Although it has only recently been explored by
archaeologists, the Temple of Azar Goshnasp was one of the oldest and most
important fire temples in ancient Iran, dating from the Achaemenian,
Parthian, and Sassanian dynasties to the Mongol Era. The Temple of Azar
Goshnasp was important to the Zoroastrian faith for the following
There were six holy
fire-altars within the temple of Azar Goshnasp, one which warriors and
royal family members used. Whenever Persian warriors would embark for
battle, they visited their special fire-altar for spiritual strength and
A portion of the Holy Cross
of Jesus was once retained in the temple, as were 325 war banners. Each
of these banners represented a Persian victory in a battle during the
According to Arab historians
and travelers, one of the six fire-altars in the temple produced a
mystical flame that never extinguished and produced no ashes. This
particular flame was called “The Fire of Javidan.”
The city of
Azar Goshnasp was used as a religious center by the Parthians from 200 BC
to 300 C.E. During the time when the city was under Parthian control,
Mark Anthony suffered defeat in the Persian-Roman War in 36 BC. There is
evidence that this war reached the outskirts of Azar Goshnasp, for Roman
coins depicting Anthony’s figure were found in the region (Takab Afshar:
1995). After the fall of the Parthians to the Sasanians, Azar Goshnasp
became known as the “Holy City of Warriors and the Royal Family”.
Azar Goshnasp was looted and partially
destroyed by Heraclites, emperor of Rome, in 628 C.E. In his plundering
of the city, Heraclites stole the portion of the Holy Cross of Jesus and
all of the Persian victory banners from the temple of Azar Goshnasp. He
took these items to Rome, where the remnants of these objects can still be
According to various Persian and Arab
historians, the sacred flame of the temple of Azar Goshnasp blazed from
the establishment of the temple until the 12th century. One
such historian, Masoodi (Al-tanbih W’al Ashraf, 10th century)
discusses a map of the world and astronomical patterns of the sky painted
on the ceiling of the Tagdis, in this temple. Mosar-e-ibn-Mohalhel, a
traveler, explained that a large lake lay in the center of the city in 11th
century C.E. He measured and recorded the width, length, and depth of the
Mohalhel’s description of the temple states
that all fire temples in Iran obtained their holy fires from the sacred
flame of Azar Goshnasp. He also reported that the fire in the temple had
been burning for over 700 years. In addition, Mohalhel stated that Azar
Goshnasp was a place that attracted Zoroastrian pilgrims and travelers of
other religions as well.
In the 11th century, Ferdowsi, one
of the greatest poets in Iranian history and the author of the Epic of
Kings (ShahNameh), described the temple of Azar Goshnasp. Rostam
Farrokhzad's letter addressed to his brother, as reflected in the
ShahNameh, provides the best artistic description of the temple.
The work of Hamdullah-Mustawfi (13th
century) illustrates the destruction of Azar Goshnasp when the Mongols
invaded the holy city. He reported that the Mongols burnt and tore down
existing buildings, constructing their own palace and religious school in
Azar Goshnasp. Yet, one of the few buildings that remained after the
takeover of the city was the fire temple.
Hamdullah Mustawfi, writing during the Mongol
period, stated that the Mongols called Azar Goshnasp “Setorogh”.
Furthermore, Mustawfi’s works say that the Mongol palace in the city was
constructed by the order of Abaqa-Khan, the son of Hulagu Khan. A
careful description of Azar Goshnasp by Mustawfi, reveals a lake at the
center of the city and two small rivers, originating from the lake and
flowing beyond the city’s outskirts. According to Mustawfi, the
temperature of the lake’s water remained constant for the duration of the
year. Recent testing of the lake’s temperature supported Mustawfi’s
findings. In addition to the lake, both small rivers Mustawfi described
still exist today. From a bird’s eye view they form a shape of a dragon
around the city.
Azar Goshnasp faded away after the 12th
century, becoming a lost and forgotten city as time passed. It was not
until 1819 (after Anglo-Iranian treaty of 1814) when Robert Ker Porter, a
military officer, rediscovered the site.
In 1840, a British scholar and military
officer, Henry Rawlinson, visited the site Porter had explored in what is
now western Azarbaijan, Iran. Rawlinson was the first scholar to identify
the city and fire temple as being the ancient holy city of Azar Goshnasp
1840-1960, scholars from Germany and the United States, such as Schindler
(Germany, 1881), Jackson (USA, 1903), and Stahl (Germany, 1907), visited
the Azar Goshnasp site. In 1937, the first pictures of the city were
obtained when E.F. Schmidth photographed it from the air. That same year,
Smith and Pope (1937) drew a map of Azar Goshnasp based upon Schmidt’s
pictures. From 1958-1964, Germany’s Naumann studied and excavated the
site. However, he recorded only those objects and artifacts which
appeared important to him. His method of total excavation did not follow
the archeological methods of excavation at the time. The discovery of
almost 1800 seals and other artifacts were of historical importance. One
of the seals carried the symbol of a Mobad-e-Mobadan, the religious
superindendent of Azar Goshnasp.
1999, the writer of this paper visited the Azar Goshnasp site. During
this visit, Mr. Matloobi, a young Iranian archeologist, reported new
information about Azar Goshnasp, particularly about the excavation and
repair of the buildings belonging to the Mongol Era. However, our
observations of the site showed that the excavation currently taking place
in Azar Goshnasp is nothing more than a mere treasure hunt. In addition,
Mr. Matloobi and fellow archaeologist Mr. Moradi are relatively
inexperienced Iranian archeologists who are unfamiliar with modern methods
of excavation. Their lack of knowledge of current excavation techniques,
coupled with the greed of treasure hunters, make it very difficult in
restoring and learning about so important a part of ancient Iranian
visit, we looked for a natural gas deposit within the city of Azar
Goshnasp. A traveler to the city, Ibn-e-Mohalhel, once stated that “The
fire of the Holy Temple is burning, yet we cannot see ashes.” His
statement led to the formulation of our hypothesis that the fire came from
a natural gas source.
our hypothesis to Mr. Matloobi, the site archeologist, on the afternoon of
June 11, 1999. The explanation of our theory to him could have come at no
better a time, for he had just recently made a startling discovery: an
underground ceramic pipeline beneath the temple. The interior of the
pipe-work had been glazed, possibly to prevent its deterioration over
time. Our theory allowed for Mr. Matloobi to explain the reason for this
pipeline to have been constructed.
below (photograph taken at the ruins of the temple) shows perhaps the
first ever natural gas pipeline network constructed in the world
underneath the temple of Azar Goshnasp.
Ibn-Khordadbih. Almasalek va Almamalek. TransHossein Gharachonlou,
Tehran: Khorshidi: 1370.
Zakaria, Asarolbalad and Akhbarolabad. Trans. Mir Hasheme Mohadeth,
Tehran: Ameir Kabir, Khorshidi: 1373.
Jackson, A.V. Persia, Past and Present. Trans. M. Amiri and F. Badrehie,
Tehran: Kharazmi Publishing Co., third Eds. Khorshid: 1369.
Mohammadi,Ali. History of Takab Afshar. Tehran: Eman , Khorshidi: 1376.
Ali-ibn-Hossein, Altanbih w’al Ashraf. Trans. Abolghasem –e-Payandeh,
Tehran: antesharat Almi and Farhangi, second ed. Khorshidi: 1365.
Hamdullah. Noshatolgholob. Trans. Mohammad Dabir Siaghi, Tehran: Tohori,
Henry C. Notes on a Journey to Takhti-Soleiman and on the Site of the
Atropatenian Ecbatana, Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Great
Britain and Ireland, no. 10, p: 1-158, London, 1841.
Ehsan, Ed. Encyclopedia Iranica. Vol.3, London and New York: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1989.
Civilizations, Persians: Masters of Empire. Time-Life Books, Alexandria,
the sad demise of the author, the editors have chosen to reproduce the
abstract as submitted.]
historical site of the ancient city of Azar Goshnasp lie the Atashkadeh,
or Fire Temple, and the Temple of the Goddess Anahita, the Goddess of
water and fertility. These are two of the biggest and most impressive
Zoroastrian religious temples in Iran. The new discovery of symbolic
seals within both temples and the glazed ceramic gas pipeline leading to
the center of the Fire Temple shows that these two structures may be older
than was previously thought.
The site of Azar Goshnasp is divided into two
Zendan-e- Soleiman (Prison
Takht-e-Soleiman (Throne of
In this study we will examine the latter,
Takht-e-Soleiman (Throne of Solomon), in two sections.
The site characteristics
will be explained.
The Fire Temple of Azar
Goshnasp and the recent discovery of a glazed ceramic pipeline under the
Fire Temple will be discussed.
Surrounding this site is a wall estimated to
date from the 3rd century AD. The height of the wall around
the site is approximately 6 yards, and the width is about 5 yards. This
massive defensive wall is hollowed out of very thick stone. Enclosed
within this circular stone wall are the remains of the following
buildings, according to their historical chronology:
Temple of Goddess Anahita
Azar Goshnasp Temple and
Fire Altar and probably the gas pipeline
The Parthian (Ashkanian)
Wall in the lower structure of buildings
The ruins of a Sasanian
Palace, also known as the Khosro Parviz Palace
An additional, smaller Fire
Temple, called the Atashgah
A religious center with a
Underground pathway going
around the city
A palace belonging to the
A beautiful lake (120 m by
80 m by 50 m) at the center of the city, which received its water from
Among all of the above ruins, the site of the
Azar Goshnasp Temple, also known as the Temple of Warriors, Military, and
Royal Family, will be considered. Azar Goshnap holds something sacred in
its beauty, nature, water, city planning and culture. Athens and Rome are
much younger cities and were not ritualistic. Descriptions by Ferdowsi,
the great poet of Iran and the author of the Shahnameh (Book of the
Kings), and Arab travelers, such as Ibn-e-Mohalhel, about the city and
the Fire Temple will be examined.
This paper is preliminary research dedicated to the memory of Mr.
Jamshid Soroushian and was published in ĀTAŠ-E DORUN - The Fire
Within, Jamshid Soroush Soroushian Memorial Volume II. It was posted
on vohuman.org, on March 17. 2005, courtesy of the coordinator of the
memorial volume to honor the memory Dr. Eslami for her contribution to
Ancient Iranian studies.