At the city’s northern edge, Kermanshah’s star attraction is Taq-e Bostan, a towering cliff inscribed with some extraordinary Sassanian bas-reliefs. They are set in and around a pair of carved alcoves. The biggest and newest alcove feafeatures elephant-backed hunting scenes on the side walls and highlights the coronation of Khosrow II beneath which the king rides off in full armour and chain mail looking like the Black Prince. The second niche shows kings Shapur II and Shapur III twiddling their sword handles and enjoying a relaxed chat apparently oblivious to the footballs that have landed on their heads.
Awesome dry cliffs line the north flank of the busy, partly industrialised Kermanshah–Hamadan road, looking especially majestic when approaching Bisotun from Sahneh. At Bisotun these cliffs are inscribed with a series of world-famous bas-relief carvings dating from 521 BC. They were awarded Unesco recognition in 2006. The key feature is a well-preserved Darius receiving chained supplicants while a farohar (winged Zoroastrian ‘angel’ denoting purity) hovers overhead. Though hard to make out from ground level, the scene is surrounded by cuneiform inscriptions expounding upon Darius’ greatness in three ‘lost’ languages (Elamite, Akkadian and Old Persian). In 1835, eccentric British army officer Henry Rawlinson bemused locals by dangling for months over the abyss to make papier-mâché casts of these texts. It’s hard to know how his superiors gave him the time off to attempt so life-threatening an eccentricity, nor why Rawlinson didn’t just tootle up to Ganjnameh and copy those inscriptions instead. Nonetheless, his transcriptions later allowed the deciphering of the cuneiform scripts, a thrilling breakthrough that renders Bisotun as significant to Persia-philes as the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptologists.