Susa was once one of the most important and glamorous cities of the ancient world. People may be familiar with it as being the capital of the Persian Empire in the Book of Esther. According to that account, it was here that Esther was wed to the powerful Persian Emperor and managed to bravely save her Hebrew people from annihilation.Unfortunately, it remains difficult for people to visit this part of the world (Americans, Canadians, and British need a difficult visa to visit Iran - although it is easy for Europeans and Australians/New Zealanders). If one is adventurous and has taken the proper safety precautions (see current travel advice first), then consider also visiting what's left of the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq - one of the most important cities of the ancient world. Another is the Biblical significant ancient city of Ninevah.


The Historical Importance Of Susa

Susa was once part of the historic kingdom of Elam between Babylon and ancient Persia as the lower Zagros Mountains of Persia descend into the Mesopotamian region.

Susa is located around 160 miles east of the famous Tigris River and is between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers in what is today Iran. It is part of the greater region of what is often termed the "Cradle of Civilization." It appears in the very earliest Sumerian records and is one of the first recorded cities in human history.

  • Capital: Susa Was The Capital Of the Elam Empire And Later the Achaemenid Empire (aka Persian Empire)
  • Esther: The Setting For The Book Of Esther
  • Emperor: The Persian Emperor Called Ahasuerus (Thought to Be Xerxes I Who Invaded Greece)

In addition to the Book of Esther (called "Shushan"), it is also mentioned in the books of Nehemiah and Daniel. It is where Nehemiah is said to have lived in the 6th century BC.

Susa continued to be important and remained a strategic center during the Parthian and Sasanian periods (they were the empires that ruled this region during the Roman period). Of course, it is UNESCO World Heritage-listed.

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Susa Archeological Site Today

Today Susa is made up of three archeological mounds and covers around a square kilometer. On top of the archeological site is the modern Iranian town of Shush.

Today one can visit the excavated mounds and try to imagine what it was like during its heyday as the capital of what was then the largest Empire in the world. One can see where Esther is said lived and became the heroine of the Jewish people even today.

At the archeological site, one can see Ardeshir's palace, various excavated administrative, residential, and other monuments.

Susa was inhabited for thousands of years, so there are several layers of superimposed urban settlements on the site - these from a continuous record of occupation from around the late 5th millennium BCE until the 13th century CE.

  • Civilizations: Civilizations Represented here Include Elamite, Persian, and Parthian cultural traditions

Remember that tourist infrastructure in this part of Iran is limited and is better suited for the adventurous. One should also consider getting a professional guide while visiting the historic sites in Iran to really bring them to life.

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The Ziggurat of Choqa Zanbil

Very close to the ancient site of Susa is one of the best-preserved ziggurats in the world. Also in Iran is the Sialk Ziggurat which is one of the oldest known ziggurats dating from the early 3rd millennium BC. Most of these Mesopotamian Pyramids are in what is today Iraq, but some are in Iran.

  • Age Of the Choqa Zanbil: Built Around 1300 BC

The ancients believed that the ziggurats connected heaven and earth - shown in that the name of the ziggurat at Babylon (Etemenanki) means "House of the foundation of heaven and earth." It is thought that the famous tail in the Bible of the Tower of Babel is a reference to the ziggurats of Mesopotamia.

  • Tower Of Babel: Was Probably A Ziggurat - Possibly Etemenanki In Babylon
  • Name: The Word Ziggurat Comes From The Assyrian Word "Ziqquratu" Meaning "Height or Pinnacle"
  • Builders: Ziggurats Were Built by Ancient Sumerians, Akkadians, Elamites, Eblaites, and Babylonians
  • Where They Are: Mesopotamia - Today's Iraq and Western Iran


Unlike other temples, Mesopotamian ziggurats were not places for public worship or ceremonies. They were just the dwelling places for the gods. And the purpose was to get the temple closer to the heavens. The temple complex of which the ziggurats were a part included storage rooms, bathrooms, living quarters, and a courtyard.

The Choqa Zanbil ziggurat is open to the public today and has been partially restored. The admission fee is nominal.

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