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Sleeping Parthian City to Awaken


16 July 2004



Iranian archaeologists are seeking for public funding to explore the ruins of a vast urban citadel, left from the Parthian dynasty (247 B.C.-226 A.D.), in Khorasan Province, east of Iran.

“The Nahbandan citadel, like that of Bam, is made of mud-brick, thus vulnerable to natural elements such as rain and gusts. Some parts of the fort have already been ruined, making the buttressing of it more urgent,” said Majid Karimzadeh, head of the Cultural Heritage Organization in Birjand, in the eastern province.

Archaeologists have so far managed to buttress half of the citadel, but they need 30,000 euros to go ahead with the project. They also hope to unearth more artifacts in this ancient city of 17 thousands square meters.

Experts believe they fort used to have several gates, but now just its eastern one has survived. It was built during the Parthian empire and was inhabited until the Safavid era (1500-1722).

The Parthian Empire is a fascinating period of Iranian history. The Parthians defeated Alexander's successors, the Seleucids, liberated most of the Iranian world, and regain the control over the Silk Road and built Parthia into a world superpower. The Iranian under the Parthian dynasty revived the greatness of the Achaemenid Empire and counterbalanced Rome's hegemony in the West. Parthia at one time occupied areas now in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Southern Persian Gulf region.

Parthian architecture was characterized by the use of sun-dried or kiln-baked bricks, with vaults to roof the buildings. The Parthians developed the iwan, an open-fronted vaulted hall. They are often covered with carved stucco reliefs, some of the finest examples of which are found at Uruk and Ashur. The palace at Ashur has the earliest example of four iwans opening onto a central square. This form of architecture supplanted Hellenistic styles in Iraq and Iran, and was adopted by the Sasanids and continued to set the model for architecture in the early Islamic period.

An architectural form known as Ogee to Europeans and zigzag molding to Iranian architects is of Parthian origin. Parthian architects constructed palace walls with cut stones. They also used stucco to render the walls. The themes of their stuccos were geometrical lines and floral designs. In stone carving, a popular theme was equestrian statues in relief.


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