"Persepolis From the Air" is a film featured in the Oriental Institute's special exhibit "Persepolis: Images of an Empire" (October 13, 2015–September 11, 2016). This exhibit, curated by Oriental Institute Curator Kiersten Neumann, PhD, presents large-format photographs taken during the Oriental Institute Persian Expedition of 1931–1939. These extraordinary images show the ruins of one of the greatest dynastic centers of antiquity, built at the height of the Achaemenid Persian empire (550–330 BC). This film was produced by the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) at the Oriental Institute.
During the Oriental Institute's Persian Expedition to Iran (1931–1939), Erich Schmidt conducted two seasons of aerial survey explorations of an unprecedented scale (1935–1937). From his plane, given to him by his wife Mary-Helen Warden Schmidt, and named Friend of Iran, Schmidt and his assistant Boris Dubensky took aerial photographs of excavations already in progress, of sites under consideration for archaeological work, and of areas of Iran yet to be explored. The aerial photographs were published in the Oriental Institute special publication Flights Over Ancient Cities of Iran in 1940. Additional large-scale prints are on display in the nearby Robert and Deborah Aliber Persian Gallery.
Aerial photographs such as Schmidt’s provide a detailed, bird’s-eye perspective on archaeological sites. This perspective allows archaeologists to see ancient architectural plans and road networks, and to understand the relationship between ancient settlements and their surrounding environment. These photographs also provide records of landscapes that are now profoundly altered. In today’s world where anyone with access to a computer can use Google Earth to “visit” sites across the globe, it is important to recall the contributions made by pioneers like Schmidt to viewing the earth from above.
This video details how researchers at the Oriental Institute’s Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) have used the Schmidt aerial photographs from the 1930s and published materials to build a 3D model of Persepolis. The model allows you to explore the architecture of the site and to observe some of the differences between the Persepolis of today and that of Schmidt’s era over eighty years ago.