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Takht-e Soleyman

Takht-e Soleyman, (Persian: “Solomon’s Throne”) historically ShizSoqurloq, ancient city and Zoroastrian temple complex of Iran’s Sasanian dynasty, subsequently occupied by other groups, including the Mongol Il-Khanid dynasty. It is located in northwestern Iran in the southeastern highlands of Western Azerbaijan province, about 25 miles (40 km) northeast of Takab. Along with several adjacent sites, Takht-e Soleyman was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.

The site itself is the center of several groups of ruins of almost simultaneous occupation, each of which was in some way devoted to Zoroastrian worship. In addition to Takht-e Soleyman and adjacent relics, these include Zendan-e Soleyman (“Solomon’s Prison”) and Kuh-e Belqeys (“Mount Bilqis”; Bilqis was the name for the Queen of Sheba in the Islamic tradition).

The ruins at Takht-e Soleyman were established in a geologically anomalous location. The base of the temple complex sits on an oval mound roughly 1,150 by 1,800 feet (350 by 550 meters) that was formed by the outflow of a deep artesian spring, the waters of which collect in a large lake at the southern half of the hill and have heavy concentrations of dissolved calcium. The resultant limestone formation, created by the residue of the periodic inundation of the spring, rises to about 200 feet (60 meters) above the surrounding countryside. Since early times, residents of the area have created canals to channel the overflow as well as provide irrigation for surrounding fields, which, as a result, are especially fertile. The lake itself is roughly 260 by 400 feet (80 by 120 meters), and its overall depth averages about 230 feet (70 meters) but drops to about 400 feet (120 meters) at its deepest.

The area surrounding Takht-e Soleyman was probably first inhabited sometime in the 1st millennium BCE. Some construction on the mound itself dates from the early Achaemenian dynasty (559–330 BCE), and there are traces of settlement activity from the Parthian period. At some point during its occupation—probably sometime during the Sasanian dynasty—a thick wall of mud brick, interspersed with semicircular bastions, was constructed around the entire perimeter of the mound. Gates are located on the north, south, and southeast sections of the wall.

The site did not gain its great religious significance until the early Sasanian period when Takht-e Soleyman—then known as Shiz—was established as a Zoroastrian religious sanctuary (in all likelihood having replaced nearby Zendan-e Soleyman as an earlier center of cult activity) in the early to mid-5th century CE. From that time the fire altar Adur Gushnasp—one of the three great Zoroastrian fire altars—was moved from the Atropotene capital Gazaca (Ganzak; perhaps modern Tabriz, Iran). The large, multiroomed temple housing the altar is the central building of the Takht-e Soleyman temple complex, and it is located just inside the complex’s northern gate. Like the other buildings at Takht-e Soleyman, the fire temple was originally constructed of mud brick (although foundations were generally of rough stone), but large sections of the complex, including the fire temple itself, were rebuilt of stone and fired bricks in subsequent centuries. The fire temple is flanked on either side (east and west) by two other cultic