The Ancient City of Persepolis, Iran – It’s No Disneyland

Persepolis - Iran

This city was once the richest on Earth. The ancient city of Persepolis – Iran – was founded more than two and a half thousand years ago.  Ceremonial capital of the Archaemenid empire, thriving for a couple of hundred years or so, Persepolis was subsequently burned to the ground. Two thousand three hundred years after Persepolis was almost completely destroyed by Alexander the Great (what an ass-hole) UNESCO heritage listed the evocative ruins of the city. These days, Persepolis costs the ludicrous amount of 14 US cents to enter. Check your backpack at the door, don’t mention the sanctions. Iran, you continue to amaze me, daily.

When I arrived at Persepolis in the middle of the day, using a chartered taxi from the cultural city of Shiraz where I am currently based (circa 7000 years old), the car park was almost empty. The surrealistic site of an empty car park in the middle of central Iran took me back to my youthful days – visiting Los Angeles. I once slept overnight in a car in Orange County, to ensure that I was first in-line for Disneyland.


persepolis carpark
This is the only photo on the entire Internet of the carpark at Persepolis, Iran.
Gate of All Nations - Persepolis - Iran
Gate of All Nations – Persepolis – Iran
A lone tourist at Persepolis Iran
“So, it’s 2500 years old, costs 14 cents to get in, and there’s nobody here. OK.” Phillipa takes in the view of Persepolis, Iran

Phillipa, I know it’s cold, but stuff it, we’re sleeping here. Look at this neighbourhood it’s like Edward Scissorhands or Stepford Wives, it’s safe, just get some sleep. Yes, it’s cold, but do you really want to go back to Compton? Just think, we’ll get to Disneyland before everyone else. Love you, nighty-night! I turned off the torch, and we used a few jackets to stay warm and get some sleep in the back of our Rent-A-Wreck hatchback. Good times indeed.

Visiting Disneyland would be bad enough, but my real motivation for spending a night on the streets of LA, circa Rodney King era, was to avoid the crowds. I’d visited LA before, and had no intention of visiting Disneyland, due to my irrational hatred of Mickey Mouse. Not to mention, the difficult relationships Walt had with the Jew’s. Oh, and his friendship of Nazi propagandist film makers. Then there’s that whole Mickey Mouse black-face episode.

In any case, I was very much into counter-culture punk music at the time (Dead Kennedy’s – best band ever) and Disneyland represented to me everything that was wrong in the world. But, I digress. The point is, I’m sure the Disneyland carpark was chock-o-block full yesterday. The Persepolis carpark, was not. I guess it’s that whole sanction thing kicking in again. Not many tourists were at Persepolis yesterday. Even with a 14 cent entry fee.

The remains of Persepolis, Iran
Persepolis is a work in progress. Although many of the columns and monuments have stood for 2500 years, there remains a huge amount of restoration work to be done.
Graffiti engraved into the marble of Persepolis, often dating back hundreds of years.
Graffiti engraved into the marble of Persepolis, often dating back hundreds of years.
The library of Persepolis is known as a museum of ancient calligraphy.
The library of Persepolis is known as a museum of ancient calligraphy.
The King'st tomb, located in the hills looking down on Persepolis, Iran
The King’s tomb, located in the hills looking down on Persepolis, Iran
The walls of Persepolis Iran
The marble walls of Persepolis are expertly and elaborately carved.

Yes, even I visited Disneyland, once. I haven’t always been into such cultural pursuits as Angkor Wat, The Great Wall of China, and Persepolis. But in my defense, I spent the better part of the day at the Disneyland Video Games Arcade, watching the 3D Michael Jackson movie, and taking the monorail through the Tron simulation tunnel. The cultural insight, and educational value of Disneyland, should not be underestimated.

I may have digressed again. Back to Shiraz, Iran, and tales of the ancient city of Persepolis. The good news is, it’s spectacular. Set in the shadow of a rocky mountain, (replete with tombs of ancient Kings), there is at once a palpable sense of human history, and a feeling of calm. In decay, it remains beautiful. In it’s prime, Persepolis must have been other-worldly.

click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article


Your entry fee allows you to ascend the grand stone staircase of Persepolis, the same entrance that it’s always been, and enter the city through the Gate of All Nations – it’s the one with the statues of Bulls that have the faces of men with beards. No plans are required – just wander through the now-abandoned ancient streets, or take any number of well-worn off-the-beaten track paths over the hills to check out the royal tombs.

Magical view of Persepolis, Iran
It’s difficult to capture the true magic of Persepolis, Iran close to sunset.
View from the hill - the clouds were producing some mesmerising effects over Persepolis Iran
View from the hill – the clouds were producing some mesmerising effects over Persepolis.
Documentation, Persepolis, Iran.
Documentation, Persepolis, Iran.
View back towards the majestic Gate of All Nations, Persepolis, Iran.
View back towards the majestic Gate of All Nations, Persepolis, Iran.
In Iran, you'll spend a lot of time looking up.
In Iran, you’ll spend a lot of time looking up.

It’s apparent why we know so much about Persepolis – it’s documented, for all to see and read, tri-lingually, in stone tablets. Most of the engraved messages are along the lines of “I built this thing, on this date, because god wanted me to, check it out, it’s amazing, right?”. But, it’s comforting to know that along with the painstaking archaeological work that has been done to solve the mysteries of Persepolis, there is a wealth of written evidence. The citizens of Persepolis were meticulous record keepers – thousands of stone tablets have been found here, containing receipts, bills, and other minutiae of day to day life in 515 BC.

How to Get to The Ancient City of Persepolis, Iran

Persepolis is about an hour outside of the beautiful city of Shiraz, in central Iran. A private taxi cost 520,000 rial ($14 US). The taxi driver was chartered for six hours, and also drove us to some other spectacular sites (more on that soon). Entrance is 5000 rials (14 US cents, standard rate in these parts). There’s a cafe on-site, serving delicious Persian ice-cream 20,000 rial (55 cents), cold drinks, and more. Note, you will not be allowed to take your backpack into Persepolis. I suspect even some ladies handbags would not be allowed, however, a free storage facility is located right beside the entrance.


PS, dreaming of visiting Iran? Good news, in 2014 this started happening.

BTW, I would love to send you the next dispatch, posted from some-where random around this planet (and you'll soon find out why YOMADIC email followers are my favourite followers):

26 thoughts on “The Ancient City of Persepolis, Iran – It’s No Disneyland

  1. Woops! It seems I accidentally left the “no comments allowed” ticked on this post. Excuse me, and please, feel free to leave a comment about Persepolis, Disneyland, or anything you please ;)


    1. Dear Nate and readers,

      I, being a fan of Disney, totally agree with your brief report. Persepolis- Is No Disneyland! Ironically I was brought to your webpage by mere obligation since I am doing a homework on The Persian Empire. I must say I thought this was going to be one of those boring sites in which the writers or editors simply rewrite excerpts from textbooks. But your personal experience with beautiful photos, sense of humor and admiration for this amazing site was much more interesting as I began and continued reading. So much that i am literally planning a trip with my sister to visit Persepolis and much more from the city of Shiraz. I wish more people my age (22) would take more interest in traveling to places so rich in history rather than wait for the weekends to go party or visit nightclubs. Thank You for all the info. Take Care!!

  2. Great post!

    I believe your visa was extended right?

    Well, I don’t know if you’re into nature sites, but if you are and have the time then i would highly recommend taking one of the several routes north through the alborz mountains through the forrest regions to the caspian sea. Some amazing natural sites to see on that path. You’re heading to the armenian border right? So maybe see if you can take Chalus Rd to Chalus then head north-west from there? Maybe then to Rasht. (from there if you like you can take a detour to Masouleh which is a popular tourist destination, unique village in the mountains). Then Tabriz then armenia? just some ideas for route. I’m not too sure what services there are for tourists to do this or if you can simply go with a driver and a car (i’ve always been with family…). maybe others have some advice on this.

    Because otherwise buses would probably go on the multilane freeways direct from Tehran to Tabriz, which is a much shorter route but you would miss northern iran or “Shomal” as they call it in persian.

    Anyway, just wanted to give some suggestions if you didn’t already have planned route.

    1. Forgot to add, of course there are buses from tehran to chalus to rasht. (masouleh i’m not sure about). But private taxis are also a good option.

      Also, a warning, if you do take this route, the mountain roads, while having spectacular views, are very twisty-turn-y ;)

      1. Hey Sina, thanks for all the tips. My plans have changed, I won’t be heading towards Tabriz, and won’t be going to Armenia. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind, at this point, I am hoping to come back to Iran again early next year, to stay as long as possible. I love it here. This time around, I am spending most of the time in Central Iran. By the time I leave Shiraz, it will be 9 or 10 days just in and around Shiraz. Although I love nature, and love to see the sights, I equally love just hanging out with locals and getting a feel for a new city.

        But, I really appreciate you taking the time to give some advice – I will use it in future, and who knows, my readers may also use it!

  3. Wow! Great post and pictures! It is sad that the authorities don’t take proper care of the sites. For this reason they are degrading. They do this intentionally though. Did you happen to have the opportunity to visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great?

    1. Thanks Sassan. Yes, more money and resources need to be dedicated to Persepolis, it is genuinely an amazingly unique place. As for Cyrus, more about him, soon ;)

    2. That’s not a fair statement.
      I have a panoramic photo of this same location from Spring 2010 and judging by these photos you can clearly tell a lot of high quality renovations have taken place.
      Remember, these are UNESCO sites so the government can’t just abandon them like alot of other buildings.

      1. When I visited there in 2010, kids would be running all over Darius’s palace and the security would not give a damn. People would stand on top of the ancient monuments and take pictures like it was nothing. Where was the security? Absolutely the authorities want the people to naturally destroy and erode these Iranian sites. For them, these sites are a stain to the Islamic Republic.

        1. This is not the same as my recent experience. As soon as anybody took a foot off the designated paths at Persepolis, you would hear a whistle blow, and a guard come running. This was happening at Pasargad as well, one of the guys I was with (a Shiraz local) went under a rope-barrier to take a better photo, and from out of nowhere it was the familiar whistle/guard combination. I also noticed a lot of work going on at Persepolis, indicating that indeed the government is prepared to spend some money with regards to restoration/preservation.

  4. Oh good, I was wondering why the comments were turned off when I first read this. Thoroughly enjoyed this post. I once saw some documentary on TV about Persepolis and remember it sounding really interesting, I’m glad you post confirmed that. I love that the people that lived here kept such meticulous records, so we know today how they lived.

    1. Yes, I have no idea how I managed to disable the comments! I appreciated the records as well, it makes everything seem so much more real. Even though Persepolis has been abandoned for so long, the knowledge we have of day-to-day activities here, made it feel – in a strange way – like it had only been recently vacated.

  5. interesting! i will be there in a couple of days. i was wondering if the place is photographer friendly? atleast in shiraz? since i like to take some streets photos or portraits.

    we will be visiting persepolis for the first that so i was thinking of bringing a 4×5 camera there but i’m not sure if its fine. setting up the camera would get a lot of attention. i’ll be packing my things tonight i’m still unsure what to bring! :)

    nice site by the way! thanks!

    1. Photography at Persepolis = absolutely fine. Street photography…well..I see myself as fairly brave, but after three weeks here in Iran, I still can’t get the shots I could in other countries. I like to use a Gilden-esque technique, if not results ;) . Street portraiture is fine, you’ll get plenty of volunteers! In general, Iran is as photographer friendly as almost any country I have visited. I did speak to one guy who had his camera checked in Tehran, by the police. Take your 4×5 camera, it’s ideal. Iran made me wish I had a large format film camera!

      1. thank you nate! your posts about iran are very nice. i’m living here with my family for more than a year now. i’ve been to other cities like tehran, esfahan etc. although i’m still anxious on shooting streets even here in our city (ilam). i dunno why, it’s just different. i’m not sure if you could do gilden-esque style here you might end up in jail :P well not sure though but atleast knowing your limitation would lead to a hassle free vacation.

        any advice where to go to shiraz? shopping, hangout, food, nice place to shoot landscapes, etc?

        the above post by sina made me wonder to explore more about iran now. maybe i should go up north and make a series of landscapes, urbanscapes or even street photography on other cities. i’ll try to convince the wife. :D i’ve been shooting landscapes and sometimes streets here in ilam.

        you can check some of my images here.

        anyway, i think i will just bring a few cameras with me. i might bring a 4×5 camera but would be a pinhole so i don’t need to carry a large tripod/head. let see!

        iran is such a lovely place. a lot of people don’t know that.

        thanks again..

  6. Nice work! very refreshing to see people see Iran as the tourist hotspot it should be. I’ve been to Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz, Shiraz and Isfahan, all were really beautiful places. (i’ve also been to Nowshahr)
    I hope to visit Yazd and my next visit to the country.

    I would go into more detail but I will leave readers with my story of when I visited Persepolis, I arrived there around 9:30 and the only person there was a security guy at the front before the ascent to the stairs. I was strolling round on my own for about 15mins! till my friends who I was travelling with came from the shops.

    A really beautiful country – Jo

  7. Hey Nate

    I arrived in Persepolis late afternoon about a week after No Ruz had ended and it was packed!
    Luckily its a huge site so it didnt bother me much, but it would have been nicer to be there alone :P

    Btw, they have just recently increased the admission prices for tourist on quite alot of places. (Pasagardae, Persepolis, the tombs in Shiraz etc) to 150 000 Rials. So about 5$. Still not alot of money but alot if you compare it to earlier!
    The locals pay 20 000 Rials.


    1. Hey Simon, glad to hear you made it. Very interesting about the increase in prices – still a bargain though! Well done, and thanks for the up date.

  8. hi yomadic,
    i wanna ask you how to get shiraz from tehran? is it posible by bus? we will arrived in tehran around 11 pm and having two days, is it posibble going to persepolis? i found that the plane ticket is bit expesinve for one way. Need ur advice, and thank u

    1. Hey Winny – yes, plenty of buses from Tehran to Shiraz, there is a train as well. You will need to get a taxi from Shiraz out to Persepolis, best thing to do is ask about it when you arrive in Shiraz. Have fun.

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