(Building of Persepolis began in 518 B.C.E. and continued for about 150 years.)
In Shiraz, I saw even more images of lions. These are from the Bagh-e Narenjestan:
(Built between 1879 and 1886)
At the Azerbaijan Museum in Tabriz, the lion motif was everywhere. Here are three of the many:
(Sassanians: 224-642 C.E.)
I even found the lions on modern, every-day items, like in the two pictures from Maragheh below:
(On a large truck)
(On a couch at my uncle's store)
I've been working on this last entry for five days now (not counting the time I spent taking pictures, of course), editing and re-editing as is my habit to get this metaphor of lion-sized problems to fit. I spent sentences and paragraphs lamenting the lionesque problems of Iran--poverty, gender inequality, religious fanaticism, media censorship, corruption--a pride's worth. Reflecting on what I learned during this trip, I've never felt the differences so deeply nor felt so lucky to have grown up as I did. I thought about how much the country needs a lion-tamer, a gladiator, someone who unlike me doesn't cringe at the thought of these massive teeth and claws, who knows that these lions are definitively and completely their battle and their cause.
It's a good metaphor, but it leaves something out of the comparison. The more I've edited, the clearer it has become that my first hunch at Persepolis wasn't quite right. It's not the problems of Iran that are the lions. It's not even the former rulers, who have used the fierce and proud animal as their symbol for centuries. It's Iranians themselves.
Look at the first picture in reverse. There is the high and mighty ruler fighting the lion with a sword. Look again at the lions kept on chains and pierced with bullet holes. Can you feel the caged power of the people, their natural ferocity and pride kept in check with violence and fear? Do you feel their hope and kindness hardening from constant battle? Do you understand how their endless losing stops the progress that we take for granted?
Maybe one day, the world will see the lions holding the sword in more than old pictures.
(Current flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran)
(Flag under the Pahlavi Shahs before the revolution; the lion, sun, and sword emblem was also used by previous dynasties of shahs.)