Archway of Ctesiphon near Baghdad, Iraq

The Archway of Ctesiphon at the verge of going into oblivion

This fabulous Arch of Ctesiphon is a doorway to the past which is closing down on us really fast.

The iconic Persian palace at Ctesiphon, in what is now Iraq, has recently collapsed partly and is in extreme danger of collapsing entirely. The Khosrow Palace constructed in the 3rd century by the Persian Shah (Sassanian Dynasty), is one of the ancient architectural and engineering wonders and a building of global significance. The arch is considered a groundbreaking feat in the architectural history of mankind and is the world’s largest single-span vault of unreinforced brickwork. It’s barrel vault roof, when fully intact, was the largest such structure on earth. The 1800-year-old archway is all that remains of 600-year-old Ctesiphon, once the capital of the Persian empire.

The story of Ctesiphon

Ctesiphon was an ancient town thriving on the eastern bank of Tigris and about 35 kilometers south-east of Baghdad today. Ctesiphon covered 30 square kilometers, more than twice the scale of 13.7 square kilometers of Imperial Rome in the fourth century. During the Parthian Empire, it became the capital of Persia in around 58 BC and remained the capital of the Sasanian Empire until the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651 AD. 

A reconstruction of Ctesiphon
Computer-aided reconstruction of the city of Ctesiphon

Ctesiphon grew into a prosperous commercial metropolis, integrating with the nearby cities along both river banks, including Seleucia’s Hellenistic City. Therefore, Ctesiphon and its surroundings were often referred to as “the City.” It was one of the largest cities in the world, in the late sixth and early seventh centuries.

The fall

During the military campaigns with the Roman Empire, Parthian Ctesiphon fell to the Romans four times, and later to the Sasanian dynasty. This was also the location of the Battle of Ctesiphon, where Julian the Apostate was killed in battle. Since the Muslim conquest, the city had decayed and had been depopulated by the end of the 8th century. The most impressive structure remaining today is the great Ctesiphon archway.

The Archway of Ctesiphon

Taq Kasra-The Archway of Ctesiphon is the highest single-span vault of unreinforced brickwork in the world, Tāq Kasrā, also transcribed as Taq-i Kisra, Taq-e Kesra, and Ayvān-e Kasrā; i.e. Iwan of Khosrow) are names given to the remains of the Sasanian Persian monument, also known as the Ctesiphon Archway. It is situated near the new town of Salman Pak, in Iraq. This is the only recognizable building that remains of the ancient city of Ctesiphon.

A computer-generated image depicting how the Imperial Palace might have looked
A computer-generated image depicting how the Imperial Palace might have looked

 The arch was a part of a complex of the imperial palaces. The throne room— presumably beneath or behind the arch. The arch was more than 35 m (110 ft) tall and 22 m (80 ft) wide by 46 m (160 ft) long. The roof of the arch is nearly 1-meter-thick, while the walls at the base measure up to 7 meters wide. It is the biggest vault ever constructed in the world. The catenary arch was constructed without a middle beam extending support. A variety of methods have been used to make this possible.

 A brief history of the Arch

The Taq Kasra is now all that remains above ground in a city that was the capital of the Persian empire’s successor dynasties, the Parthians and the Sassanids, for seven decades, between the 2nd century BC and the 7th century AD. The structure that stands today was the principal portico for the Sassanids ‘ audience hall used by Parthians for the same reason as their predecessors namely to maintain closeness to the Roman Empire, whose imperialist goals could best be adequately controlled by this particular location. 

Battle of Ctesiphon
The Battle of Ctesiphon outside the walls of the Persian capital Ctesiphon.

During the Conquest of Persia, the Arabs gained control of the structure in 637 AD and then used it as a mosque for some time to abandon the city once in for all after some time. Later, Abbasid caliph al-Muktafi excavated the palace’s ruins to reuse its bricks in the construction of the Taj Palace located in Baghdad. 


The abandoned arch was restored partially by Saddam Hussein’s government in the 1980s, as a partial rebuilding of the collapsed northern wing took place at that time. But, all works stopped after the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Then the Iraqi government collaborated with Diyala Project University of Chicago between 2004 and 2008 to rebuild the site at a whopping cost of $100,000. A Czech company Avers was also requested by the Ministry of Culture to renovate the site. The restoration was completed in 2017.

In 2019, the news of further damage to the renovated arch was published. It seems monument is giving up the fight against time. If this monument also perishes, there will be nothing left of the glorious city that once teemed with people a long time back. This fabulous doorway to the past is closing down on us.