Taqwasan or Taq-e Bostan or Taq-i-Bustan is a series of large rock relief from the era of Sassanid Empire of Persia, the Iranian dynasty which ruled western Asia from 226 to 650 AD. This example of Sassanid art is located 5 km from the city center of Kermanshah in western Iran. It is located in the heart of the Zagros mountains, where it has endured almost 1,700 years of wind and rain.
The carvings, some of the finest and best-preserved examples of Persian sculpture under the Sassanids, include representations of the investitures of Ardashir II (379383) and Shapur III (383388). Like other Sassanid symbols, Taq-e Bostan and its relief patterns accentuate power, religious tendencies, glory, honor, the vastness of the court, game and fighting spirit, festivity, joy, and rejoicing.
Sassanid kings chose a beautiful setting for their rock reliefs along an historic Silk Road caravan route waypoint and campground. The reliefs are adjacent a sacred spring that empties into a large reflecting pool at the base of a mountain cliff.
Taq-e Bostan and its rock relief are one of the 30 surviving Sassanid relics of the Zagros mountains. According to Arthur Pope, the founder of Iranian art and archeology Institute in the USA, "art was characteristic of the Iranian people and the gift which they endowed the world with."
Taq-e Bostan and its rock reliefs comprise two big and small arches. They illustrate the crowning ceremonies of Ardashir I and his son, Shapur I, Shapur II and Khosrau II. They also depict the hunting scenes of Khosrau II.
The coronation ceremony of Ardashir I
The first Taq-e Bostan relief, and apparently the oldest, is a rock relief of the crowning ceremony of Ardashir I and his son Shapur I. It includes the figures of four people with swords, helmets, and lotus, the latter being the flower cultivated extensively by Iranians.
Researchers have long debated the identities of the figures in this relief, although most are agreed on the identity of the fallen figure. He is Artabanus IV, the last Parthian king whose rule terminated in 226 AD. This rock relief does not depict a scene of the coronation ceremony of two Sassanid kings. Rather, it depicts the demise of the Parthian dynasty, where Artabanus's figure has fallen under the feet of new rulers. Another view maintains that the fallen figure is Haftanbokht mentioned in Karnamak-i Ardashir, and the right figure is Kayus of Kermanshah who was reinstated as a local governor by Ardashir (the figure in the middle).
It is now believed that the figures represent Ardashir I and his son Shapur I, stomping over the dead body of Artabanus IV, delighted and intoxicated with victory over their enemy. Izad, the Zoroastrian name for God, stands behind Ardeshir as a symbol of protection.
A closer look at the rock relief shows how meticulously Sassanid artists created this scene. The figure standing to the right wears a jagged crown. He has turned to the middle figure and holds out a ribbon-decked royal ring. The middle figure wears a helmet. Both figures have robes that cover their bodies to the knees, though the robes differ in detail with the middle figure's robe showing a rounded hem. The middle figure's helmet is also round and allows his curly hair to fall from beneath. This differs again from the crown worn by the figure on the right. Behind the middle figure, another figure stands in a halo of light around his head. This figure represents Izad Bahram, who, in all the extraordinary adventures of Ardashir, performs the role of guardian and guiding angel. Previously, Izad Mithra (Mehr) had been the guardian god of the Parthian military. The feet of the Izad are noticeably smaller than the other figures. He wears delicate and elegant shoes. His small heels rest on a lotus, indicating the artists intention to create soft and tender platform for his delicate shoes.
Relief panel measured on 15.08.07 is approx. 4.07m wide and 3.9m high.
Crowning ceremony of Shapur III
The smaller arch bears two Pahlavi scriptures and carvings of Shapur II, or Shapur the Great, and his son Shapur II facing each other. The smaller cave within the arch's vestibule measures 6 x 5 x 3.6 meters. It was believed built during the reign of Shapur III. Some put the date of its completion at 385 AD. The Pahlavi inscriptions clearly introduces the two figures. The translation of their text follows:
Shapur II inscriptions :
This is the figure of the good worshiper of Izad (God), Shapur, the king of Iran and Aniran (non-Iran), divine race from God. Son of the good worshipper of God, Hormizd, the king of Iran and Aniran, divine race, grandson of Nersi, the Shahanshah (king of kings).
Shapur III scripture:
This is the figure of the good worshiper of Izad (God), Shapur, the king of Iran and Aniran, divine race from God. Son of the good worshiper of God, Shapur, the king of Iran and Aniran, from divine race.
The figures of the two kings have been carved in silhouette, looking at each other. The each figure stands 2.97 meters. Shapur II is on the right and Shapur III is on the left. Each figure's hands are placed on a long straight sword which point downwards. The right hand is holding the grip and the left rests on the sheath. Both figures wear loose trousers, necklaces, curled hair, and a pointed beard ending in a ring.
Crowning ceremony of Khosrow Parviz
One of the most impressive reliefs inside the largest grotto or ivan is the gigantic equestrian figure of the Sassanid king Khosrau II (591-628 CE) mounted on his favorite charger, Shabdiz. Both horse and rider are arrayed in full battle armor.
The arch rests on two columns that bear delicately carved patterns showing the tree of life or the sacred tree. Above the arch and located on two opposite sides are figures of two winged angles with diadems.
Around the outer layer of the arch, a conspicuous margin has been carved, jagged with flower patterns. These patterns are also found in the official costumes of Sassanid kings.
Equestrian relief panel measured on 16.08.07 approx. 7.45m across by 4.25 m high
Scene of Boar and Deer hunting
On the right wall of the arch, there is a picture of the king's hunting measuring 3.8 X 5.7 meters. From the time of Cyrus the Great to the end of Sassanid period, hunting was one of the most favourite hobbies of Iranian kings. Therefore scenes of hunting are frequently found next to those of crownings.
There are two hunting scenes on each side of the ivan. One scene depicts the imperial boar hunt , and in a similar spirit, the other scene shows the king stalking deer. Five elephants flush out the fleeing boars from a marshy lake for the king who stands poised with bow and arrow in hand while being serenaded by female musicians. In the next scene, another boat carries female harpists and shows that the king has killed two large boars. The next boat shows the king standing with a semicircular halo around his head and a loose bow in his hand, meaning the hunt is over. Under this picture, elephants are retrieving the game with their trunks and putting them on their backs.
These royal hunting scenes are among the most vivid and highly narrative murals immortalized in stone.
Panel depicting boar hunt measured on 16.08.07 as approx. 6.0 m wide x 4.25 m high
Panel depicting deer hunt measured on 16.08.07 as approx. 5.9 m wide x 4.35 m high
Qajar Fath Ali Shah
Jumping 1300 years in time the upper relief shows the 19th century Qajar king Fath Ali Shah holding court.
Taq-e Bostan Photos
Note: these are identified as unfinished carvings, the figures have been blocked-out but yet to be completed [compare with figure bottom right foreground], as elsewhere on the two hunting panels in the larger iwan
Dr. Ali Akbar Sarfaraz, Dr. Bahman Firuzmandi "Mad, Hakhamanishi, Ashkani, Sasani" Marlik, 1996. ISBN 964-90495-1-7
Gardeshgary magazine Vol. 13, September 2002