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Shvoong Home>Social Sciences>Anthropology>The Shah's Great Wall Summary

The Shah's Great Wall

Article Summary   by:IPF75     Original Author: Eric Allen
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Dating back to the 6th century AD. The sixty foot walls that surrounded Narin Kala sill stand despite facing 1,500 years of wars and invasion.  The castle that spans eighteen acres was built by the shahanshas of the Sassanian Empire and was the anchor for the defenses of Narin Kala.  Also called the Great Wall of the Caucasus, it was originally intended to provide safety to the Sasanians from invading nomadic people from the north.

            Archaeologist, Martazalie Gadji, from the Russian Academy of Sciences is the senior archaeologist of the excavations.  The city name meaning, barred gate, is located on a strategic point of land in the Caspian Corridor.  The importance of these hilltop settlements date back to the Bronze Age, and fortifications had been built here by the 8th century BC.  These defenses are even mentioned in the Roman general Pompey’s writings about campaigns in the Caucasus.

            Although is not as well known in the US as other empires, the Sasanian Empire was an important power during its time. The empire, itself, dates back to 224 AD; and Derbent, the site of these walls, is on the Northern frontier.  At its height the Sasanian empire stretched from the Mediteranean to modern day Pakistan.

            Under the Shahanshas, Zoroastrianism was made the state religion.  In fact the ruins of the Zorastrian fire temples in Iran are the most obvious landmarks of the Sasanian Empire.  Other aspects of their culture, too, had an effect on the arts and philosophies of later Islamic cultures.

            During the rule of Shahashah Khosros II, construction of the citadel and wall began, at a time of revitalization for the empire. Although it has been changed significantly since it was first built, the citadel is one the few great testaments to this period in Sasanian history.

            Archaelogists from Britain and Iran formed a joint effort to survey the Wall of Gorgon, located near the Iran/Turkistan border.  It reaches over 120 miles to the Caspian Sea and predates the Derbent Stone fortifications.  Other sites, as well, have been surveyed including Torpakh-Kala, a mud-brick fortress near the Azerbaijan border. Ghilghil Chay (wall of clay) a mud-brick fortification that runs for sixty miles. It is believed to be the model for the wall later built at Derbent.

            Although still in its beginning stages, the excavation of the southern corner of Narin Kala have already revealed much of this period’s rich history.  Among these finds is the burial site of six Russian soldiers form the 19th century.  These soldiers were believed to have been killed in an 1831 seige by Chechen fighters. Now that the Soviet Union is no more, Derbent has become a strategic point again due to its location on the southern border of Russia.

            Gadgeiv has uncovered many long forgotten parts of the fortification and has counted a total of sixty forts.  During these excavations he has found artifacts from the Sassanian period, as well as Arabic, Mongolian, and Turkic artifacts.

            Today, though, the walls are in poor shape.  The demise of the walls can be traced back to the 19th century when the fortification lost its military importance.  Stones have since been removed by locals for new buildings.  However in 2003, Derbent was placed on the UNESC World Heritage List in order to preserve what remains.

Published: August 22, 2008   
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