The remains of an Iranian metropolis have revealed that, in 4000 years, 13 cities have sprung up on top of each other, and 15 different languages have been spoken.
The remains of an Iranian metropolis have revealed that, in 4000 years, 13 cities have sprung up on top of each other, and 15 different languages have been spoken. On the horizon of a parched plain of Khuzistan, in south-western Iran, stands the imposing bulk of Susa. In this place, buried under a series of mounds, lie the ruins of a great city of the past that controlled the important arteries directed from ancient Mesopotamia to the east, through the Zagros Mountains. The Persian tradition states that Susa was the first city in the world and was built by the legendary king Hushang; he was the one who discovered how to obtain fire from iron and silica. Undoubtedly Susa is very old. Urban life flourished there at the beginning of the fourth millennium BC, when local craftsmen made some of the world's most elegant vases, thin cups decorated with stylized birds and hunting dogs.
The Thousand Years War
Around 2500 a.C. Susa became the capital of the kingdom of the Elamites, a dynamic but enigmatic people culturally related to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. For a thousand years the Elam was at loggerheads with the city-states of Mesopotamia. But in 2350 B.C. around Susa became part of the first major empire of the world, when it was conquered by Sargon the Great of Accad. When the reign of Sargon fell, the Elamites returned to prosper. Around 2100 B.C. they embellished the capital with a sacred enclosure that enclosed the temple and the ziggurat of Inshushinak, 'Lord of Susa', god of storms and patron of the city, whose emblem was the zebu, a bull endowed with a showy hump. But in the city-states of Mesopotamia the balance of forces continued to change. The Babylonians seized Susa around 1000 BC, stifling their aims of power. The Assyrians broke into Islam around 645 BC, in the wake of the victorious Assurbanipal, who burned the city by shaving it to the ground and transporting the kings of Elam in chains to pull his chariots in the streets of Nineveh. The mounds of the ancient capital were rediscovered in 1850 and identified as the Susa of classical times by the British archaeologist William Loftus. There are four parts brought to light: the Acropolis, the Apadana, the Royal City and the City of Craftsmen. The first of the 13 settlements arose on the Acropolis, where the foundations of a temple dating back to the fourth millennium have been found. At this point the main Elamite royal buildings stood out, including the temple and the ziggurat of Inshushinak, surmounted by the 'Bronze Horns' raided by Assurbanipal. The Susa of the Elamites today has almost disappeared. An idea of how it looked at the moment of maximum splendor is given to us, 32 km to the southeast. From the royal city of Dur Untashi, now known as Choga Zanbil, built around 1250 BC by King Untash-Gal and baptized by his own name. It was one of the most ambitious complexes in the ancient world. Inside the huge ramparts and stone walls rose the temples of the many elamites and, above all, towered a great ziggurat dedicated to Inshushinak.
The waters of the Choaspes
Despite the city's fire at the hands of Assurbanipal, Susa returned to bloom again. Cyrus the Great (died in 530 BC), who reigned from the Aegean to the river Oxus, made it the capital of the Persian Empire. He chose Susa because it stood exactly in the center of its territory, and perhaps also because it was located along the river Kharka, famous for the purity of its waters. The Greek historian Herodotus reports that, when Cyrus left for an expedition, he never failed to bring with him the water of the Choaspes [Kharka] ... 'to drink it, not wanting any other. The water of the Choaspes is boiled, and a large number of mule-drawn four-wheeled carts carry it in silver vessels, following the king wherever he goes. Often they were trips to distant lands. The dynamism of Cyrus and the Achaemenid dynasty he founded was prodigious. The sovereign and his entourage spent the winter in Susa, the spring 800 km away, in the ceremonial capital of Persepolis, and the summer at 1280 km from Persepolis, on the cool mountains of Ecbatana. From Ecbatana to Susa there were another 480 km to go. They traveled in the heat of summer and the cold of winter, crossing lands among the most inhospitable in the world, loaded with all the complex machinery of the court - including the pure waters of the Choaspes. Naturally the Achaemenids were great road builders. The Royal Road, which connected Susa to Sardis, in Asia Minor, stretched for more than 2563 km, with as many as 111 post stations for changing horses. It was patrolled by military detachments and a team of couriers who gave the change assured a rapid postal service to use the monarch, in case of need the path could be accomplished in a week.
The great palace of King Darius
In 517 B.C. the second successor of Cyrus the Great, Darius I, began the construction of a glorious palace on the mound of Apadana, recording the event on a clay tablet: 'I built this palace ... And the ground that was dug ... and the bricks that were fabricated - it was the people of Babylon who performed the work. The wood called cedar was brought from a mountain called Lebanon. The Assyrian population carried it to Babylon and the population of Karkha [in Anatolia] and Ionia [Greece] transported it from Babylon to the land of the inhabitants of Susa. Men and materials came from every part of the empire and from farther away. Caravans of gold arrived - together with the Medes and the Egyptians who worked it - of ivory, silver, ebony, lapis lazuli and turquoise.
It is therefore not surprising that in the Susa Bible it was simply called 'Shushan the Palace'. It was here that the romantic story of Esther took place, and in the book of Esther the luxury of the ancient city is described in vivid colors. As the Persian Empire expanded to include parts of Greece, the fame of Susa reached the Greeks and the Jews. After Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius III, in 331 BC, he marched to Susa, where he discovered fabulous riches. At the end of seven years of conquests that brought him to India, beyond the Indus River, he resumed his way back and in Susa announced his plan to merge Greece and Persia into one great empire. He himself began the grandiose design by marrying Darius' daughter, Stateira, and celebrating a mass marriage of 10,000 Greeks with as many Persian women. After the death of Alexander, in 323 a.C., Susa declined to provincial capital. Later it became the seat of a Christian episcopate and the Sassanid king Shahpur II, a fervent follower of Zoroastrianism, abandoned it to the devastating work of hundreds of elephants left free. The Mongols vibrated the final blow in the thirteenth century. Since then, Susa is a dead city, exposed to the violence of the wind that through the centuries has transformed it into one of the many mounds of the Middle East.

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