Located in Kermanshah city in the west of Iran, the ancient relic of Taq-e Bostan, meaning Arch of the Garden, encompasses two nearby arches, several rock reliefs, and inscriptions cut on a mountain cliff in front of a pond. This ancient complex was created during the Sassanid Empire (224-651 CE) to illustrate the significant historical events of the time related to several kings including Khosro Parviz, Ardeshir II, Shapur II, and Shapur III. Sassanid kings as successors of the Achaemenian Empire (550-330 BCE) chose firstly Fars province and its neighboring areas for their majestic bas-reliefs.
However, from the mid-Sassanian era, they represented this art in other provinces as well as in the west and north-west of Iran to accentuate and legitimize their power and sovereignty across the country. Besides, the religious center of Iran was changed from Fars to Azerbaijan in the northwest of the country and thus, the importance of these new areas increased drastically.
In the bigger arch of Taq-e Bostan, with an iwan carved in the cliff (around 7.85 meters in width, 11.90 meters in length and 90 cm in depth), there are pictures of women playing musical instruments such as Harp and different wind instruments. The rock relief on the right side of this arch shows the investiture ceremonies of Ardeshir II (379-383 CE), the ninth Sassanid King. In this scene, the king is standing while his left hand is on the hilt of a sword, and he is receiving the diadem (symbol of royal investiture) with his right hand from Ahura Mazda.
Also, the god of light, Mithra, is standing behind Ahura Mazda with a halo around his head. He is in fact, the witness to this pact. Importantly, the king’s and Ahura Mazda’s feet are on the body of Julianus (361-363 CE), the Roman emperor, who was considered a powerful enemy. The king has big eyes, thick eyebrows, curled beard, and long hair reaching his shoulders. He is wearing a ring-shaped earing with a small ball attached to it, a bracelet, and also a necklace comprised of a row of pearls.
The bigger arch’s rock relief also shows the investiture of Khosro Parviz while he has raised his right hand in the direction of an old man and his left hand is on the hilt of a sword. The face of the king is damaged but from what has remained, it can see that the king has a rather plump face with round eyes and thick eyebrows. His crown is adorned with two rows of pearls. In the front section of the relief, there is a crescent on a small rod with two wings of an eagle attached to its sides.
The old standing man is giving the king a diadem with his right hand while his left hand is on his chest. Some believe that this old man is Mithra, the god of light. On the left of the scene, Anahita, the goddess of water is shown carrying a pitcher and the diadem with her left and right hands, respectively.
Next to the arch, there are rock reliefs of two winged angels, the tree of life (sacred tree), and royal hunting scenes (including pictures of elephants, deer, bow, arrow, lake, and boats) that all depict the Sassanid Empire’s ceremonies and symbols. Below the relief indicating the investiture of Khosro Parviz, there is a mounted Persian knight figure in battle armor riding a horse. Some believe that the figure refers to Khosro II (591-628 CE). This rock relief was carved under the influence of Byzantine art.
The smaller arch located on the right side of the bigger arch is 5.8 meters in width and 5 meters in length. The reliefs of Shapur II and Shapur III and two inscriptions indicating the names of the kings and their ancestries are carved in this arch. These reliefs have been damaged several times by humans. For example, during the Qajar era (1789-1925), Muhammad Ali Mirza (Fath Ali Shah’s son) ordered to replace his relief with the former ancient reliefs. The relief depicts Muhammad Ali is sitting on a throne with a plump face, long beard, and curved mustache. The crown he is wearing is similar to that of Fath Ali Shah.