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Qizqapan cave • ئەشکەوتی قزقاپان • الكهف قزقابان

Off the main road in Chemi Rezan Valley is Qizqapan, a mountain that is famed for a rock-cut tomb located 7 meters up a precipice, with a richly carved façade containing a doorway leading to three funerary chambers.

Locally, the site is considered the grave for the Medes' final king. This king is actually unknown, but the vaguely historical association imbues the site with nostalgic esteem. The idea sounds nice: the final ruler of antiquity's last Kurdish kingdom. The tomb is also known as Seriserd.

Historian Igor Diakonov associates this tomb with Median king Cyaxeres, who united regional tribes to make the Media a powerful kingdom. This would date the tomb to his death in 585 BC. His father was killed in battle with Assyrian king Ashurbanipal; his son succeeded him; and through his daughter Mandane, he was the grandfather of Cyrus the Great.

The columns date the tomb to the 6th or 5th centuries BC. They follow an ionic template, with purely Greek florals between the curls and a reglet atop the column (below the rafters). This style dates the columns (and tomb) to the late Achaemenid era, at the late 5th or even early 4th centuries BC. Thus, the tomb was perhaps from a local ruler who lived and died during the Achaemenid era.

The façade shows vivid duality between the Zoroastrian faravahar and the indigenous Mespotamian solar god Shamash. Zoroastrian art draws motifs from Mesopotamian and broader Near Eastern traditions. It is common to see loud Mesopotamian echoes in Zoroastrian symbols, but the Qizqapan façade has more than an echo: it couples religious symbols that should really be mutually exclusive. More than just being unusually far-reaching uptake of Mesopotamian art traditions, the façade suggests deeper religious fusion in the Zagros, the geographic interface between Mesopotamia and Persia.

At the top left is a faravahar, the ancient symbol for Zoroastrianism's three-part maxim of good thinking, speaking, and behaving. The faravahar is based on the symbol for Shamash: an anthropomorphic upper-body holding a disc and rising from the wings of an eagle. (Click here to see Shamash; the Assyrian symbol for Ashur is the same, except bows and arrows are held instead of a disc.) The sole difference between the faravahar and the Shamash symbol upon which it is based, is that there faravahar has two downward tendril loops (one each for Sepanta Minu and Ankareh Minu) as seen on the symbol at Qizqapan.

However, opposite the faravahar at the top right of the façade is an eleven-point star exclusively associated with Shamash. The star can be seen on this cylinder seal, identical to the Qizqapan façade's in every way down to the circle at the terminus of each ray. This star is absent from Zoroastrian iconography the same way the tendrils are absent from Shamash iconography. The Qizqapan façade shows coupling of typically non-overlapping older religious art motifs from Mesopotamia with new Zoroastrian ones from Persia.

Most visitors see the famous Zoroastrian faravahar and say Qizqapan is Zoroastrian. The solar Shamash symbol goes unrecognized and the conflict goes unresolved between the faravahar and Shamash symbol. But exploring the relationship between the two brings important questions. Was Zoroastrianism really supreme when the Qizqapan façade was carved? If so, then is it really likely that the façade was simply transitional art as Zoroastrianism sucked up Mesopotamian artistic features while altogether supplanting the old, indigenous religion?

I suggest that the façade is not just a transition with relics of the old, but expresses a synthesis called Zurvanism that was at work in the Zagros. Indeed, during the Achaemenid era, the Medes (who ruled the Zagros) practiced a Zoroastrian variation called Zurvanism. It is thought that Zurvanism might have been a fusion of indigenous Mesopotamian religions with conventional Zoroastrianism from Persia. Thus, it is plausible that the Qizqapan façade might be an exceptionally vivid, unsurpassed, and rare expression of Zurvanism. (In contradistinction to just being a transitional art piece from Shamash worship to Zoroastrianism.)

There are three symbols,

  • Shamash / faravahar symbol

  • Kingly symbol

  • Shamash / solar symbol

At the top left of the Qizqapan façade is the faravahar which may have actually been Shamash. Note that it holds up a cup to the west, the rising sun.

In the top middle is a kingly figure holding a cup to the west, like Shamash to his left. The figure is encircled in a moon crescent. This crescent symbol usually represents Ninnar, who begot Shamash. Thus, the figure might be the king, another representation of Shamash, or an association of the king with Shamash.

To the top right is a circle from which emanate eleven rays, each with a disc at the end. This symbol is associated with Shamash in Mesopotamian art.

The main feature of the façade is two Median noblemen tending to a fire altar. The religious fabric of the tomb is a mix of influences from Mesopotamia from the west and Persian Zorostrianism from the east, and surely space for indigenous frameworks as well. Cylinder seals, Sassanian coins, and other carvings from Persia also feature two armed, noble figures facing a central fire altar. (Here are some instances: 1, 2, 3.) In other examples, the altar is aflame, though at Qizqapan it appears as just a dome, arch, or heap. The two figures are sometimes described as priests due to their religious, ceremonial function. Indeed, they wear face covering consistent with Zoroastrian priests at a fire altar. However, a purely religious service is contradicted by the prominent bow each one carries. This intersection of religious, military, and maybe familial function indicates roles as military commanders, religious officiates, and royal relatives -- a group best and ambiguously called noblemen.

The interior is a tomb. There are three chambers with varying designs. Totally gutted, it is unclear who was buried in these chambers.