Articles | Cultural Heritage
The Citadel of the Original Royal Avesta in Persepolis

 Khoobchehr Keshavarzi

Translated by Roya Monajem

Source: Payvand Website

It is said both in the native and foreign sources that the original Avesta “written on 12,000 prepared cow-skins, and with gold ink,” was burnt together with other treasures and books when Alexander of Macedonia set Parsgarde (Persepolis) on fire. (1) In other sources, it is said that there were actually two copies, one kept in Shapigan treasury and the other in the “citadel of writings” dejnebeshteh (2) whose exact location had never been found, thus a mystery.

In this article based on the remaining architectural features of one of the buildings in Persepolis, known as Tachara Palace, we will first show that this building is not as believed to be Darius’ private palace, but most probably a Zoroastrian Temple (with a yazeshgah);and secondly, that mysterious “citadel of writings” dejnebeshteh, was most probably in the central room of this building.

This article is in fact a chapter of Keshavarzi’s book A New Approach to Pasargade, (Behjat, 2914) which won the prize of Iranian Society of Architects this year.


According to the existing texts, Tachara was the first building of the complex called Pars-garde (Persian City) (1),constructed on the skirts of the mountain of Mehr (Love)later changed to Rahmat (Mercy). Its entrance used to be from the south, which later was closed to some unknown reasons.

Now if we look at this majestic ruined edifice, which is said to be Darius’ private palace known as Tachara, and carefully examine its unique architectural features, we can notice a vital significant secret hidden from the eyes of the honorable scholars so far. These specific features are:

a)   The platform of this building is 2.20-3 m higher than the floor of its neigbouring palace of Apadana and its garden. The latter, which is the most distinguished part of the complex has 72 pillars, most probably inspired by 72 yasna-s of the Zoroastrian Holy book, Avesta, as some archaeologists speculate. According to Zoroastrian Tradition, it is only after learning the whole 72 yasnas that one reaches the required existential maturity to understand the Truth.

Despite that, Tachara overlooks the 72-pillared Apadana Palace, pointing to its higher significance in the language of architecture.

b)   In contrast to other buildings of the complex, all erected on pillars, this is the sole building made of monoliths, pointing to the fact that durability must have been the major concern of its architects.

c)    The sculpted figures on its base-reliefs are different from those of other buildings.

d)   It has only one entrance on the west side, which was originally on the south side as mentioned above.

e)   And the most challenging point is that there are some shelves in the main hall of this building decorated with engravings all around. According to Professor Shabazi, these shelves were protected by wooden doors.

f)    There is a stony water basin (sangaab) and a water channel on the north part of its staircase, which runs down to the south on the west side of the building.

g)   The inscriptions found in this building,like a birth certificate mention the five generations of kings who took part in its construction, annexations and subsequent repairs. They all sound very proud of their deed, asking God Ahuramazda to bless,protect and maintain their souls.

h)   Finally, in contrast to royal courts, this building is totally isolated without any security routes and pathways. It looks more like a quarantine place than a palace.

Nearly all native and foreign archaeologists and scholars, including Shapour Shahbazi reached the conclusion that this relatively small building of the Persepolis complex known as Tachara, located on western south of Apadana Palace to be Darius’s private palace. The conclusion has most probably been based on the assumption that in classifying the users of Persepolis into distinct separated classes, no doubt, the king and his Royal demeanor and ceremonies would be the first priority.

As a Royal private palace, it then would have required a kitchen and it is on this account that the sculpted figures on the base-reliefs of its staircase were interpreted as representing servants working in the Royal kitchen or carrying oblations and the sacrificed animals to the Royal Palace.

Now before dealing further with the unique architectural features of this building and for a better understanding of its most probable real function, I will first examine the inscriptions found in this building, which as mentioned before act like its birth certificate.


First comes the inscription engraved in three languages, Elamite, Ancient Persian and Babylonian on both sides of the southern threshold of the hall above the head of the king. It reads:

“Darius Shah, the great king, king of kings, king of countries, the son of Vishtaspe Achamenid, built this Tachara.”

In addition, on the lapis lazuli doorknob found in the same building there is an inscription reading “constructed by Darius.” (see fig.1) This means that Darius’ signature is found on even the relatively insignificant components of this building, pointing to its importance and Darius’prideof his accomplishment. This can also be another seemingly ‘logical’ reason for the assumption that it was his private palace.

Figure 1Source: A Doorknob made of precious stone, Ralph Norman Sharp, The inscriptions in old Persian cuneiform of the Achæmenian emperors

Cornelius de Brown who visited the building in 1904 has reported how he ruined the engravings of the two sides of the west pillar, while trying to remove a part of Daruis’s outfit to take home to Paris. The inscription on the stolen parts now preserved in the treasury of the National Library in Paris,again written in the three above languages reads:

“The Great King Darius, the Son of Vishtaspe Achaemenid.”

There is yet another inscription repeated 18 times on the cornices of its central hall, mentioned above. This too is in three languages and reads:

“The stony frame made for Darius’s vithiya” (see fig.2)


 Figure 2. Ralph Norman Sharp,The inscriptions in Old Persian cuneiform of the Achæmenian emperors

  The next inscription attributed to the next generation, i.e. Khashayar Shah (Xerses) reads:

 “… By the will of Ahuramazda, Daruis who was my father built this palace. May Ahuramazda and other gods protect what my father Darius and I have done.”

Figure 3. Ralph Norman Sharp,The inscriptions in Old Persian cuneiform of the Achæmenian emperors 

This inscription is repeated five times in Ancient Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian languages on the southern part of the platform and southern pillars of its balcony.

The inscription of Ardeshir III, in Ancient Persian is seen on the staircase built during his reign. It reads:

“Ahuramazda, the greatest of all gods who created this…, who made me king (Ardeshir), one of the unique kings among many, a unique ruler among many. I am Ardeshir, the great king, the king of kings, the king of countries, the king of this land. I am the son of Ardeshir Shah, Ardeshir Shah was the son of Daruis Shah, Daruis Shah was the son of Ardeshir Shah, Ardeshir Shah was the son of Khashayar Shah, Khashayar Shah was the son of Daruis Shah. Darius Shah was the son of Vishtaspe. Vishtaspe was the son of Arshameh, descended from Achaemenids. Ardeshir Shah says: I have built this stony staircase. May Ahuramazda and the divinity Mehr protect me and this country and whatever I have done.”

The names mentioned in this inscription shows that Ardeshir III, belonging to the fifth generation after Darius the Great was actually the king who repaired the staircase.

There is also another inscription in Sassanian Pahlavi language remaining from Shapur II in which after confessing that the king and all those who have participated in building Pasargade, worship Ahuramazda, it reads:

“… he held a great feast and performed the religious rituals… and then sacrificed an animal for the king of kings Shapur and his soul, and the one who first ordered to build this building.”

A Sassanian king, asking for salvation of the soul of the one who ordered to build this edifice belonging to the dynasty they overthrew! This is a very significant point implying its supreme importance, which should not be overlooked.

In these three inscriptions, three different words are used to designate the building ‘tachara,’ ‘hadish’ and “vi-th’, (‘vithiya’), all apparently having the same meaning as palace (kaakh), but in Persian this wordkhaakhalso implies house, citadel and a tall building, a superb edifice. Most probably as it will be seen later, the use of triple designations for the same edifice is to suggest that it had all the various functions these words imply.

Now considering the relatively large number of inscriptions found in this comparatively small building, remaining from five generations of kings, it is hard to believe the claim that it served as a private palace of only one king. Based on this and the following architectural features, my hypothesis is that this marvelous edifice was a yazeshgaah, a place where religious rites and ceremonies were performed, in short a temple. That can then very well explain the relatively high number of its inscriptions, and why all the kings sound so full of pride for participating in its construction and maintenance.

So, once again before going into more detailed analysis of its unique architecture, let us say a few words about the religious rituals and ceremonies whose performance requires certain objects and procedures which help us to discover who might be those sculpted figures on its base-reliefs interpreted so far as servants working in the royal kitchen.

Relevant Religious Rites and Rituals

 1)Rite of Yasna

Literally yasna means worship and prayer. It is also the name of the main liturgical texts (consisting of 72 chapters as mentioned before) and one of the five parts of Avesta. Rite of Yasna consists of reciting yasnas (yazshankhani or yazashana).

Yasna 22-26, are dedicated to the barsam (bareman, barsom, meaning sacred twigs), haoma (a sacred plant) and milk and their corresponding rites performed in veneration of Ahuramazda, sorosh (equivalent to Gabriel or inner voice), amshaspandan (archangels) and fravashi (souls or spirits) of the virtuous. It should be mentioned that barsam is an important part of Zoroastrian liturgical apparatus, prepared from twigs (number varying according to the ceremony) of the haoma plant or pomegranate tied up in bundles.

The ritual is carried out by 7 mobad-s (Zoroastrian priests), whose tasks are:

Zot, is the highest mobad who recites the Yasnas.

Ha’vanan, is the mobad who prepares haoma (scared juice) for the ceremony.

Atrfakhsh attends the fire.

Farabartaris responsible for handing various utensil to the highest priest or Zot.

Abret brings water for the ceremony.

Asnatar is responsible for washing and cleaning the plants and the utensils.

Raovishgar mixes the plants’ juice with milk (usually of goat).

Saroshavarz supervises the whole ceremony.

From the above description, it is clear that water, certain plants, milk and utensils required for grinding and mixing of these plants and extracting their juice are among the necessary means and procedures of the rite (s) performed. The plants need to be thoroughly washed and cleansed and the fresh milk is obtained by milking a goat just right before the rite, at the scene. Thus, making the presence of the stony water basin and water channel next to the building meaningful. The room on the left side then could be the place where the plants were washed and prepared, and those sculpted figures on the base-reliefs are disciples bringing what is necessary. There is one who is carrying (most probably) a goat.

It is not in vain to mention here that a very similar water channel is found in A’zargoshasb Fire temple too, even though A’tashkadeh (Fire Temple) is different from Yazeshgah (Place of Worship) in their functions. Yet, considering that A’zargoshasb was one of the most important fire-temples, then most probably it served as a yazeshgah as well.

The other requisite for all these preparation iservisgaah, a large square stony table on which the barsom is prepared and the juice of plants is extracted and mixed with milk, while the corresponding yasnas are recited. In Tachara there is a similar structure in the middle of the room on the west side (see fig.4)

 Figure 4, From “A collection of Traditional Iranian Architectural works” by Geographic Organization.

In this map, the architectural function is clearly seen in relation to the users.

In his book Iranians and Greeks, Plutarch writes: “A short while after the death of Darius II, his successor Ardeshir went to Parsrgade to perform the ritual ceremony of his enthronement performed by mobad-s. There in a place of worship named after the warring female divinity who can be the equivalent of the Roman Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, war and arts, the heir takes of his outfit and puts on what Darius had been wearing. He then eats a basket of figs, and other fruit with a glass of sour milk. In addition, there are other rituals which are hard to believe unless one sees them with one’s own eyes and hears them with one’s own ears.”

Doesn’t this quotation imply that there should have been a ‘temple’ for mobad-s (priests) to perform the enthronement ceremony?


a)Sculpted figures on the bas-reliefs of the southern staircase (fig.5),

Figure. 5 Note that they are alternatively wearing male (Median) and female (Persian) outfits, while both genders have covered their heads.

The figures appear in different outfits, but those repeated on the slope of the staircase, are alternatively wearing similar outfits;those wearing the Median coat and trousers are armed and bearded and those wearing Persian pleated dresses have soft feminine faces (see fig.6). They are women, and young boys, as has always been claimed. These figures are of the same stature as the men, thus implying that they are grown up and not adolescent boys who have not still grown beard. And when the faces are carefully scrutinized, little doubts remains about their femininity.

Figure 6, A girl carrying some utensils to the yazeshgah (From Heidemarie Koch Persepolis)

To call them eunuch is like looking at the world from the point of view of recent Sultans who cruelly made young boys sterile. There is no reference to such an inhuman act in any old Zoroastrian texts. On the contrary, looking after one’s health is an imperative in this culture. One of the names of Urmazd or Ahuramazda (the eighteenth according to Urmazd Yasht of Avesta) is ‘one bestowing health.’

Going back to the same stone-carvings, we can conclude that in contrary to the claim that there is no trace of women in Persepolis, these very figures are the testimony of its falsity. These men and women are all wearing a head covering which is actually a special long shawl wrapped in a specific way as to cover their mouths too. They are carrying mortars and chalices for grinding and extraction of herbal juices, mixing them with milk, zohr water, etc, together with a tray covered by a piece of cloth, most probably for carrying herbs and fruit used for the rite. The men, in addition to small tools, are carrying small goats, whose milk will be used for the rite. One can assume that those whose heads and mouths are covered and are not armed are the only ones who are allowed to enter yazeshgaah. (fig.5)

In addition, if we compare the protome of the Achaemenid Lady(fig.7a) with the two sculpted figures on the pillars with one of them carrying a long belt-like ribbon (known as belt of religion, or koshti in Zoroastrianism)in one hand(fig.7b) and a small flask in the other, we can notice the similarity of their hair-dressing, crown and facial anatomy, with the rather prominent curve of their breasts. They must be court ladies entering the building to attend the ceremony and maybe even taking part in it because, they are carrying, a brazier, a liquid container, small bowels and/or mortar. 

Figure 7a. The Protome of the Achaemenid Lady


 Figure 7b. Traditional Iranian Architecture, Geographical Organization

 Figure 7c. Notice the curve of her breast, in addition to her soft face

An additional proof for the claim that these figures are women and not young males,comes from a piece of fabric with figurative design showing women carrying barsam and koshti (belt of religion). Their free hands are held upward exactly like men when performing some religious rites. Therefore the most likely conclusion is that both men and women equally freely commuted to this place whose full probable functions will be discussed later.

Figure 7d. From the book Persepolis by Reza Qiasabadi

Finally, the last evidence for the falsity of the claim that these sculpted figures are kitchen servants is Xenophon’s repeated comments in his Anabasis (mainly dealing with Cyrus’ education): “Persians and Achaemenids did not care much about food and eating.”In addition, it is said in certain ancient texts that Persiansateonly once a day. So, how can people who did not care much about food and eating and were content with having one meal a day, would dedicate a whole staircase to kitchen servants?

b) Bas-reliefsof the Central Hall

There are four bas-reliefs in the central hall. Before analyzing what they signify, it is necessary to say a few words about the basic principles of Zoroastrianism.

Devils and their rivals symbolize Ahriman’s (evil spirit) in people and the task of the virtuous people is to follow the example of Amshaspandan to help the Bounteous Spirit and ultimately Ahuramazda in the struggle to subdue and restrain the Spirit of Destruction (Dorough, lies).

In yasna (chapter 31, paragraph 18) it is said:

“Therefore, you should not listen to the words and teaching of Dorvands (followers of dorouj= Lies (doruj) or devils) who bring about destruction and ruin and you should resist them with arms.”

This is what the four stone-carvings of the central hall of Tachara are in fact illustrating: the struggle of the king, hero, the Ideal Human, symbolizing the bounteous spirit of Amshaspand swith the Spirit of Evil, symbolized by complex demonic creatures. (Figures 8-11, notice the spear (the arm mentioned in the above quotation from Avesta) being pushed into the belly of the creature in all the four images). All the images are taken from A Collection of Traditional Iranian Architecture, printed at Iranian Geographical Organization, 1976.




 Figures. 8 and 9 Struggle with inner demons


Figures. 10 and 11Struggle with inner demons

In short, what the stone-carvings of this hall, which based on the remaining inscriptions, had been a very special place,more or less undoubtedly illustrate is the rite of evolutionary passage from the human to the divine stage.

Now we reach the peak of our analysis; the presence of shelves protected by wooden doors in the central hall, each decorated on top with a repeated inscription in the words of Darius, reminding their high importance to the users.

I would like to claim that this square shaped small hall, yet decorated with a comparatively large number of special bas-reliefs depicting the king (ideal human being), entering into the hall from the west-north part, or his exit from yazeshgaah, while holding the barasm, the scenes of his spiritual struggles with the inner demons and beasts, with a separate royal entrance door, an annexed yazeshgaah, with Persian soldiers guarding it from the front as well as the southern balcony, located in a solitary building (thus making it easily accessible to everyone), is most probably that very famous dejnapshank, with shelves made from monoliths, protected with wooden doors, decorated with inscriptions, repeated 18 times, where the Avesta written with gold ink on 12,000 cow skin was kept.

The claim is based on the following additional evidence:

We read in Pour-Davood’s Gathas:

“Tansar (Tosar), the well-known sage (hirbodanhirbod, highest priest) wrote in a letter written about the king Ardeshir Babakan, to the king of Tabarestan 1700 years ago: “You know Alexander burnt our Holy Book written on 12000 cow-skins in the city of Estakhr.” In addition, Pour-Davood writes:

 “Now, it is said in the book of Dinkerd, Zardosht Sepanteman gave 21 chapters of Avesta to Gashtasb and according to another tradition he handed it to Dara, the son of Dara. One of these copies was kept in the treasury in Shapigaan and the other in Dejnapshteh. Avesta had 1000 chapters in total. When the cursed Alexander burnt the Iranian Royal Palace, the Holy Book was burnt with it too. The Greeks took the other copy from Shapigaan and translated it into their own language.”

Pour Davood translated “dejnapshtak” as the ‘citadel of papers’ or the registry office (archive).

Now the most valid evidence is perhaps the inscription remaining from the next dynasty, i.e. Sassanian, making it as significant as those of the builders. According to this inscription, found in the same building, when the great Sassanians reached this place they felt obliged to perform certain religious rites, pray for their ancestors and offer sacrifices for those who built this building. This is particularly important when we remember that even though Sassanians were very religious, but as one can speculate, they could not care about the kings of another dynasty, the founders of this majestic Tachara. This inscription belongs to the third century, i.e. nearly 8 centuries after the construction of Persepolis. The remarkable durability of Tachara, the way it still inspired awe and religiosity leaves little doubt about its holiness and religious function.


As the guiding paradigms of ordinary people, the royal ritual demeanor of Achaemenid kings, the whole complex of Parsagade together with its bas-reliefs were designed and built in harmony with the way they approached human existence and the Universe. Considered as a stone book, its architectural plan and elements, its bas-reliefs and inscriptions are the phrases, manifesting the lofty sacred ideas and ideals expressed in the imperishable spirit of these forms.

 In order to reach a deep understanding of this splendid extraordinarily unique earthly palace of existence, one should walk along it, breathe in its majesty, encounter Time, see the signs, hear the voices, perceive the impression of the resonating echoes, endure the weight of awe and supremacy, envision merit and value, recognize depth, learn from light, try and savour pure reflection to the point of having a mirror-like quality, conceive imperatives and rites, discover the impasses of users, and finally take a distance from them all in order to lend wings to these contemplations to assume a three dimensional volume, turn and dance in and out of it, until reaching a point of standstill when the whole complex begins to vibrate with life, revealing its secrets.

The findings presenting themselves in this way would leave little doubt that Tachara was the Royal Zoroastrian palace of rites and ceremonies (yazeshgaah), and the mysterious citadel (dejnebeshteh)of the Original Royal Avesta written with gold ink on 12000 cow-skins with the essence of its content illustrated and preserved on its walls for all the generations to come.

Khoobchehr Keshavarzi, born into a Zoroastrian family, is an architect and researcher with many published articles. 


(1) In old Persian garde means city, so we have Pars (Persian)-garde which the Greek called it thus Persepolis. Due to some carelessness on the side of scholars and researchers, the Persian word for Persepolis is now written and pronounced as Pasargad.
(2 )For more information, see Khoobchehr Keshavarzi, A New Approach to Stone-reliefs of Persepolis, at Tavoos Online
Later Ms. Keshavarzi elaborated her visions in that article and wrote a book titled: A New Approach to Pasargade, (Behjat Publishing, 20014) which won the prize of Iranian Society of Architectures in 2015.
(3) The essentials of Zoroaster’s teaching in Gathas is the faith in the divinity of Ahuramazda, and the twin opposing spirits Spenta Mainyu, the Bounteous Spirit and Angarah Mainyu, the Spirit of Destruction. Ahuramazda’s seven Amshaspands(archangels) are guiding lights to salvation and happiness in the same way as they assure Ahuramazda’s presence (good spirit) in the soul of righteous people