Istakhr, the Islamic City Mound

The large mound of the Islamic city of Istakhr lies five kilometers north of Persepolis at the end of the Pulvar Valley, where it opens into the plain of Marv Dasht. The exact date of the founding of Istakhr is not known. Historical and archaeological evidence points to the importance of the city in Sasanian and Islamic times (beginning of the third century to the end of the ninth century A.D.) and to its prominence as a fire sanctuary of the goddess Anahita. Istakhr suffered extensive damage and capitulated to the Arabs in 648 A.D. When Shiraz was founded in 684 A.D., Istakhr was finally replaced as capital of the province of Fars.

The Islamic town was enclosed by fortification walls with rounded towers. The geographer Istakhri wrote that in the tenth century, its houses were built of clay, stone or gypsum-according to the wealth of their owners. The ancient trash pit at Istakhr proved to be a very valuable source of finds. The entire site is perforated by a number of refuse, sewage or storage wellholes. The holes are often “locked” by caps of brick or stone, and therefore an approximately contemporaneous mixture of broken and discarded pots, personal ornaments, stone and bronze objects, and a large amount of coins was preserved in them.

Among the kinds of pottery excavated from the Islamic stratum, molded ware is found very frequently. These light-green vessels were not only of very high quality but also manifested a unique method of pottery making. The upper and lower halves, with their sculptured decorations, were always molded separately; the two halves, often showing the same pattern, were then joined together. Also from the Islamic period, but less frequent, are pitchers with floral designs in red, yellow, and black. Unfortunately, excavations of the site produced only a few of the famous and very rare lusterware vessels with their metallic sheen over a golden-yellowish body. There is considerable controversy about this pottery and whether it was produced in Iran or imported from Mesopotamia.

Among other finds were clay figurines of animals. There were also stone and bronze objects, such as lamps, small vessels, and a number of utensils used in daily life. Also found were objects of iridescent glass and personal ornaments ranging from clay to gold.

The numerous copper, silver, and gold coins found at the site indicate Istakhr’s importance and prosperity as a provincial capital and as a mint town. Of the 1,050 coins excavated from four ten-meter squares in the center of the mound, 900 were Islamic coins (sixth to ninth centuries A.D.). The rest were Sasanian coins (third to fifth centuries A.D.).