Pasargadae is the capital city and the burial place of Cyrus the Great, the king who founded the Achaemenid Persian Empire, centered on Persia and comprising the Near East from the Aegean Sea eastward to the Indus River. He is also remembered in the Cyrus legend—first recorded by Xenophon, Greek soldier and author, in his Cyropaedia—as a tolerant and ideal monarch.
Cyrus the Great was not only a great conqueror and administrator; he held a place in the minds of the Persian people similar to that of Romulus and Remus in Rome.
It is a testimony to the capability of the founder of the Achaemenid empire that it continued to expand after his death and lasted for more than two centuries. But Cyrus was not only a great conqueror and administrator; he held a place in the minds of the Persian people similar to that of Romulus and Remus in Rome. His saga follows in many details the stories of hero and conquerors from elsewhere in the ancient world. The sentiments of esteem or even awe in which Persians held him were transmitted to the Greeks, and it was no accident that Xenophon chose Cyrus to be the model of a ruler for the lessons he wished to impart to his fellow Greeks.
The figure of Cyrus has survived throughout history as more than a great man who founded an empire. He became the epitome of the great qualities expected of a ruler in antiquity, and he assumed heroic features as a conqueror who was tolerant and magnanimous as well as brave and daring. His personality as seen by the Greeks influenced them and Alexander the Great, and, as the tradition was transmitted by the Romans, may be considered to influence the Western culture even now.
Cyrus seems to have had several capitals. One was the city of Ecbatana, modern Hamadan, former capital of the Medes, and another was a new capital of the empire, Pasargadae, in Persis, said to be on the site where Cyrus had won the battle against Astyages. The ruins today, though few, arouse admiration in the visitor. Cyrus also kept Babylon as a winter capital. The name of the city may have been derived from that of the chief Persian tribe, the Pasargadae.
The majestic simplicity of the architecture at Pasargadae reflects a sense of balance and beauty that was never equaled in either earlier or later Achaemenian times.
The majestic simplicity of the architecture at Pasargadae reflects a sense of balance and beauty that was never equaled in either earlier or later Achaemenian times. The principal buildings stand in magnificent isolation, often with a common orientation but scattered over a remarkably wide area. Although no single wall enclosed the whole site, a strong citadel commanded the northern approaches. The dominant feature of the citadel is a huge stone platform, projecting from a low, conical hill. Two unfinished stone staircases and a towering facade of rusticated masonry were evidently intended to form part of an elevated palace enclosure. An abrupt event, however, brought the work to a halt, and a formidable mud-brick structure was erected on the platform instead. It is possible that the building represents the famous treasury surrendered to Alexander the Great in 330 BC.
To the south of the citadel was an extensive walled park with elaborate, irrigated gardens surrounded by a series of royal buildings. These walled gardens were called ‘Pardīs’ in ancient Persian-- which still survives in English in the word ‘Paradise’.
Amongst these one building, designed as the sole entrance to the park, is notable for a unique four-winged, crowned figure that stands on a surviving doorjamb; the figure appears to represent an Achaemenian version of the four-winged genius (guardian spirit) found on palace doorways in Assyria.
At the extreme southern edge of the site, an impressive rock-cut road or canal indicates the course of the ancient highway that once linked Pasargadae with Persepolis.
Farther to the south, the tomb of Cyrus still stands almost intact. Constructed of huge, white limestone blocks, its gabled tomb chamber rests on a rectangular, stepped plinth, with six receding stages. In Islāmic times the tomb acquired new sanctity as the supposed resting place of the mother of King Solomon. At the extreme southern edge of the site, an impressive rock-cut road or canal indicates the course of the ancient highway that once linked Pasargadae with Persepolis.
After the accession of Darius I the Great (522 BC), Persepolis replaced Pasargadae as the dynastic home.