Photo by age fotostock/SuperStock

The 2,500-year-old site of Persepolis offers dazzling views of elegant ceremonial stairways and soaring columns with griffins, bulls and lions. (This photo looks to the southwest, through the columns of a great audience hall called the Apadana to the Palace of Darius) The ancient city was built on a massive artificial platform, almost a quarter mile long on each of four sides. In the 1930s Persepolis’s first excavator, the German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld, uncovered cuneiform inscriptions revealing that the Persian Achaemenid king Darius I (522–486 B.C.) had built the citadel early in his reign. But scholars still debate just why Darius created this splendid “City of the Persians.”