A spontaneous trip to Iran (Part 2 of 3) - Shapour I

Part 2 - The Cave of Shapour I

While sitting in the car on our way from Isfahan to Shiraz I was listening (as I always do) to the Swedish history podcast Historiepodden and chose two older episodes about Persian history. In episode 53 Daniel Hermansson mentions that there is a cave up high in a mountain, not far from Shiraz, where a statue of Shapour I is standing. I’m asking Helia if we would have time for a quick visit to this place but she wasn’t quite sure due to our tight schedule.

         So who was this Shapour I? He was son of Ardeshir I, the second ruler of the Sasanian era, about 242-270. He was successful in battles and even captured the Roman emperor Valerian (who by the way was the first Roman emperor to ever have been taken capture). Some stories are saying that Shapour skinned Valerian and filled the skin with straw, only to place him as a general object to be seen. Another story is that Valerian himself looked for Shapour after a mutiny among his own men*.

         When I’d read about this statue I understood that it was placed in limestone cave outside the city Bishapur, about two hour car ride from Shiraz. The statue is dated to about 260 A.D. and is the biggest one found from the Sasanian era. It’s made out of stalagmite and is 6,7 x 3,4 meters. The cave itself is 800 meters above the foot of the mountain, which should be about 1280 meters above sea level, and it would be around a 90 minute walk to reach the entrance.

         Helia had seen the statue a couple of times, but Hassan had not, so around five o’clock one morning we had ordered a car to take us to Bishapur. The reason for the early hour was to avoid the 50 degrees Celsius that temperature easily could reach during the middle of the day. We reached the mountain around eight o’clock and after only fifteen minutes of walking a guide caught up with us. He offered to show us a short cut that was supposed to be quicker, though not the least bit easier. I never understood how he could know where to go, but I guess he had learned after walking the same way every single day for the last seven years, which he had done…

Half way there.
The cave entrance is marked with a red circle.

On our way up the mountain we could see both birds...

 

...and lizards.

When we had been walking for just a bit I looked up against the entrence of the cave and couldn’t imagine that it was 30 meters wide and 15 meters high. It still looked really small and I was wondering how the heck we would be able to enter… After lots of huffing and rivers of sweat we reached the stairs that would finally lead to the cave entrence. I had already read about the statue and seen pictures of it, but I still couldn’t imagine the feeling when I took the last steps up the stairs and actually could see the head of the statue and then the rest of the body. It was magical. Hundreds of years of history in one single place. “He must have seen a whole lot of things” I thought.

In front of the great statue of Shapour I.

Teatime in the cave of Shapour.

Our lovely guide made us some tea and Hassan rested while I was running around with my camera, taking pictures and recorded different angles. After some tea and snacks the guide asked if we wanted to see the inside of the cave. Of course!

 

Inside the cave there were sometimes quite narrow passages.

        

It was completely dark and guaranteed dangerous to go into the cave alone. A small bucket was placed to collect dripping water at one place – of course I had to taste it. We passed a part of the cave with lots of cliffs without seeing any bottom and eventually reached another opening of the cave with beautiful view over the village down below.

 

Another exit of the cave. What a view!

Once we got back to the statue we realised it was time to head back to the car. The walk downhill took almost as long as on the way up but it was a lot warmer. At one point I went down to a squat to take a photo and I felt my legs shaking of exhaustion – but it was worth it and I would do it again without hesitating.

I would dare to say that I not only felt and got to know, but also became overwhelmed by the wings of history during this trip. The places we visited are boiling with culture and history and I wish that more people could get to know it, which is why I want to spread some parts of what I’ve experienced.

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Speeded up walk through of the cave of Shapur I.

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*Kent Eklind “Iran – från dåtid till nutid”.