Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Ozymandias, by Percy B Shelley
Cyrus the Great founded the first Achaemenid empire in 600 BC. From Media, then Lydia and finally Babylonia, Cyrus expanded his kingdom and thus, together with Greek, Babylonian and Egyptian civilisations, the Persian empire entered the historical realm of the world.
A worshiper of light, he was guided by the god, Ahura Mazda, to create the first true empire that was built on Zoroastrian tenets of: good thoughts, good words and good actions. Tolerance towards all religions, inclusiveness of all nationalities and kindness towards his subjects were his ways to harmonise the nation.
He freed the Jews in Babylon, abolished slavery and introduced salary. He gave his subjects freedom of speech and restored peace. He proposed what may well be the first charter of human rights; this is inscribed on Cyrus Cylinder that was found in the ruins of Babylon. Cyrus was much ahead of his time. It is no wonder, his subjects looked to him as the patriarch.
In his capital, Pasargad, there once stood a fortress, an audience hall and a residential palace. Cyrus also built Persian Gardens – an earthly paradise as per the Zoroastrian astrology. Here, he planted a variety of fruit and Cypress trees, roses, jasmine and other exotic plants. The gardens were nurtured by flowing streams and water canals.
Pasargad is where Cyrus chose to return to after his death. His tomb was set amidst a grove of fragrant trees, streams of running water and a meadow with lush grass, fiercely guarded by sentinels. Today, it is a far cry from its past glory. The gardens have long gone. And so have the streams, the flowers, birds and everything exotic and heavenly.
Alexander the Great, who admired Cyrus and his legacy, is said to have paid a visit to Cyrus’ tomb after destroying Persepolis. By then it was already looted and his coffin desecrated. An inscription read:
Oh! Man, whoever thou art and whence thou come, for I know thou shalt come.
I am Cyrus who founded this vast kingdom for Persians. Do not envy me this handful of dust which has sheltered me.
And dust is all there is in Pasargad’s 160 ha site, to show that nothing is permanent. What remains are a few reclusive columnades that have been erected against their will by those who hope to find some answers. Some have been marked callously with inscriptions that has reduced the once revered to insignificance.