Qaleh Dokhtar

Qaleh Dokhtar is a vast barrier fortress with an inner monumental palace of magnificent dimensions, built by Ardashir I before his decisive victory against the last Parthian king in 224 AD; it is located on a high spur of rock above a bend of the Tang-i Ab gorge, which is the main access point to Firuzabad Plain from central Fars. Stretching in an east-west direction above the river bend, the rocky terrain on which the castle stands was fortified against the adjoining mountainside by a traverse wall that ran up from the northern and southern cliffs to a semi-circular bastion on the spine of the crest. There are simple rubble stone walls along the steep northern and southern precipices with occasional fort structures on specially protruding outcrops, altogether forming a spacious outer fortification. Given its strategic situation and character, and in comparison with Ardashir’s greater palace in the plain, it becomes clear that Qaleh Dokhtar was built by Ardashir Papakan as a palace and barrier fortress together with the round city of Ardashir-Khurreh during his struggle for supremacy in Persia, that is, before his final triumph over the Parthian great king Artabanus V in 224 AD, an event represented by the two rock reliefs in the gorge below the fortress. This dating is corroborated by pre-Sasanian coins, excavated on the intermediate terrace.

 The main fortifications of Qaleh Dokhtar consist of a long exterior wall built atop the mountain creating a form resembling a trapezoid. These fortifications extend all the way from lower parts overlooking Tang-I Ab Valley to higher parts where the inner palace of the castle stands. The regular shape of the multi-tiered palace is in contrast with the irregular shape of the castle which conforms to the natural terrain. Ramparts of the main wall of castle (the external one) have been decorated similar to the outer walls of the inner palace. Also at two separate spots, they have branched out from the direction of cliffs towards the river. Seemingly the walls were constructed in order to control the ancient route passing by the castle; as a matter of fact the modern road has been built almost entirely upon the ancient route. 

Qaleh Dokhtar Palace

 The palace is in fact, the inner fortress of Qaleh Dokhtar, containing the residential part and is separated from the outer fortifications by a system of traverse walls. The main part of the palace is rising as a huge, round donjon exactly in the line of the defense from the highest outcrop of the crest. The fortress is entered by a rectangular gate room in a protected corner of the southern traverse wall at the very edge of the cliff. For the construction of the palace, the highest ridge of the spur, running in an almost east-west direction, was artificially enlarged by three steps of terraces. In fact, different parts of the palace are built on these three separated terraces among which on the uppermost one, an ayvan with a domed hall rose up. The palace is in fact a rectangular building with a maximum width (north-to-south) and length (east-to-west) of 40 and 120 meters respectively.

 The architectural decoration of the palace and fortifications is modest and dignified. Outside walls are articulated by shallow, two-stepped niches with horizontal lintels. The main rooms have deep arched niches with Egyptian cornices, evidently derived from Achaemenid models. Given its strategic situation and character and in comparison with Ardashir’s greater palace in the plain, it becomes clear that Qaleh Dokhtar was built by Ardashir I Papakan as both a palace and a barrier fortress before his final triumph over the Parthian great king Artabanus V in 224 CE

The Lower Terrace of the Palace

 The lower section of the palace was entered through a gate hall that contained areas obviously for new arrivals and guards. Opposite the entrance is a hall with an exceptionally wide gate and lateral podiums above vaulted niches, and at the back there is an elevated bench with five semicircular seats with arm rests behind a pedestal with decorated corners. A door opens on the right hand side of this hall into a square winding stair tower, which connects the three terraces of the palace.

The Intermediate Terrace of the Palace

On the intermediate terrace, large barrel vaulted halls exist; some with lateral low benches, others with podiums accessible by stairs and one with cooking facilities, surrounded by a courtyard on three sides; the eastern side is occupied by a raised platform having a central flight of steps with decorated blind arches.

The Uppermost Terrace of the Palace

 The third, uppermost terrace was accessible from the stair tower across the roofs of the barrel-vaulted hall below and carried the palace building proper. A deep, barrel vaulted ayvan with lateral halls led to the domed main room measuring 14m2, where traces of ceremonial furnishings are preserved. It is surrounded on three sides by oblong, rectangular halls with curved outer walls, thus forming the circular, donjon-like construction that stands as a menacing tower in the front line of the inner fortification. The corners between the side halls must have been the private area of the royal family.

 Most of the top-floor corridors and rooms, as well as the curved rear hall and sections of the curved side halls at ground level, were walled up with solid masonry soon after the construction was done, because the thrust of the vaulting on the under-dimensioned walls had caused serious damage early on. Later, buttresses also reinforced the building from the outside. Still preserved and not walled up is the northwestern, triangular top-floor chamber, which has windows overlooking the outdoors as well as the high lateral side hall. The combination of high halls and private rooms on the top floor with a good view of surrounding areas has always been the most typical characteristic of Iranian palaces and mansions throughout the ages.