Restrictions and limitations awaken creativity, at least this applied to long ago, when limitations, in contrary to its meaning, resulted in creating masterpieces of art and architecture. Perhaps it would also indicate the importance of inscribing their visual footprints, for generations yet to come.

Vestiges of Sassanid ancient city of Bishapur, is one of the examples of such footprints.

In this article we’re going to Fars province, in order to briefly familiarize you with this ancient city and prepare you for your next trip to Iran.




Ancient city of Bishapur (Middle Persian: Bay-Šāpūr), was a Sassanid city on the south of modern Faliyan in Kazerun county, Fars province. This city was located on the road between Persis and Elam and this road connected the Sassanid capitals Istakhr (which was very close to Persepolis) and Ctesiphon.

Bishapur as one of the oldest cities with its foundation date mentioned on rock reliefs, was built near a river crossing and at the same site with a fort rock cut reservoirs and a river valley with six Sassanid reliefs.

The most prominent characteristic of this city is its architecture, which is a combination of Persian and Roman design, and it hadn’t been seen before the construction of Bishapur. The distinctive characteristic between Persian and Roman architecture, was the shape of the cities. Persian cities like the old city of Firuzabad (Darab) usually had a circular shape with vertical and horizontal streets, while Roman cities, as told by the specialists, has “Hippodamian street plan”.

Bishapur was registered as one of Iran’s National Monuments in 1931.





Bishapur is a derivative of Bay-Šāpūr; which means “Lord Shapur”, so as the name indicates this city was founded by King Shapur I, 2nd Sassanid king. Bishapur was built by Roman soldiers who had been captured after the defeat of Valerian, the Roman Emperor, in year 260. King Shapur had already triumphed Romans three times, killed Gordian III and captured Valerian, and he also got Phillip the Arab to surrender. Following his victory over Valerian, he decided to fulfil his ambitions and build a new capital in his Native province, which could somehow measure up to his standards.

As interpreted from the remains found at this archaeological site, this city was not exactly a new settlement, as archaeologists have found evidences of Elamite and Parthian inhabitancy in ancient city of Bishapur.

Bishapur kept its importance until Arab invasion and rise of Islam in 2nd quarter of 7th century. It became a centre of Islamic learning and although the decline started from 7th century, the city remained inhabited and prosperous until 10th century.





An architect from old Syria was entrusted for the architecture and design of the city. This city with an architecture inspired by Roman traditional “Hippodamian street plan”, has a rectangular plan and was never repeated in the architecture of Iran.

Bishapur was surrounded by walls, about ten meters high and was inhabited by 50,000 to 80,000 people.

The city composed of two main parts:

  • Royal Castle which consists of Temple of Anahita, Shapur hall of Ceremonies, Mosaic Porch and Palace of Valerian
  • Ordinary people residential areas, bathhouse, Caravansary, Bazaar

The core of this city was an old castle built on a steep rock which is one of the most interesting geological features of southern Zagros.



First excavations were conducted in 1930’s by Russian-French archaeologist, Roman Ghirshman. The main monuments have been excavated from 1935 to 1941.

The archaeological site of Bishapur consists of:

  • City of Bishapur
  • The Virgin’s Castle (Persian: Ghal’e Dokhtar)
  • Mosaic Porch
  • Valerian Palace
  • Anahita Temple
  • Memorial Columns of Bishapur
  • Rock Reliefs
  • The Cave

We’ll explain some of them below:

1.    Rock Reliefs

Seven rock reliefs have been found at this site. Outside the city of Bishapur and sides of the Bishapur river gorge were decorated with huge rock reliefs commemorating King Shapur’s triple victory over Rome. On one of these reliefs, in a semicircular shape, rows of registers with files of soldiers and horses have been imitated from the narrative scenes on the Trajan column in Rome. These reliefs include the investiture of Bahram I, an Arab embassy of Bahram II and Victory of Shapur II. The oldest relief and monument of this site is located in the Tang-e-Chowgan gorge, which celebrates one of King Shapur I’s first victories. Two of these reliefs have been dedicated to the 2nd Sassanid king’s triumph over Valerian, and perhaps the last one also served the same purpose.


2.    Virgin’s Castle (Persian: Ghal’e Dokhtar)

Dokhtar” in Persian has two interpretations, “Daughter” and “Virgin”. The name of this castle might as well have two interpretations, one may be referring to the daughter of King Shapur I, and the 2nd one refers to its geographically hard accessibility, which is on a rock. As they might have wished that the castle would stay pure and intact like a virgin. This castle is well preserved, so perhaps, the 2nd meaning is closer to its initial purpose of construction.


3.    Mosaic Porch

This Porch which is 25 m by 6 m, is located inside the Valerian Palace, with cross shaped halls. The ground is carpeted with colourful figures, made with coloured tiles. These tiles which are the most precious remains of Bishapur, are both housed in National Museum of Iran and Louvre Museum.

4.    Anahita Temple

This square shaped temple which is deeper than the other rooms of the palace, is located in the valley of Bishapur and is second to none in terms of water division and adjustment system, it could only be compared with Nahid Temple in Istakhr. No mortar was used in the construction of Anahita Temple. This sanctuary, was built with two layers of carved stones, fixed together with staples, which is an Achaemenid specific architecture.

Of its 14-meters height, only 8 metres is above the ground level. After descending a few steps, as much as 6 meters below the ground, you’ll find yourself in a square shaped roofless room, surrounded with walls. The purpose of building this temple was for the water from Bishapur River to flow inside the temple and after travelling in and around the temple, it would find its way to the qanats.


5.    Memorial Columns

Two nine-meter memorial pillars are standing in the centre of the city of Bishapur. On both of these columns, Ashkani, Pahlavi and Sassanid inscriptions can be seen. Between the pillars used to be a statue of Shapur I, which has been gradually destroyed through the years.

6.    Hall of Ceremonies

This big hall inside of the Valerian Palace, with an area of about 781 m2 is one of the greatest Sassanid dome architectural structures. Most eye catching part of this hall is the presence of 64 niches which are decorated with statues and stuccos. Again the patterns were inspired from Roman and Greek architecture.


7.    Mundan Cave or Cave of Shapur

About 5 kilometres to the east of the city of Bishapur and 14 kilometres from Kazerun County, beyond the reliefs in Tang-e-Chowgan gorge, there’s a wide valley between two lines of rocks, about 500 metres high. In the northern mountains, and at a height of about 400 meters, there’s the Mundan cave, which is also known as the Cave of Bishapur. The entrance is 20 meters wide and five meters high, which increases as you go deeper into the cave, and it reaches to about 20 meters. This cave contains a monumental colossus of King Shapur I. Its 7 meters tall and 2 meters wide. This detailed statue was recognized by its similarity to the representations of the 2nd Sassanid king on the reliefs in the valley. The king is shown with long hair, big eyes, short beard, thin moustache, a crown, and all his weapons. When the Arabs conquered Iran, the statue was pulled down and its legs were destroyed, but later in 1930’s it was again set afoot by Reza Shah. According to another source, an earthquake in 14th and 18th centuries has destroyed the statue, and the majority of this statue, including the legs and hands were seriously damaged. During 1960’s, due to the severe damage that had been done to the statue, it was fixed on two concrete columns and the separated parts were put around the main statue.




When and how to go to Bishapur

For visiting Bishapur you must first travel to Shiraz. Buses are available for taking you to Kazerun County. From Kazerun you will need a driver and a guide to take you to the ancient city of Bishapur. For visiting the cave, you should hire a guide at the entrance of the excavation site, and make sure you announce your visit two hours earlier.

It’s about 2 hours’ drive from Shiraz to Bishapur, so you can either choose to stay a night in Kazerun county, or to head to Bishapur from Shiraz first thing in the morning, and come back to Shiraz before sunset. Given that it might take you longer if you decide to hike to the cave, it would be better to stay a night in Kazerun County.

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Bishapur is one of the wonders and recently registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in Iran. Iran Negin Travel, as an Iran tour operator, recommends you to visit Bishapur while you're visiting Shiraz. Thorugh our Iran tour packages you can visit every single important sights in Iran. Our Iran tour packages are made to plan your trip to Iran with unique services. We can make your trip to Iran a wonderful trip.

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