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What Is a Persian Column?

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Stone column with bull carving, Hall of a Hundred Columns at Persepolis

The Hall of a Hundred Columns at Persepolis has stone columns with massive capitals (tops) carved with bulls or horses.

Photo by Luis Argerich, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license Ancient Persian column remains beyond a squared stone gateway arch in Persepolis

Persepolis, Gateway of Xerxes, leading to Persian columns in background

Photo by Luis Argerich, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license Ancient Persian column remains of Apadana, the great meeting place in Persepolis

Ancient Persian remains of Apadana, the great meeting place in Persepolis

Photo © Alex Linghorn via Getty Images

Definition:

Some of the world's most elaborate columns were made during the fifth century BC in Persia, a land that is now Iran. The Hall of a Hundred Columns at Persepolis is famous for stone columns with massive capitals (tops) carved with bulls or horses.

As ancient Persia built empires, the unique Persian column style inspired builders in many parts of the world. Adaptations of the Persian column may incorporate a variety of animal or human images.

Common Features Found on Persian Columns:

  • The shaft is usually fluted (grooved)
  • The capital (top) is carved with two half-horses or half-bulls standing back-to-back
  • Carvings on the capital (top) may also include scroll-shaped designs (volutes) similar to the designs on a Greek Ionic column.

Common Misspellings: persan, pursan, pershan

About the Persian Columns from Persepolis:

"Often of extraordinary slenderness, sometimes as much as fifteen diameters high, they bear witness to their wooden ancestry; nevertheless their fluting and their tall graceful bases are expressive of stone and stone alone. It is more than possible that the fluting and the high bases were both borrowed from the early Greek work of Asia Minor, with which the Persians came into contact very near the beginning of the expansion of their empire....Some authorities find Greek influence in the scrolls and bell portion of this capital, but the crosspiece with its carved animals is essentially Persian and merely a decorative expression of the old wooden crotched posts so frequently used in the early simple houses."—Professor Talbot Hamlin, FAIA, Architecture through the Ages, Putnam, Revised 1953, pp. 70-71

Why Did Alexander the Great Destroy Persepolis? >>

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