If there is one province that helps to define Persian identity, it Fars in southwest Iran. The significance of this area for Persians and the nation of Iran cannot adequately be described in a short blog post. This province has been the center of the Persian people ever since they because a nation. It is from this area that the name of the Persian language, Farsi, derives its name. Actually, the real name of the province is Pars, but after the Arab conquest, the name was changed to Fars due to the fact that there is no sound for “p” in the Arabic alphabet.
It all started back in the 1st millennium BCE when the Indo-European tribes that would become the Persians migrated from the steppes of central Asia to what is now known as the Iranian plateau. They first settled in a region known as Parsumash, just north of ancient kingdom of Elam, which was on the wane and eventually wiped out as a political entity by the Assyrians around 640 BCE.
The Persian tribes under their ruler, King Teispes, came down from Parsumash and annexed what remained of Elam, specifically the kingdoms of Parsa and Anshan. The later, along with the legendary city of Susa, were at one time the great capitals cities of ancient Elam (more about the history of Elam here).
King Teispes was the son of Achaemenes, the man whom Persia’s first great imperial dynasty, the Achaemenids, took its name after. Anshan became the seat for one branch of the Achaemenid family and it was later on from here that the famed king and emperor, Cyrus the Great, first ruled from before moving his capital to nearby Pasargadae. Today Anshan is about 40 kilometers north of the city of Shiraz, the regional capital of Fars province.
One of Cyrus’ successors, the famed Darius I, or Darius the Great, built his capital at Parsa, also known as Persepolis, meaning “city of the Persians.” As the Persian Achaemenid Kings ruled the most powerful empire that up until then mankind had ever known, Persepolis and by extension the province of Pars were essentially the center of the world.
The Achaemenid empire eventually fell to Alexander of Macedonia, but roughly five hundred years later a new dynasty, that of the Sassanians, came to power. They too were Persians and modeled themselves after the Achaemenids to some extent. They also originated from Fars but eventually moved their capital to Ctesiphon, just south of Baghdad in modern-day Iraq.
Fars never really regained much of the glory that it held during pre-Islamic times until much after the Arab conquest. In a sense due to its historical links and significance to Persian identity, Fars was more or less neglected by the foreign conquers of Iran for centuries until the arrival of the Zand dynasty. It was at this time that the city of Shiraz became the capital of Iran and also a center for learning and the arts.
Today the countryside of Fars is inhabited by nomads and small villages and towns, with the city of Shiraz at its heart. With the revival of Persian identity during the last 100 years, Fars once again has become synonomous with Iran and evokes the glory days as being the seat of the great empires of Persia.
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