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Marvdasht (Iran)


Last modified: 2019-03-09 by ian macdonald
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[Flag of Marvdasht] image by Tomislav Šipek, 2 October 2018

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Description of the flag

The flag of Marvdasht is white with logo and blue fringe.
Tomislav Šipek, 2 October 2018

Marvdasht (148,858 inhabitants in 2016), located in southern Iran, is one of the five towns of Marvdasht County and its capital. The archaeological site of Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid empire (c. 550-330 BC), is located nearby.

The emblem features the enigmatic Persepolis stone griffin double protome column capital.

One of the most impressive yet enigmatic surviving capitals from Persepolis is an Achaemenid masterpiece: the double griffin protome capital. On the one hand, there ought to be more than one of these griffin capitals from before the 330 BCE destruction, although it seems that only this extant one is intact. On the other hand, it is possible that only one was sculpted, since no other griffin protome fragments exist from Persepolis. A few archaeological accounts suggest its emplaced context at Persepolis was from the Apadana, although this cannot be proven since only 13 of the 36 (arranged 6 x 6) columns have survived, given the “conflagration and catastrophic end” recorded under Alexander.[...]

Persepolis was first begun by Darius around 518 BCE, the Apadana around 515 and structures like the Treasury may have been begun around 510; some structures like the Unfinished Gate and others may have been incomplete or possibly still underway in the fourth century. The original excavation reports have not connected this griffin protome capital with the Apadana of Darius and its correlation with any other structure is equally ambiguous because this capital seems to have been found only after the initial excavations between 1931-34 and up to 1939. Furthermore, the majority of credible reconstructions suggest all the Apadana column capitals were double bull protomes. Contextualizing this griffin protome capital to other buildings is equally or even more difficult, although it is generally accepted that it must be from Persepolis.

The somewhat darkened visual appearance of this griffin protome might suggest its surface was burned like many of the other protomes – although limestone also often naturally weathers darker – and it was certainly chipped and broken in places, as can be easily seen from comparanda of nearly all photos. Furthermore, the edge of the saddle between the two griffin torsos where it would have been expected to hold a massive cedar beam shows some expected wear, also easily seen from photos. Some credible accounts, including that of Porada, suggest this griffin capital was never actually used but merely experimental and abandoned before any emplacement. [...]

The brilliant 2005 London exhibition, "Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia: at the British Museum", in part the vision of Dr. John Curtis, Keeper of the Middle Eastern Department and primary author of the companion exhibition volume, showcased some of the glories of Achaemenid art. There this Persepolis “griffin” (as John Curtis identifies it) protome capital is described as a “homa bird” and one of the “four different types of column capital at Persepolis arranged back to back to carry the gigantic cedar beams that supported the roof“ as mentioned. Both Stronach and Curtis have suggested the intended location of this griffin capital as the Unfinished Gate at Persepolis. [...]

Geological material and provenance of the surviving griffin capital protome is still not fully resolved. Most accounts identify the griffin sculpture as “hard limestone” or “gray limestone” and “marble” and it might even be partly metamorphosed limestone although not necessarily marble as fully metamorphosed calcite mineral. [...] The weight of the massive stone griffin capital may exceed 20 tons, as the typical Persepolis relief blocks are usually smaller and weigh in around 15 tons. [...]

Patrick Hunt, Stanford University.
Achaemenid Persian Griffin Capital at Persepolis, 21 October 2008


Ivan Sache, 6 October 2018