Falak-ol-Aflak castle, Iran

Shapur Khast (Persian: شاپورخواست) or Falak-ol-Aflak is a Sassanid castle located on a large hill with the same name within the city of Khorramabad, Iran’s regional capital Lorestan province. During the Sassanid period (224–651), this enormous structure was built. It is one of Iran’s most important historical monuments, being its largest brick building and probably its oldest surviving military structure as well.

The old castle sits on top of a rock mountain having an altitude of 1750 meters from sea level, near a small town called Ferdows in northeastern Iran between Shushtar and Dezful about 90 kilometers from Ahvaz.

There is evidence of an earlier construction phase from 1000 BCE, as bricks used to build the main structure are believed to have been stolen from older monuments. The date of this founding has been established by architectural analysis and the discovery of Sassanian-era clay fire-pottery on site.

The ancient site was first described by William Loftus who visited it in 1849, and his observations were published posthumously in 1861. A more refined version was simultaneously published by Sir Alexander Burnes who also visited this site during his travel through that area in the 1840s.

Falak-ol-Aflak castle that exists nowadays is not the original construction. It has been destroyed and reconstructed many times from the Sassanid era to the Qajar era. The impressive part of the construction is its massive brick gateways, with their pointed archways standing almost intact after a millennium.

Falak-ol-Aflak Castle was originally built around 470 AD on the top of a mountain in Khuzestan province. The Sassanian king of kings, known as Bahram Chobin, built this citadel to help him control the Arab tribes in the area.

The castle is square in plan with each side about 70 meters long and its walls are made of sun-dried bricks on stone foundations. Its only entrance is on the northern side, above which are several water reservoirs kept full by small dams on nearby springs. There are four circular bastions at four corners of the castle that had watch towers installed at their tops to provide views for kilometers around them. A substantial part of the exterior brickwork is intact but many parts have been reduced to ruins from war attacks.

Today there remain two main parts: the residential and the military. The first was built at the beginning of the 5th century and the second consists of four towers finished during the 13th century.

Objects discovered on site indicate that people lived at Falak-ol-Aflak as early as the 3rd millennium BCE, although there is little other evidence for that time period. A number of objects from the 1st to 4th centuries have been securely identified including pottery, coins, glassware, textiles, etc.

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The castle’s most recent use was as a prison until 1968. It was then transformed into a museum complex with three museums by Iran’s Cultural Heritage Organization. These are known as Malek National Museum (for items found at this site), Prince Bahman Museum (for items belonging to Mohammad Ebne, son of Esmaeel, the last king of the Qajar dynasty), and Jafarian Museum which is dedicated to life at Falak-ol-Aflak.

When visiting the castle, be prepared to climb a lot of stairs. However, seeing the castle’s beauty is well worth the effort. It feels as if each tower in the castle speaks to you about time past. The majesty of the castle is revealed when seen from below, and its magnificence is displayed when viewed from the highlands around.

More information about how to visit Falak-ol-Aflak here

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