Lecture 3. Persia/ Lycia’/ Petra: Chthonic Life, Chthonic Death

Concurrent developments in Mesopotamia display similar chthonic roots. Beginning with the ziggurat form as a ‘sacred mountain’ – a mass containing the source of all life, reaching towards the sky with labyrinth-like passages and openings. In Persia, this sensibility is evident in the Tomb of Cyrus outside of Pasargarde – an assembled stone mass that mimics the earlier ziggurats. Like the Egyptians, the Persians then transitioned to rock-cut tombs for Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes at the Naqsh-I Rustam complex, near Persepolis. With elaborate facades, the tombs are in dialogue with the assembled buildings of Persepolis – more permanent, eternal residences for the royal family. With only simple vaults behind, the appearance of the Persian tombs derives more from the process of quarrying stone, than excavating occupyable volumes. The cliffs of the mountain become architectural facades As Persian power waned with the arrival of Alexander, rock-cut architecture migrated to new locations. In Lycia (present day Turkey), rock-cut tombs flourished. The Lycians had fought for the Persians against the Greeks, and their architecture reflects a hybrid influence. In the cliffs outside the cities of Dalyan and Myra, the dead were interred in a vertical network of crypts with elaborate facades. At the same time, another instance of the chthonic architecture flourished in the Nabataean culture of present day Jordan. The city of Petra was cut directly into the high canyon walls – elaborate buildings, amphitheaters, markets, and tombs. The city also had elaborate water channels to gather, control and distribute that most precious resource in the desert landscape. Located at a crossroads of crucial trade routes, the architecture combined Greek influences with a more local sensibility routed in the reverence of stone. Several ‘stone god’ altars have been found – unadorned monuments that communicate the sacred nature of the native material. This rock-cut sensibility extended south to Mada’in Saleh (in Arabia), where 111 tombs were cut into a different desert landscape.

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