Naqsh-e Rustam: a lasting memory of a once powerful empire

Located approximately 5 kilometers to the northwest of Persepolis, the capital of the ancient Persian Empire, Naqsh-e Rustam (meaning Throne of Rustam) is an ancient necropolis for four Achaemenid rulers and their families from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. In addition to being a royal necropolis, Naqsh-e Rustam became a major center of sacrifice and celebration for the Sasanians between the third and seventh century CE.

The tombs belong to Achaemenid kings and are known locally as the ‘Persian crosses’, due to the façade of the tombs, which resembles a cross. The entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross, which opens onto to a small chamber, where the king lay in a sarcophagus. The horizontal beam of each of the tomb’s facades is believed to be a replica of the entrance of the palace at Persepolis.

The tombs are burial chambers carved into the side of the hill rock. 


It was considered a sacred mountain range in the Elamite periods. 


The tombs are locally known as the ‘Persian crosses’, after the shape of the facades of the tombs. 


They are all at a considerable height above the ground. 


The oldest of the tombs is attributed to Darius I, and the other three to his successors on the basis of indirect stylistic evidence. 

Carved side-by-side into the hill rock, the facades of the cruciform tombs resemble the living quarters of the palaces at Persepolis.

Although there are four tombs, only one of them, the oldest, can be positively identified as the tomb of Darius I the Great (c. 522-486 BC), the third ruler of the Achaemenid Empire. The facade contains inscribed text and the engraved panel that forms the top arm of the cross shaped façade contains an image of Darius standing in prayer before a fire altar.

Tomb of Darius I. 


Tomb of Darius I the Great, close view


From left to right, the tombs of Artaxerxes I and Darius the Great, with Sassanid-era bas-reliefs below. 



Tomb of Xerxes I‎.


Tomb of Xerxes I, detail.


Tomb of Xerxes I detail. 
The tombs of Darius I (left) and Artaxerxes I (middle).

Later, three similar royal rock tombs were added and they are believed to belong to Darius’ successors, Xerxes I (c. 486-465 BC), Artaxerxes I Makrocheir (c. 465-424 BC) and Darius II (c. 423-404 BC).
It is believed that all the tombs were looted and desecrated following the invasion of the Achaemenid empire by Alexander the Great during the 4th century BC.