The Helmand Sistan Project
Key Sites

Shahr-i Gholghola: Citadel Palace

Latitude: 30.57893266   Longitude: 62.09031513

Map Number: 24  Go to the MAP

The Citadel of rises approximately 25 m above the plain around it and is defended by two walls and a moat. The citadel is crowned with a Palace of approximately 55 x 55 m, holding three stories of rooms. There are several unusual things about the structure of the Palace: it is not centered on the Citadel but toward the eastern end, the exterior walls are not squared but slightly angled, and the walls are not constructed in straight lines but serpentine in shape.

From a single heavily-fortified entrance on the south wall, a series of passageways and courtyards leads to an Audience Hall, framed by a mudbrick dome held up by corner pillars, at the western edge of the Palace. A porch overlooking the city sits behind the Audience Hall. The eastern side of the Palace hosts third story apartments for the elite above more pedestrian rooms used by soldiers and functionaries and for storage. The first floor, filled with debris and sand and inaccessible to us, probably also served those functions.

The mudbrick decorative elements in the architecture lack the elaborate designs of the constructions of Mahmud of Ghazni and his successors in the 11th and 12th centuries CE. This suggests the Palace is slightly earlier, making it the only example of 10th century royal Saffarid architecture known. Modest reuse of parts of it in the Timurid period give the Palace a history of over 500 years.

In 1974, we excavated along the foundation along the west wall of the Palace and discovered that the standing building sits atop previous public buildings from the Sasanian and Parthian times, adding another 1000 years to the history of the Citadel.

Satellite view of the Citadel and its Palace. Note that the palace walls are not squared nor is the building centered on the Citadel summit. The sole entrance into the Citadel through the lower wall is at the upper left; the entrance through the upper wall is to the right (upper center) and reached from the lower gate via a steep ramp. The visitor then has to circle halfway around the Palace to enter through its sole gate on the south side. Photo AHMP, University of Chicago.
Plan of the second floor of the Citadel Palace. Note the serpentine exterior walls. From the single protected gate on the south, the visitor could proceed to Courtyard B in the center to reach the Audience Hall facing Courtyard A. There is a patio behind the Audience Hall, which would allow the perpetual northwest breezes to circulate during the hot summers. Small rooms around the edge of the second story probably housed soldiers, staff, or supplies. Staircases from several courtyards led to a first story beneath. Third story apartments occupied the southeast corner of the building. Plan by James Knudstad.
The Citadel Palace held a commanding view of the region.
The serpentine outer wall of the Palace was constructed of almost a quarter million baked bricks and repaired with a pakhsa coating when needed.
Courtyard B is in the center of the second story of the Palace. One passage from the courtyard leads west to the Audience Hall on the western side of the building (left). A staircase (lower right) reaches the first floor. The domed roof of one of the lower floor rooms is visible in the courtyard (center). Small rooms surround the courtyard. The Circular Wall and Outer Wall are visible to the east in the distance.
The pillars of the domed chartaq of the Audience Hall. The surrounding Courtyard A has heavily plastered walls.
The view from the open patio behind the Audience Hall. With the wind continually coming from the northwest, its position allowed for breezes to circulate through the Audience Hall.
One of the staircases leading to the first floor of the Palace. We were unable to access those rooms.
Bits of the baked brick flooring of the third story apartments are preserved at the tops of the walls surrounding Courtyard D (above the meter stick) at the southeast corner of the Palace.
Ceramics found in our 1974 excavation beneath the serpentine wall of the Palace confirmed the building was constructed in the 9th or 10th century. More striking is that we found two previous layers of occupation prior to construction of the Palace. Shallow remains of a wall run beneath the Palace, seen at the bottom of this deep trench. A later drain bordered with baked brick is upper right.
The corner of a room with a floor made of large baked bricks and mudbrick walls framed with baked bricks of the same size was found 2 m below the base of the serpentine Palace wall. Ceramics found in this room dated this building to the Sasanian period. Another meter beneath this floor were remains of an even earlier building associated with Parthian period ceramics.



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