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Hamadan (Ecbatana) Pre-Islamic Monuments


By: Ali Mousavi


The city of Hamadân, besides its pre-Islamic remains, comprises some important monuments belonging to the Islamic period. Pre-Islamic remains of Hamadân are located at three different sites: Tappa-ye Hegmatâna, the ˆir-e Sangi area, and the Achaemenid inscriptions of Darius the Great and Xerxes, engraved on the rocks in one of the foothills of the mountain, Alvand Kuh (q.v.) and known as Ganj-nâma (q.v.).

Tappa-ye Hegmatâna. Named after the reconstruction of the ancient name of Hamadân, the Tappa, a large mound in the northeast of the city, has been the object of archeological excavations since the 1980s. Although these excavations have not yet yielded any material that can be firmly related to the capital of the Medes, they have revealed impressive architectural remains in mud-brick, which may date from as early as the 5th century B.C.E. (Sarrâf, 1995; Boucharlat, 1997, pp. 39-40).

Tappa-ye Mosallâ. A natural hill (600 x 400 m) in the southeast of the city, the Tappa is higher and larger than Tappa-ye Hegmatâna, but aside from the remains of a presumably Islamic fort (qal`a) in mud-brick, it does not seem to contain archeological remains (Schmidt, Plates 91-92; Mostafawi, pp. 157-58; Jackson, pp. 163-65).

Ganj-nâma (q.v.).This monument is the popular designation of two trilingual inscriptions in three languages (OPers., Neo-Babylonian, and Neo-Elamite) by the Achaemenid Darius I and Xerxes in a pass through the Alvand Kuh (Kent, Old Persian, pp. 111, 113, 147, 152). It is first mentioned by Ebn al-Faqih Hamadâni, who refers to the location as Tabanâbar and adds that Alexander the Great had it read to him when he was passing through Hamadân. He also cites an alleged translation of the inscriptions in a fanciful language extolling truthfulness (Ebn al-Faqih, pp. 223-24). The natives of Hamadân believed that the inscription contained the secrets of a hidden treasure (hence the designation Ganj-nâma "treasure book"), which would be revealed to the person who could decipher it (Jackson, pp. 170-73; Adhkâ´i, pp. 224-34).

ˆir-e Sangi. One of the ancient relics of Hamadân is ˆir-e Sangi, which, in its present form, represents the battered image of a legless, couchant lion carved out of yellow sandstone. It was originally placed near a city gate called Bâb-al-Asad, on the top of a hill that commanded the Khorasan road. According to Mas`udi (Moruj, secs. 3592-94), it was carved at the order of Alexander the Great as a talisman to protect the city and its people when he returned from his campaign in Khorasan and India. According to Ebn al-Faqih (pp. 240-41), this lion was fashioned by the Greek sculptor Balinâs, at the order of Qobâd, to be a talisman against the floods and the severe cold that the city was often experiencing. There were also other talismans placed near it that were believed to protect citizens against snakes, scorpions, fever, insects, and getting stuck in snow. Mas`udi attributed the removal of the lion from the vicinity of the gate and its mutilation to Ziarid Mardâvij during his siege and conquest of the city in 319/931 (Moruj, sec. 3593). A. V. William Jackson was of the opinion that the it might date from the Median period, "when it may have anticipated the lion of the royal Persian emblem" (Jackson, p. 162). According to Ebn al-Faqih (p. 243), the `Abbasid caliph al-Moktafi be'llâh ordered the transfer of the lion to Baghdad, but his command was blocked by the people of Hamadân, who did not wish to lose the talisman of their city. Popular belief in the miraculous power of the lion has continued up to recent decades, as manifested in a variety of rituals that people performed to appeal to it (Adhkâ´i, pp. 260-63; Qarâguzlu, pp. 100-101). The lion has been addressed in at least two classical Arabic poems mentioned by Ebn al-Faqih (pp. 240-43) and in an English verse by the American poet and novelist, Clinton Scollard (d. 1932), in whose words: this lion, ". . . a couchant lion lone/Mute memorial in stone/of three empires overthrown—Median, Persian, Parthian—/Round the walls of Hamadan" (apud Jackson, p. 159).

Esther and Mordechai. The mausoleum of Esther and her uncle Mordechai is, historically but not archeologically, amongst the most ancient monuments of the city. The two tombs inside the structure are believed to house the remains of the biblical Esther and Mordechai from the time of Xerxes (biblical Ahasuerus, q.v.), the Achaemenid king of the 5th century B.C.E.. The building, dating from the early 17th century according to Ernst Herzfeld (apud Gabbay, p. 23), bears the traditional features of emâmzâda (q.v.) architecture, and is revered by Muslims and Jews alike, for whom it is a place of pilgrimage. Unfortunately, no archeological research has been carried out to establish whether the graves are in fact those of Esther and Mordechai. Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of the attribution, and it has been suggested that the tomb may be that of the Jewish queen of the Sasanian Yazdegerd I (399-420), ˆo@šan-dokht, who according to legend is credited with the establishment of large Jewish communities in Isfahan and Hamadân (Jackson, pp. 167-69; Matheson, pp. 110-11; The Standard Jewish Encyclopaedia, p. 830). The mausoleum housed a 300-year old Torah "written in vellum" that was kept in a room next to the grave chamber. The oldest datable material in the mausoleum was the ebony sarcophagus attributed to Esther, which had an inscription carved all over it in Hebrew characters, and which could be dated to the 13th–14th century; but the sarcophagus was destroyed in a fire caused by lit candles that pilgrims had placed on it; the new coffer is a replica of the old one (Jackson, pp. 167-70; Buckingham, pp. 166-67, containing the Eng. translation of the inscriptions on the two sarcophagi; Mostafawi, p. 174; Gabbay, pp. 23-25; Adhkâ´i, pp. 297-301; Qarâguzlu, pp. 103-10). The shrine reportedly housed a number of valuable ancient relics, including (according to unsubstantiated reports) the crowns of Esther and Mordechai, which have been stolen (Zahir-al-Dawla, apud Qarâguzlu, pp. 109-11).

In 1971, as part of the festival celebrating 2500 years of Persian monarchy, the Iranian Jewish Society decided to have the dilapidated shrine renovated; it had been vandalised, robbed, and also used as a burial ground by some influential Jewish families. The plan was to have a new synagogue and a museum presenting "the history of Iranian Jews from Esther to the Pahlavis" attached to the shrine. The museum was never built due to the shortage of funds as well as the demand to have the building ready for the upcoming festival. Many artefacts that were unearthed during the construction were, unfortunately, thrown away (Gabbay, p. 29).



Parviz Adhkâ´i, Hamadân-nâma: bist goftâr dar bâra-ye Mâdestân, Hamadân, 2001. 

J. S. Buckingham, Travels in Assyria, Media, and Persia . . . , London, 1829; repr., London, 1971. 

Remy Boucharlat, "De‚couvertes re‚centes en Iran (1980-1997)," in Arche‚ologia 339, 1997, pp. 32-45. 

Idem, "A la recherche‚ d'Ecbatane sur tepe Hegmataneh," in Iranica Antiqua 33, 1998, pp. 173-86. 

Yassi Gabbay, "Esther's Tomb," in Houman Sarshar, ed., Esther's Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews, Los Angeles, 2002, pp. 19-29. 

Gholâm-Hosayn Qarâguzlu, Hegmatâna tâ Hamadân: qadimtarin šahr-e , Tehran, n.d. Ernst Herzfeld, "Die Gumbad-i Alawiyan und die Baukunst der Ilkhane in Iran," in Oriental Studies Presented to E. G. Browne, Cambridge, 1922. 

Abraham V. William Jackson, Persia Past and Present: A Book of Travel and Research, New York and London, 1906, pp. 159 ff. 

H. Luschey, "Der Lôwe von Ekbatana," AMI, N.S., 1, 1968, pp. 115-22 and plates 45-47. 

Sylvia A. Matheson, Persia: An Archaeological Guide, London, 1972. 

Mohammad-Taqi Mostafawi, Hegmatâna: âthâr-e târikhi-e Hamadân, Tehran, 1953. 

Arthur Upham Pope, "Architectural Ornaments," in A Survey of Persian Art III, Tokyo, 1964, pp. 1258-364. 

Mohammad-Rahim Sarrâf, "Nowyâftahâ-ye me`mâri wa šahr-sâzi dar Tappa-ye Hegmatâna (Hamadân)," Târikh-e me`mâri wa šahrsâzi-e Irân, Arg-e Bam-e Kermân Congress, 7-12 Esfand, 1374 II, Tehran, 1995, pp. 812-40. 

Idem, "Neue architektonische und städtebauliche Funde von Ekbatana-Tepe (Hamadân)," AMI 29, pp. 321-39. 

Erich F. Schmidt, Flights over Ancient Cities of Iran, Chicago, 1940. 

Eric Schroeder, "Islamic Architecture. F: Seljuq Period," in Arthur Upham Pope, ed., A Survey of Persian Art III, Tokyo, 1964, pp. 981-1045. 

Mirzâ `Ali Khan Zahir-al-Dawla, Khaterât wa asnâd-e Zahir-al-Dawla, ed. Iraj Afšâr, Tehran, 1988.






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