• Dr Sam Willis this week travels from Iran to Persepolis. (SBS)Source: SBS
Get ready for final installment of the sprawling documentary on The Silk Road, where this week we’re taken through the harsh deserts of Iran to the Ancient city of Persepolis.
Jeremy Cassar

15 Feb 2017 - 11:11 AM  UPDATED 15 Feb 2017 - 2:32 PM

In the previous episode of The Silk Road, Dr Sam Willis traveled through Tajikistan to spend time with the forgotten valley city of Yaghnob, home to the lost culture of Yaghnobi people. He also visited Samarkand — an architecturally and artistically gorgeous testament to the power of conquering.

As Willis concludes his journey along the Silk Road, the viewer joins him through the southern caravan cities of Iran - from India and beyond, and to the ancient city of Persepolis.

Think you’ve experienced hot weather?

Think again. The path from the fabled Persian caravan cities of Yazd, Esfahan and Kashan to the main vein of The Silk Road in Tehran requires travelling through an endless horizon of desert, which also happens to be the hottest desert in the world.

Just how hot does it get? Temperatures in this stretch of aridity reach up to 70 degrees Celsius in the summer - no, that’s not a typo. This writer cannot fathom how one would successfully traverse the unforgivable terrain, even with the following innovation…

The Ancient miracle of underground irrigation

Dotting the route to Tehran are thousands of small dug-outs that combine to form a network of sub-surface water streams called Qanats. These were built 4,000 years ago and were one of the main factors in ensuring the Silk Road flourished for multiple eras.

These holes still exist today, and are easily locatable by the trails of the modern car tires leading to the system’s access points.

It’s thanks to this feat of engineering that leaders were able to construct spaces that still exist today.

Persepolis and Darius the Great

Darius I was a big-brained intellectual and the greatest royal architect of his dynasty. He was famous for developing standardised weights and measures, as well as the first coinage system.


His unparalleled genius lead to the alternative title ‘Darius the Great’, or more bizarrely, Darius the Shopkeeper.

So successful was Darius I’s campaign that Persepolis required no fortification at all - thanks to the fact that he’d flattened every single enemy that threatened his position.

Darius’ Colossal Empire

The list of peoples Darius I quashed is long and unsettling. He and his army bettered the Indians, the Lydians, the Syrians, Turks, Armenians and Lybians, to name a few.

Each of these cities were subjects to Emperor Darius, and his empire was the largest the world had ever seen – stretching from North India to North Africa to South-East Europe.

In other words, Darius the Great is responsible for the merging of two foreign worlds – the East and the West.

Darius’ Downfall

The Emperor’s arrogance in refusing to fortify Persepolis was the main reason for its downfall. Historians discovered the city’s fate through studying the limestone ruins that littered the place.

When limestone is exposed to intense heat it turns white, suggesting that Persepolis met a fiery end.

Further digging revealed that Alexander the Great came into the city and burned it to the ground in one swift, unexpected, and brutal attack.

For much more on the ancient Persia’s role in the Silk Road, tune into the final episode of The Silk Road when it airs on Sunday night on SBS at 7:30pm. Previous episodes are streaming on SBS On Demand:

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