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At a site some 4,000 feet high in the mountains, one of the most famous sites in Near Eastern archaeology has been attracting passersby since time immemorial. It was here that Sir Henry Rawlinson copied the trilingual inscriptions of Darius I, carved in 522 B.C. in Old Persian, Elamite and Acadian, an important step in the eventual decipherment of cuneiform in the mid-19th century. The Bisetoon relief above the inscription depicts Darius facing the nine rebel kings, whom the Achaemenid ruler suppressed when he came to power. At the foot of the hill there are three Parthian relieves, believed to be the oldest Parthian relieves, badly damaged by the ravages of time and a land endowment carved by Sheikh Ali Khane Zangane, the premier of Safavide king Shah Soleiman.



Summary: On the basis of artistic and historical studies and researches, as well as investigations of nature and environment, Bisetoon enclosure forms a collection with certain criteria and is under the management of and is protected by the State Cultural Heritage Organization and other relevant institutions.

Bisetoon area enjoys special natural conditions such as the chain of Zagros Mountains, Gamasiav and Dinvarav rivers, as well as special historical conditions such as proximity to the express roads, and all east-west roads and being a "road junction", and historical monuments such as Achamenides and Parthian manuscripts (about 12 inscriptions) up to Zand dynasty period, and other architectural elements which have come into being in connection with water (stream). For example Sassani palaces, Safavide Caravansaries (an inn or motel where travelers lodge), historical bridges, Naderi hill and castle, remnants of historical passages and unique views. The combination of above historical and natural features has established a special unit.


Behestan mountain, 2794 meters high above the sea level, is situated at the right hand side of Hamedan-Kermanshah road. This mountain has been called variously during different periods such as Baghestan, Bagestan, Behestoon, Behistoon and Bisetoon. It is called Bisetoon today.

Bisetoon is situated at the side of main roads and at the junction of west roads. There are plenty of mirages in this region of Zagros slopes which, during different periods, have caused caravans and travelers to stay for the night.

In his book entitled "Masalek-ul-Mamalak" (Problems of Countries) edited during 318-322 lunar hijira period, Estakhri writes: Bisetoon mountain is lofty and insurmountable and difficult; its top looks as though it has been cut and sculptured into the form of several men; it is said that there was a king who wanted to build a village and a castle on the mountain in order to make his antiquity and kingdom known to all. On the top of the mountain and at the side of the road there is a cave from which a spring comes forth. A form of a horse has been inscribed. No horse can ever be more handsome than that. It is said that it is the form of Shabdiz, Kasra's horse. The form of Kasra has been inscribed and sculptured on its back. There is no mountain like it in that neighborhood.

In his book called "Mo'jam-ul-Boldan" written in 623 lunar hijira year, Yaghoot Hamavi writes: Bisetoon is a hamlet between Hamedan and Halvan. There is a distance of four "manzel" (a halting place or a day's journey between it and Hamedan); also there is a distance of eight "farsang" (one farsang is 6 kilometers) between it and Ghormisin. Bisetoon mountain is very high and lofty so much so that it is impossible to climb to the top of it. The ulterior part is smooth and well-like from top to bottom. On the back of the mountain and close to the road, there is a cave in which a spring is flowing, and a form of a horse which has been sculptured in the best possible way, and it is thought that it is the form of Kasra's horse known as Shabdiz. Kasra is riding on it.

In his travel diary William Jackson gives the following account about Bisetoon:

The first European who has drawn other people's attention to Bisetoon is, presumably a French explorer by the name of Uteh in 1736. 60 years later Olivier, the French explorer and naturalist, visited Bisetoon and described it in his book entitled "Travels to Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Iran." Juber, the French orientalist and statesman, who was sent on a mission by Napoleon to Fathali Shah Qajar court, visited Bisetoon inscriptions in 1806.

The first scientific researches about the designs and inscriptions of Bisetoon were carried out and completed by Henry Rowlinson, a young British officer, in 1835. He was employed as an advisor in the Iranian army. Taking a great deal of care and trouble, Rowlinson climbed Bisetoon several times during 1835-37 period, copied the ancient Persian text on the first column, completed its reading and prepared it for publication. In 1844 he prepared the manuscript of the remaining ancient Persian text and copied the Ilamite (Ilami) translation. In 1904 a mission on behalf of and representing the British Museum copied nine lines of it, and in 1948, Professor George Cameron copied the Bisetoon inscriptions. In fact his researches are the most recent and the most complete studies in this connection.

In 1963, translation of Bisetoon inscriptions were inserted in the books of most of the orientalists including Rowlinson, Bartolomei, Lisbakh, Tholman, Hersfield, Thompson and George Cameron. Although all the above persons played a part in reading and introducing the inscription, it was Groetenfeld who discovered the mysteries of cuneiform manuscript and presented the same to the Academy of Sciences of Goetingen, and founded the science of discovery of cuneiform. These are embossed designs of Darius and certain inscriptions on the rocks of Bisetoon and at an elevation of 100 meters. Darius, the Great, ascended the throne in 522 BC after a series of wars and clashes, and ordered that an account concerning suppression of rebellions, his parentage and ancestry, statesmanship and the feats he had accomplished by the grace of Ahuramazda, be inscribed on the stone.

In these embossed designs and the texts of inscriptions, a kind of newsreel, advertisements, posters, reports, political cartoons, cinema drama, play and propagation are combined with a kind of historical anecdotes. Its tendency towards images imparts pleasure about story telling and shows attachment for factual and documentary report and, in addition to that, a childish and rudimentary fondness for images. This is a visual, epic, dramatic and narrative piece of work whereas the arts of ancient Greece involve only work with ceremonial features and reports of facts lacking time element and with individual aspects. More advanced than the two above from the point of view of style, is the Triano column in Rome in 113 AD, where use is made of the language of pictures and images, which is stronger that a verbal account, and a pictorial film-like description is presented. The emperor has inscribed accurately the story of his conquests and other events on stone.

Darius' writing on stone and inscriptions, in three ancient Persian, Ilamite and Babylon languages, illustrate the writing style and the spoken language of the time, and use is made of pictorial language in one way and writing in the other way. With its dual artistic and cultural value, it serves as a means for recognition of history and the styles of expressing it. The style of writing on stone indicates the influence of Assyrian, Babylon and Ilamite Petrography. In these inscriptions Darius explains briefly how he acquired kingdom by grace of Ahuramazda and due to his own bravery, and gives an account of his victories. It is said in paragraph 9: King Darius says that Ahuramazda gave him kingdom, Ahuramazda granted the reign, Ahuramazda helped him to acquire and conquer the kingdom. He keeps and retains the kingdom by grace of Ahuramazda.

It is said in paragraph 15 that King Darius says: "You who will see the inscriptions that I have written or these figures, beware do not destroy them, preserve them as long as you are capable of doing so."

In addition to the three big inscriptions written in three ancient Parsee (Persian), Ilamite and Babylon languages, which were prevalent at that time, eleven others which are known as small inscriptions, are etched and inscribed on the rocks of Bisetoon.

1 - Bisetoon mountain is situated at six farsangs (36 kilometers) from the city of Kermanshah along Kermanshah-Hamedan road (the old caravan road that connected west to east that is Mesopotamia and Egypt to Balkh and India).

2 - The Bisetoon petrography is the biggest work of stone inscriptions etched on vertical and inaccessible rocks at a height of hundred meters from road. The inscriptions are carried out and established in a corner of rocky mountain, immune and sheltered from the dominant winds but easily and directly visible particularly from the path characterized by Sassani bridge. Its height is considerable and the access to it from the top and bottom of the mountain is very difficult, so it did not lend itself to man's raid in the course of time (suitable spacing due to immunity to natural and human accidents and panorama) and natural platform at the mountain foot has made it easy to stop and inspect it. From these platforms it is possible to see the mountain, inscription, water head and its vegetation. This spacing was not an accidental choice, but it has been chosen with an accurate measurement of man made panorama on the one hand, and also to put the natural view within the field of vision on the other. The historical succession in human undertakings in post Achaemenian periods continues in the lower parts of the inscriptions. That is because this site enjoys a special and unique feature, and a turning point in the whole area.



Attention to natural resources, views, road signs, and defensibility all testify to the choice for the better. In support of this reality one could mention the natural succession of architectural monuments from Achaemenides period to the Parthian, Sassanides, Ilkhani, Safavides and Zandi periods in this site.

This historical experience shows a kind of affinity and reconciliation with nature and the use of its resources to meet human needs; including the establishment of Sassani Palace and Safavide caravansary at the side of Bisetoon stream, the flow of water inside the Sassani palace, its passage at the side of caravansary and its distribution all over Bisetoon, the construction of dam on the bank of Gamasiav river and, during the Sassani period, the suitability of the river for animal life, and a site which was probably the hunting ground of Khosrow Parviz. All these point to the unparalleled Iranian genius for location of dam and exploiting it as a natural ground for animal life.

The existing stone inscriptions in Taghe Bostan of Kermanshah clearly show the fact of the central of nature and the reinforcement of wild life, as reflected in images. Taking account of the location of the hunting ground its site is justified from the point of view of a scene in addition to its use as a bridge. Furthermore, it is shown on the basis of investigations that it is technically the most suitable site for location of the bridge.

Water Head of Bisetoon: There is no doubt that one of the fundamental reasons for selection of the enclosure as a turning point is the existence of water head, water flow and Zagros mountain chain.

Being affected by the stream originating from the water head, the Sassanide palace and the Safavide caravansary and the old royal road took shape. The distribution of the water of the famous Sohrab river in Bisetoon plain has created a vegetation covering, which enhances attractiveness of the historical enclosure. This natural protection and attention, is proper for a sight that is deemed to need exceptional protection. On the other hand the fact that Gamasia and Dinvarav rivers join each other at the geographical location of Bisetoon, as well as the winding bed of the frontier river doubles the sense of responsibility for its protection and control, particularly in view of the fact that within the area formed by Zagros and the river, some historical monuments are found such as the vestiges of Sassani dam (buried), Ilkhani edifice (buried), Sassani palace and other monuments.

The figure referred to as the statue of Hercules has an inscription which Mr. Ali Hakami has copied and read as follows: "These ceremonies were held in the year 164 of "Panemooye" of Hercules, the brilliant conqueror, by Hiakintus, the son of Pantiakhas on account of the rescue of the commander general."

The date of construction of the statue is said to be 164 which, if compared with the origin of Seluki calendar i.e. 312 BC, we shall arrive at 148 BC. As the Greek year was a lunar one, and the difference between lunar year and a solar year being about 5 years, so the construction date of the statue is fixed as 153 BC. This year coincides with the middle of the reign of Mehrdad, the First (Sixth Ashk). In the above inscription someone called "Kolaman" is mentioned, who is thought to have taken part in the wars against Mehrdad I, and to have been able to extricate himself from the troubles of war. So to mark the occasion of his rescue, by his order and through the agency of Hiakintus who had a position in that region, the statue was built at the foot of Bisetoon mountain.

Under the Achaemenide inscription, there is the design of Mitridat the Second, the Ashkani king which was etched in 100 BC. It seems that the Ashkani king, through selecting this site has sought to introduce himself as the descendant of Achaemenides. One of Chardin's companions has drawn a design of it, which seems to be a good document for graphic reconstruction of the design.

The wall cut by Farhad

Professor Hushay believes that the sculpture does not belong to Achaemenide period, but that it was cut on Bisetoon mountain about thousand years after Darius by the order of Second Khosrow, the Sassani king. The local people ascribe the above sculpture to Farhad, the mountain cutter, and believe that Farhad, being deeply in love with Shirin, the Christian wife of Khosrow Parviz accomplished this arduous feat. Farhad's love story has been a source of inspiration for poets of the region, for example the romantic poems of Khosrow and Shirin by Nezami Ganjavi. Nezami's poems have eternalized Farhad's victory and his tragic end. It is so alive that the reader still hears and feels the sound of Farhad's ax on the mountain. It has also been the source of inspiration of Iranian miniaturists.

Khosrow Bridge

There are foundations of a great bridge, known as Khosrow Bridge along the old road connecting Bisetoon to Takhte Shirin and Sermaj. If we take the route taken by warriors of Islam for the battle of Nahavand, which took place in 21 lunar hijira year, to be the same as the route followed by Muslim explorers and tourists, that is Baghdad-Kermanshah-Bisetoon road, then Khosrow bridge would be the only bridge which Arabs crossed to go to Takhte Shirin and Sermaj and Nahavand where they defeated Yazdagerd the Third, the latest Sassani king.

Choice of the site of the bridge is worthy of consideration from several points of view

(a) From technical point of view as the location for its construction.

(b) From scenic point of view in connection with petrography, Darius' inscriptions and the dam.

This bridge was situated along a road the vestiges of which are still visible on both sides of the bridge for a distance of several kilometers. This road is seven meters wide paved by rubble stones. This road starts from the last of Khosrow bridge and goes first to Takhte Shirin and thence to Sarmaj.

Sassani Palace

The excavations carried out in the Sassani palace have revealed that this construction was a Sassani building at first, which was destroyed in the course of time. During the third and the fourth centuries of lunar hijira year and on its solid walls and using its building materials the present structure, presumably a castle, was built. During the Mogul Ilkhans, some changes were made in it and was converted into caravansary. There are remnants of two structures in the middle, and a prayer niche is visible in one of them.

Safavide Bridge

This bridge is situated along a road which was built from Qazvin to Hamedan and Kermanshah during Safavide period and which was connected to Baghdad. This road went from Qazvin to Hamedan, to Assadabad, Kangavar, Sahneh, Bisetoon and Kermanshah. Its big brick bridge known as the old bridge, still exists. The road went from Kermanshah to Mahidasht, and after passing through the brick bridge, went to Shahabad Gharb and Sarmil, thence to Sarpol Zahab (Shah Abbas road still remains on the slopes of the mountain), and then to Qasre Shirin and Khaneqain.

Safavide Caravansary

Along the old Hamedan-Kermanshah road, there is an ancient caravansary which was constructed by the order of the Shah Abbas Safavide 996-1038 lunar hijira year. In view of the inscriptions remained from Shah Soleiman Safavide 1105-1077, it seems that the construction of the caravansary was carried out during the reign of Shah Soleiman and chancellorship of Sheikh Ali Khan Zanganeh. Although the caravansary enjoys an extraordinary plan and spacing, it has been subjected to inappropriate use (detention place of addicts) and unsuitable changes, and as a result of inharmonious additions and severe humidity, it has been damaged greatly. It would be a good idea to use it properly and be overhauled considerably.


Asar: Scientific, Technical & Artistic of the State Cultural Heritage
Organization (Quarterly)
Autumn 1997, No. 18
By: Asghar Mohammad Moradi and Ats-sa Amir Kabirian
Pages: 72-96
Word Count: 3052