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60 - An ancient capital in Hamedan

IRAN | Saturday, 17 November 2012 | Views [842]

Iran - Hamedan - caretaker of Esther and Mordechai tombs

Iran - Hamedan - caretaker of Esther and Mordechai tombs

Hamedan does not boast of the dazzling architecture and design of the other cities that I’ve visited, but it does have the archaeological site of Hagmateneh which is said to date back to at least 8thC BC, pre-Alexander the Great – who is called Iskandar in this part of the world.  was Hagmateneh was once the capital of the Medes and Achaemenid kingdoms, the original Persians but it had been attacked and looted by a succession of invaders over the years and little is left now of this important capital.  Today, Hagmataneh is a partially excavated site (probably less than 10% has been discovered).  What is known is that there is a planned playout of chambers marked by thick walls some of which are communal areas.  The small area that has been excavated is accessible via a raised wooden walkway that sits on somewhat shaky metal stilts.  The site also includes a small museum of some of the findings – particularly interesting is a reproduction of the Ganj Nameh stone inscriptions (a Persian Rosetta Stone - more to come later) and some fat-bellied sheep-shaped amphora. 

There was a group of teenage schoolgirls and the museum when I visited.  Like many of the young Iranians that I’ve come across, they were friendly and curious about foreigners and their impressions of Iran.  One of the young girls approached me to ask for my name and then politely asked my guide for permission to take a photo with me.  Of course I happily obliged.  The entire group of girls (around 20) then rushed up for the picture, except for one who stayed away shyly smiling.  I am aware that more conservative Muslim women do not want photos taken of them.

The Hagmataneh site also contains two Armenian churches.  One longer seems to be functioning as such (it is now part of a university) but the other one (dedicated to Gregory) is still intact though I wasn’t sure if it is active.

Another interesting place to visit in Hamedan is the tombs of Esther and Mordecai, or perhaps the presumed tombs.  The tombs lie behind a gated area inside a small stone domed structure, in a side alley inside the Hamedan bazaar.  The guide cum guard for the tombs says he is the Rabbi (the Bradt guide describes him as an Iranian Uriah Heep – not quite as bad I thought and perhaps his talkative enthusiasm is a result of being part of what is very much a minority religion in Iran).  The entry to the stone structure is a thick stone door that is only about 3 feet high.  One has to bend down to enter – which is the point.  The outer chamber is a small meeting place marked with some historical plaques, and then one descends a couple of steps into an inner chamber which contains two wooden cenotaphs.  Esther was said to be the wife of Xerxes or perhaps his successor and Mordechai was her uncle.  The legend is that they cleverly stopped the plans of the then chamberlain Hamam to exterminate the Jewish people. As I understand it, it hasn’t been proved if Esther and Mordechai actually existed or if these are really their tombs.  Adjacent to the stone structure is a new synagogue.   Perhaps getting to the bottom of the truth may not matter; it is sufficient that the Jews in Iran believe it to be a shrine to Esther and Mordechai, and that the shrine serves as a rallying point in a society where their faith is marginalized.

The other places in Hamedan of some minor interest are the tombs of Baba Taher, a Sufi poet, and Ibn Sina, a 10thC physician and philosopher who came from Bukhara in Uzbekistan but who died in Hamedan.  The Ibn Sina monument also contains a small but interesting museum which displays some old surgical instruments (instruments of torture to modern eyes…), old drawings of ancient medical therapies and examples of herbs and spices that Ibn Sina had written to have medicinal qualities.  The display of the herbs and spices comes with English explanations so I was able to find out the herb that treats Parkinson’s, for example.

At my hotel, there's plenty of action.  In fact, there seems to be large parties going on in most of the hotels that I’ve been staying in.  I was told that last month was the Haj month (the month for performing Haj – going to Mecca) and rich people would usually throw parties on their return to commemorate their journey.  The parties seem to start around 8:30pm and kick off with a professional singer who has been brought in to sing (presumably) religious songs and rouse the party goers.  In Iran, Haj has to be performed before Moharram starts (ie before the nation starts a period of collective mourning for Hosseyn’s death).  Haj parties are dressed-up affairs.  In Hamadan, the guests arrive in their finery – for younger women, that includes platform high heels and sometimes top to toe white trouser suits a la Saturday Night Fever, and colourful silk scarves.  Little girls are dressed in lacy pink with fancy shoes and hairbands.   The older ladies are more covered up in their black chadors but some of the chadors are embroidered with a black on black patterns and discreet sequins.  People also seem to bring gifts; I saw baskets of arranged flowers and boxes of sweets. 

Hamedan is so far the coldest it has been on this trip (around 10-15C) as it is arund 1800m above sea-level.  Autumn has arrived here and the city, which is lush with trees, is all orange and yellow from their turning leaves.


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