detail matters for archeological filmmaker Farzin Rezaeian,
whose new documentary was 2,500 years in the making. In
Persepolis Recreated, Rezaeian switches between real-life images
and computer simulations to create a complete interpretation of
ancient Persepolis, which was destroyed by Alexander the Great
in 450 B.C.
To present details like the palace’s carpets and the
columns’ ornamentations, Rezaeian used artifacts excavated
from the Persepolis site. With these artifacts, some of which
are held in the Oriental Institute, Rezaeian projected certain
designs and patterns that he then presented in the film. One
carpet pattern was created from scraps preserved in the ice of
“There is no single person in the whole wide world who knows
exactly what Persia looked like, but there are presumptions,
theories, and bits and pieces that we used. We had good contact
with many world-renowned specialists,” he said.
Dr. Matthew Stolper of the Oriental Institute was one of those
specialists. He played an important role in the film by
translating ancient clay tablets that had records of
transactions for workers on the site. His findings helped lead
to the conclusion that no slaves were used in the building of
Persepolis. Rezaeian also said that some women were paid twice
as much as men and even had supervising positions.
Farzin Rezaeian spoke with awe when describing the ancient city
of Persepolis. “It was governed in a very spectacular way,”
he said. The city was one of the four capitals of ancient
Persia. At its peak, the empire was governed by Darius the
Great, and stretched from present-day India to Egypt. It
encompassed 80 percent of the known world at the time.
“This kind of atmosphere is quite interesting—to see that 28
nations were under the rule of one man,” Rezaeian said. The
advanced empire even had “the first kind of Pony Express,”
he said, which ran 2,800 kilometers from central Iran to the
In 1992, Rezaeian began a project to chronicle Iranian
civilization from prehistory to the end of the 19th century in
seven documentaries. During his research, Rezaeian became
particularly interested in Persepolis. “It was so impressive
that we decided to start our work there,” he said.
The 40-minute film leads the viewer on a tour of the
buildings—much as a visitor two and a half thousand years ago
would have seen them. “Persepolis had more of a ceremonial
rather than a political connotation,” Rezaeian said, adding
that the city was only used a few times a year.
According to Rezaeian, Persepolis was coined “the richest city
under the sun,” and was an ostentatious spectacle constructed
to impress its guests.
The film will premiere at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday in
Breasted Hall of the Oriental Institute. Rezaeian chose to
premiere the documentary at the University because of the close
ties that the Oriental Institute has to the project. “Of the
70 scholars consulted for this project, five or six were from
the University of Chicago,” Rezaeian said.
Rezaeian’s next project is a documentary called, “Seven
Faces of a Civilization,” which examines periods of history
from 4000 B.C. to the end of the nineteenth century.
He gave no timeline for its completion.