ARTYFACTS: Ancient Persia - Birtish Museum

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ancient Persia - Birtish Museum

Huge Empire sqeezed into cloakroom
What a disappointment. Having read Tom Holland's Persian Fire and had a lifelong curiosity about this forgotten empire, I was shoved into an overcrowded, badly lit, poorly designed hellhole. The saving graces were some of the exhibits and the Persopolis reconstruction through animation.

Cyrus Cylinder
The original Bill of Rights, it's cuneiform script was deciphered in the middle of the 19th century, leading to an interest reflected in the great museums of Europe.

Persopilis is unlike any other ancient classical site and as our minds are full of classical ideas in architecture it struggles to make an impression. Jason Elliot describes this problem well in his Mirrors of the Unseen, about his travels in Iran. Alexander has been criticised for destoying it in 300 BC and using 10,000 mules and 5000 camels laden with the spoils. But he may have been wiser than we think - it had to be destroyed.

Built on a million square feet platform and surrounded by a high wall, it was a sort of sanctuary, with its hall of slender, fluted colums, 60 foot high with several ton capitals in the shape of a kneeling bull. Its friezes shpw tributes from the entire empire and it was built in materials from every corner of its lands. Its repetition and lack of naturalism and spontenaity had disappointed many but it must have been awe inspiring. It was the symbolic head of the empire. Alexander had to destroy it.

Shah and Persopolis
The Shah of Iran, staged a huge party here in 1975, sealing it off for a distance of 75 miles, arresting thousands , even holding the parents of dissidents as hostages. Thousands of tents were erected and leaders from across the globe came to indulge in lobster, quails' eggs, champagne sorbet, peackocks stuffed with fois gras and 20,000 bottles of wine flown in from Paris. At the same time there were food shortages in Shiraz. He was deposed shortly after and we're still living with the consequences. The Persian Empire lives on and is starting to reassert itself, as it always has.


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