Ka'ba-ye Zartosht

Ka'ba-ye Zartosht

The Ka'ba-ye Zartosht (also transliterated as Kaba-ye Zardusht, Kaba-ye Zardosht, Persian: کعبه زرتشت), meaning the "Cube of Zoroaster," is a 5th century BCE Achaemenid square tower at Naqsh-e Rustam, an archaeological site just northwest of Persepolis, Iran. It is one of many surviving examples of Achaemenid architecture.

The name Ka'ba-ye Zartosht probably dates to the 14th century,[1] when many pre-Islamic sites were identified with figures and events of the Qur'ān or the Shāhnāme. The structure is not actually a Zoroastrian shrine, nor are there reports of it ever having been a pilgrimage site.

The structure, which is a copy of a sister building at Pasargadae,[2] was built either by Darius I (r. 521–486 BCE) when he moved to Persepolis, by Artaxerxes II (r. 404–358 BCE) or Artaxerxes III (r. 358–338 BCE). The building at Pasargadae is a few decades older. The wall surrounding the tower dates to Sassanid times.[1]


Ka'ba-ye Zartosht in front of Darius II's mausoleum

Alireza Shapur Shahbazi believes that the phrase Ka'ba-ye Zartosht is new and non-scientific and its origin is around the fourteenth century. The local name of the structure was Kornaykhaneh or Naggarekhaneh and the Europeans considered it the special site of worshiping fire for the inside of the structure was blackened by smoke; and since they mistook the Zoroastrians for fire-worshipers, they attributed the place to them and named it the Zoroastrians' fire temple; and as the shape of the structure was cuboid and the black stones that were placed in the white background of its walls remarked the Black Stone, the Muslims' Kaaba, it became famous as Ka'ba-ye Zartosht.[3]

The Encyclopedia Iranica explains about the name of the structure:"Ka'ba-ye Zartosht has probably acquired its name in the fourteenth century, the time that the ruined ancient sites in the whole Iran were attributed to characters in the Quran or Shahnameh. This does not mean that the place has been Zoroaster's mausoleum and there is also no report of the pilgrims' travels there for pilgrimage."[4]

Due to the discovery of Kartir's inscription on its walls, it is revealed that the name of the structure in the Sasanian era was Bon Khanek, meaning the Fundamental House; so that it is written in the inscription text:[5] "This Fundamental House will belong to you. Act as the best way you see suitable that will delight our gods and purpose (implying Shapur I)." There is no more knowledge of the name of the structure in earlier periods.[3]

Ibn al-Balkhi has mentioned the name of the area of Naqsh-e Rustam and its mountain as Kuhnebesht and has considered the reason of the naming that the book Avesta was held there.[6] The word Dezhnebesht or Dezhkatibehs might have been used for the structure Ka'ba-ye Zartosht.[5]


Inside the structure

The structure of Ka'ba-ye Zartosht is a cuboid and has only one entrance door that leads inside its chamber by a stairway made of stone; and there are four blind windows on each side of the Ka'ba.[7] The material of the used stones in the structure is white marbly limestone that has dentate shelves from black stone on its walls; and the stones of the structure are brought from Mount Sivand in a place called Na'al Shekan to Naqsh-e Rustam.[5] The pieces of stone are scraped largely and mostly in rectangular forms and are put on each other without using mortar; and in some places, like the rooftop, the stones are connected to each other by dovetail joints.[8] The sizes of the stones vary from 2.90 * 2.10 * 0.48 to 1.10 * 1.08 * 0.56 meters; however in the west wall, there is a flat stone that is 4.40 meters large.[3]

The vertical and horizontal sections of the structure

Four large rectangular pieces of stone cover the ceiling with an eastern-western axis. Each of those stones are 7.30 meters long and are sewn to each other by dovetail joints and the scraping method has given the structure the shape of a short pyramid. The anathyrosis style is used in putting the stones on each other; but no accurate order is retained in the ranking of the stones; and in some places, 20 rows and in some other places, 22 rows of stones are put on each other until reaching the ceiling. Wherever there was an error or flaw in the main stone, the part was removed and filled with delicate joints, some of which still remain.[3]

Rectangular pits outside the structure

In order to prevent the monotonicness and monochromicness of the structure from becoming too recognizable, two architectural diversities are applied in it: one forming double-edged shelves from one or two grey black stone plates and placing them on the walls; and two digging small rectangular pits in the upper and middle part of the walls that give a special delicacy to the face of the structure. The black stones were probably brought from Mount Mehr in Persepolis and put in the walls in three rows as the following:[3]


The stairway of the structure

A thirty-stair stairway (each stair 2 to 2.12 meters long, 26 centimeters wide and 26 centimeters high) is placed in the chest of the northern wall that reaches the threshold of the entrance doorway. Thus, it is completely obvious that the intention was for the structure to have the shape of a three-floor tower that has seven doors and hatches on each floor; but only one door is made true and the others are left as holeless blind windows.[3]

The structure stands on a three-stair platform; and the first stair is 27 centimeters above the main floor below; and the tower is 14.12 meters high, including the triple stairs. The base of the structure is square-shaped, with each side approximately 7.30 meters long. The ceiling of the structure is smooth and flat inwards, but has a bilateral slope outside that begins from the line in the middle of the rooftop. The entrance doorway is 1.75 meters high and 87 centimeters wide and has had a two-panel and very heavy door; and the place of the upper and lower heels of each panel are removed in the stone and completely obvious.[9] Some have assumed that that the door is made of wood; but a stone door of the same kind exists in Solomon's Prison in Pasargadae; and another is found in Ka'ba-ye Zartosht that proves that the doors of both structures are made of stone.[10] The door led to a room that is quadrangular and has an area of 3.74*3.72 meters and is 5.5 meters high with the thicknesses of its walls between 1.54 and 1.62 meters.[3]


Ka'ba-ye Zartosht (foreground,right) against the backdrop of Naqsh-e Rustam.

From a reference to fire altars in a Sassanid inscription on the building it was inferred[11] that the structure was once a fire altar, or perhaps as an eternal flame memorial to the emperors whose tombs are located a few meters away. This theory has however since been rejected since the lack of cross-ventilation would have soon choked the flame,[12] and in any case, the author of the inscription is unlikely to have known the purpose of the building seven centuries after its construction.[13]

A later opinion suggested that both it and its sister building were safety boxes for the "paraphernalia of rule".[2]

Today, scholars[1] consider the structure to be an Achaemenid royal tomb, and it has been observed by F. Weissbach and A. Demandt that both the Ka'ba-ye Zartosht and its sister building at Pasargadae "more closely correspond to the description of Cyrus the Great's tomb by Arrian (6.29) and Strabo (15.3.7) than does the monument in Pasargadae which is commonly attributed to this king."[1]


The Sassanid-era wall surrounding the structure has four inscriptions dating to the 3rd century.

The trilingual inscription ('KZ') of Shapur I (241–272) is on the eastern (Middle Persian text), western (Parthian text) and southern (Greek text) walls. A Middle Persian inscription of the high priest Kartir — the 'KKZ' inscription — is below Shapur's on the eastern wall.

Inscription of Shapur

The trilingual inscription of Shapur I (r. 240-270), known as SKZ, KZ, Res Gestae Divi Saporis, or The Great Inscription of Shapur I, contains his account of the operation of his reign. It sheds light on the operation of the early Persian kingdom, and includes the enumeration of the lands under direct Sasanian control.[14] It also contains a description of Shapur's Roman Wars which differs significantly from the account in Roman sources. Shapur claims to have defeated and killed the emperor Gordian III at Misikhe, defeated a large Roman force at Barbalissos, and captured the emperor Valerian in a battle between Edessa and Carrhae.[15] Res Gestae Divi Saporis. Roman sources only mention the latter battle and usually imply that Valerian was captured through treachery.

The name Res Gestae Divi Saporis was given to it by archaeologist M.I. Rostovtzeff in imitation of the emperor Augustus' Res Gestae Divi Augusti.[16]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Gropp 2004.
  2. 1 2 Frye 1974, p. 386.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Shahbazi. The Illustrated Description of Naqsh-e Rustam.
  4. Gropp. "KAʿBA-YE ZARDOŠT". In Encyclopædia Iranica.
  5. 1 2 3 Sami. The Most Important and Large Writing from the Sasanian Empire Era.
  6. Ibn al-Balkhi. Fārs-Nāma.
  7. Behnam. Naqsh-e Rustam in the Coronations of the Sasanian Kings.
  8. ""The Ka'bah-i-Zardusht". University of Chicago Oriental Institute".
  9. Rajabi. Kartir and His Inscription in Ka'ba-ye Zartosht.
  10. Sami. The Sasanian Civilization.
  11. Herzfeld 1935, pp. 35–37.
  12. Boyce 1975, p. 458.
  13. Goldman 1965, p. 306.
  14. 2014 & Rapp, p. 28.
  15. André Maricq, "Classica et Orientalia par André Marixq: 5. Res Gestae Divi Saporis" in Syria vol.35, parts 3/4, p.295-360 (1958) doi |10.2307/4197176 JSTOR
  16. James Noel Adams, J; Janse, Mark; Swain, Simon (2002). "Bilingualism in Ancient Society: Language Contact and the Written Word". ISBN 9780199245062.


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Coordinates: 29°59′18″N 52°52′26″E / 29.98844°N 52.87395°E / 29.98844; 52.87395

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