In 512 B.C., Darius the Great chose to build a massive and magnificent palace complex on this spot, one worthy of the vast and far-flung Persian Empire, which knew no rival in the ancient world. Darius demanded the highest level of artistic and architectural achievement, and excavated tablets recount how, over a period of sixty years, he had cedar brought from Lebanon and precious woods, stone, and gold imported from distant provinces to embellish the city, which became known as one of the wonders of the ancient world. In 330 B.C. it was captured by Alexander the Great and subsequently burned to the ground, though it’s unclear whether the fire was deliberate or accidental (Alexander was not in the habit of destroying the cities he conquered).
Persepolis sits on a plateau that rises 30 feet from the plain below, and even though the ruins today reflect but a shadow of its former glory, visitors to the approximately fifteen buildings that have been re-erected can imagine the grandeur of Darius’s dream. Many scholars believe that the emperor never lived in Persepolis but used it exclusively during new-year rituals in the spring, when delegations came from all over his empire to present precious gifts to their mighty ruler.