The construction of the capital city by Cyrus the Great, begun in 546 BCE or later, was left unfinished after Cyrus died in battle in 530 or 529 BCE. The tomb of Cyrus' son and successor, Cambyses II, also has been found in Pasargadae. The remains of his tomb, located near the fortress of Toll-e Takht, were identified in 2006.
Pasargadae remained the Persian capital until Cambyses II moved it to Susa; later, Darius founded another in Persepolis. The archaeological site covers 1.6 square kilometres and includes a structure commonly believed to be the mausoleum of Cyrus, the fortress of Toll-e Takht sitting on top of a nearby hill, and the remains of two royal palaces and gardens. Pasargad Persian Garden provide the earliest known example of the Persian chahar bagh, or fourfold garden design (see Persian Gardens).
Recent research on Pasargadae’s structural engineering has shown that Achaemenid engineers constructed the city to withstand a severe earthquake, what would today be classified as 7.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. The foundations are classified as having a base isolation design, much like what is presently used in countries for the construction of facilities - such as nuclear power plants - that require insulation from the effects of seismic activity.
Tomb of Cyrus
The tomb of Cyrus the Great.
The most important monument in Pasargadae is the tomb of Cyrus the Great. It has six broad steps leading to the sepulchre, the chamber of which measures 3.17 m long by 2.11 m wide by 2.11 m high and has a low and narrow entrance. Though there is no firm evidence identifying the tomb as that of Cyrus, Greek historians tell us that Alexander III of Macedon believed it was. When Alexander looted and destroyed Persepolis, he paid a visit to the tomb of Cyrus. Arrian, writing in the second century of the common era, recorded that Alexander commanded Aristobulus, one of his warriors, to enter the monument. Inside he found a golden bed, a table set with drinking vessels, a gold coffin, some ornaments studded with precious stones and an inscription on the tomb. No trace of any such inscription survives, and there is considerable disagreement to the exact wording of the text. Strabo reports that it read:
Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire, and was king of Asia.
Grudge me not therefore this monument.
Another variation, as documented in Persia: The Immortal Kingdom, is:
O man, whoever thou art, from wheresoever thou cometh, for I know you shall come, I am Cyrus, who founded the empire of the Persians.
Grudge me not, therefore, this little earth that covers my body.
The design of Cyrus' tomb is credited to Mesopotamian or Elamite ziggurats, but the cella is usually attributed to Urartu tombs of an earlier period. In particular, the tomb at Pasargadae has almost exactly the same dimensions as the tomb of Alyattes II, father of the Lydian King Croesus; however, some have refused the claim (according to Herodotus, Croesus was spared by Cyrus during the conquest of Lydia, and became a member of Cyrus' court). The main decoration on the tomb is a rosette design over the door within the gable. In general, the art and architecture found at Pasargadae exemplified the Persian synthesis of various traditions, drawing on precedents from Elam, Babylon, Assyria, and ancient Egypt, with the addition of some Anatolian influences.
During the Islamic conquest of Iran, the Arab armies came upon the tomb and planned to destroy it, considering it to be in violation of the tenets of Islam. The caretakers of the grave managed to convince the Arab command that the tomb was not built to honor Cyrus but instead housed the mother of King Solomon, thus sparing it from destruction. As a result, the inscription in the tomb was replaced by a verse of the Qur'an, and the tomb became known as Qabr-e Madar-e Sulaiman, or the tomb of the mother of Solomon. It is still widely known by that name today.