex was buried together with its ancient gods since then until less than a hundred years ago when it was rediscovered and reconstructed.
Walking in the footsteps of ancient Elamites, I couldn’t help but think of the ambitious kings and the people who were ordered to build such amazing structures and create such astonishing art. Chogha Zanbil is the finest example of Elamite architecture. The stone handles and door knockers are reminders of a glorious past and like every other ancient site in open air museum of Susa, every brick of walls left me breathless in wonder.