Centre for Continuing Education

Iran Study Day: The Glory of Ancient Persia

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Few countries can boast of such an illustrious past as Iran (ancient Persia). Join us for this richly-illustrated Study Day in which we examine Iran’s most powerful empires. Among the sites we visit are the awe-inspiring Achaemenid palaces and tombs of Persepolis, Susa, and Naqsh-i Rustam. We will also enter the lesser known, but equally powerful, world of the Sasanians whose opulent palaces and rock carvings at Bishapur and Firuzabad, along with the remarkable religious centre of Takht-i Sulaiman (with its bottomless lake and great Fire Temple) represent some of the finest monuments seen in Iran today. We will explore enchanting Persian cities such as Yazd, on the edge of the Dasht-i Kavir, with its brooding Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, narrow winding lanes and mud-brick houses, and opulent merchants' mansions with their tall wind-towers. Finally we will wander through the stunning parks and gardens, caravanserais, bazaars, and mosques of Safavid Isfahan, truly the Pearl of Islam.

Course content

Landscapes and Migrations

In this talk we will travel through the superb desert and mountain landscapes of Iran and also examine some of the great movements of tribes and peoples throughout the millennia which have resulted in the remarkable diversity of cultures which make up modern day Iran.

The Achaemenids

Before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century CE, Iran had been the centre of several of the world’s greatest empires. Of these, the empire of the Achaemenids was the first and arguably the most powerful and extensive. Formed largely by the conquests of the first three Achaemenid Kings—Cyrus, Darius, Cambyses—this “Persian” empire extended from the shores of the Mediterranean as far east as modern Pakistan and into Central Asia. The heartland of the empire always remained Iran where the great palaces at Parsagadae, Susa, and Persepolis served both as dwelling places for the Great King as well as repositories of fabulous wealth from all parts of the empire. It is Persepolis which, despite its burning by Alexander the Great, is by far the best preserved. Here, just as in Antiquity, one can still pass through Xerxes' Gate of All Lands, guarded by pairs of carved winged human-headed bulls, wander through the Apadana (audience hall) many of whose immense columns still stand, and gaze at the monumental relief sculptures which cover the palaces of Darius and his successors.

The Sasanians

For some four hundred years the Sasanians sat astride the great Silk Routes and controlled one of the mightiest empires of the ancient world. Surprisingly, they remain relatively unknown in the west, despite the fact that for much of the first millennium AD they were Rome’s most powerful rivals. Their imposing palaces at Firuzabad and Bishapur (with their great domes and iwans), rock-cut reliefs at Naqsh-i Rustam and Taq-i Bustan (depicting hunts, battles and coronations) and mysterious fire temple at Takht-i Soleiman represent some of the finest monuments seen in Iran today and, along with various aspects of Sasanian culture, still play an influential role in contemporary Iran.

Islamic Iran in the 1st and 2nd Millennia CE

In the early years following the Muslim conquests, the Islamic world was dominated by the Arabic-speaking dynasty of the Ummayads which looked west to the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean world as regards cultural influences. The overthrow of the Ummayads in the 8th century and the subsequent rule of the Abbasid caliphs saw the Islamic capital transferred from Damascus to Baghdad, resulting in a markedly increased Persian influence on the Abbasid court and on Muslim cultural practice in general. However it is with the arrival of the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century, to be followed by the Mongols, Timurids and, especially, the Safavids that Persian art, architecture, poetry and philosophy finally attained the brilliance which continues to entrance scholars and travellers alike.

The Safavids

It was during the brilliant Safavid era that modern Iran was born. This period witnessed an astonishing florescence in trade between Iran and its neighbours while Isfahan, the Persian capital for much of the Safavid period, remains one of the most dazzling and perfectly preserved cities of the Islamic world. Among the many architectural treasures still to be seen in the city are the handsome bridges crossing the Zayander Rud, exquisite pavilions set amongst splendid parks and gardens, vast bazaars and thriving ceramic workshops and, most striking of all, the great Maidan, flanked by tiled and arcaded shops and overlooked by the wonderful mosques of the Imam (formerly the Mosque of the Shah) and of Sheikh Lutfollah.

Recommended Readings

L. Allen, The Persian Empire. A History, British Museum Press, 2005
M. Axworthy, Empire of the Mind. A History of Iran, London 2007
M. Brosius, The Persians. An Introduction, Routledge 2006
S. R. Canby, The Golden Age of Persian Art 1501-1722, British Museum Press 1999
J. Curtis & N. Tallis (eds.), The Forgotten Empire. The World of Ancient Persia, British Museum Press, 2005
J. Curtis, Ancient Persia, British Museum Press, 2000 (multiple reprints)
G. Herrmann, The Iranian Revival, Phaidon Press, 1977
H. Rossiter, Sweet Boy Dear Wife: Jane Dieualfoy in Persia 1881–1886, Sydney 2015
N. Zorlu, Persia to Iran, Sydney 2015


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • I am very pleased that these courses are run at CCE. ‘Iran: The Glory of Persia’ was an informative and historical perspective on Iran. If the course had been expanded into two days allowing the lecturer to expand on historical events, I would have booked both days.

  • The booklet given to us was of a very high standard with beautiful photographs that I had not seen in the several books that I have read on this subject.

  • This is the first time that I have heard this lecturer. I was so impressed – so much knowledge! While this is a weighty topic, thankfully no filler activities were used which, for me, are a waste of time. Instead, humour was injected and a really balanced presentation. The day seemed to fly past.

  • Excellent insight into Iran’s culture and history.

  • Brilliant lecturer. Extremely well presented. A great day, thank you.

What others say.

  • Brilliant lecturer. Extremely well presented. A great day, thank you.
  • Excellent insight into Iran's culture and history.
  • The booklet given to us was of a very high standard with beautiful photographs that I had not seen in the several books that I have read on this subject.