⦁    Iran’s principal tourist center
⦁    situated in central Iran, south of Tehran
⦁    masterpiece of Persian culture
⦁    city of fine gardens, bridges and Islamic art
⦁    grandeur dates back to the 16th century
⦁    famed for the beauty of Imam Square
⦁    beautiful bridges on the Zayandeh River
⦁    population over 1.5 million inhabitants
⦁    former capital created by Shah Abbas I.

The city’s splendour began with the reign of the Safavi ruler Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629), who made Esfahan his capital and built the huge bazaar, which was strategically located on the Silk Road. Under Abbas, Isfahan enjoyed great prosperity and flourished as a centre of art, architecture and commerce (based on carpet, textile and silk production), with a reputation as one of the greatest and most beautiful towns in the whole of Asia. Isfahan’s glory was short-lived however and the city began to decline on Abbas death and the capital later moved to Shiraz and then later to Tehran. Still much remains of the vision of Shah Abbas “the Great”, to make the city a must-see for present-day visitors to Iran. Jameh Mosque, the largest in Iran, contains architecture from over 800 years of Persian history.Bazar-e Bozorg is a huge market several kilometers long, dating from the 16th century. The bazaar stretches from Imam Square to the Jameh Mosque. The main entrance is the Qeysarieh Portal, which has some fine, recently restored frescoes by Reza Abbasi, showing the victories of Shah Abbas against the Uzbek armies. Esfahans crown and contains some of the finest Islamic architecture in the world. Naqsh-e Jahan translates as “pattern of the world” and the square, begun in 1602, formed the centerpiece of Shah Abbas new capital. The scale is vast and the space is the second largest square in the world behind Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Imam Mosque is rightly noted for the beauty of its blue-tiled mosaics and fine Safavid architecture. The huge entrance portal (pictured at the top of this page) is 27m in height and delicately designed with superbly executed geometric and floral patterns in mainly blue and yellow colors. The portal is flanked by two towering turquoise minarets. Within the mosque itself are a number of beautifully decorated iwans (entrance halls) leading to sanctuaries with vaulted ceilings. The main sanctuary with its 36m-high domed ceiling and deep-blue mosaics is an exquisite sight.The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the eastern side of Imam Square was dedicated by Shah Abbas to his father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah a noted Islamic scholar from the Lebanon. The tiled dome changes color through the day from pale cream to a pink hue at sunset.The mosque was built as a place of worship for the women of the Shah’s harem and the building is considered the most beautiful of Iran’s mosques with beautiful blue and yellow tiling in the inner sanctuary and fine mosaics on the outerportal.The Chehel Sotun Palace, set in a lovely garden, was originally built by Shah Abbas as a pleasure palace but was destroyed by fire in 1706 and later rebuilt. The Great Hall has a rich display of frescoes depicting the triumphs of the Safavids.Another masterpiece of 16th century Persian architecture is the six-story Ali Qapu Palace, built as a residence for the great Shah. The palaces raised terrace offers fine views of Imam Square and although some of the interior mosaics and plaster work were destroyed in the Qajar period and later in the 1979 revolution, much fine secular craftsmanship remains.The Hasht Behesht Palace (Eight Paradises) also endured considerable damage since it was built in the mid 16th century, but the building harmonizes perfectly with its garden setting. The Madrasey-ye Chahar Bagh is a religious school, dating from the early 18th century, open to visitors on Thursdays only. The building has a peaceful courtyard, fine mosaics and two imposing minarets. The historic River Zayandeh Bridge of Esfahan are another of the city’s great attractions. There are 11 bridges in total spanning the river and six of them of historic interest. Some distance to the east from the central heart of the city is the oldest bridge – the Shahrestan Bridge with much of the structure dating from the 12th century. 3km to the west, the Khaju Bridge built in the mid-17th century by Shah Abbas also serves as a dam of the river. Moving west again is the 150m, 21 arch Chubi Bridge built to irrigate royal gardens close by. The next historic bridge is the almost 300m, 33-arch Si-o-Seh, which also serves as a dam for irrigation purposes and was built by a general of Shah Abbas. Strolling along the river with stops at the many teahouses near the ancient bridges is a pleasant way to spend time in Esfahan. The bridges themselves are illuminated at night.

⦁                                            Hamadan Province
⦁    Hamadan city population over 420,000
⦁    area of ancient history
⦁    located at over 1800m above sea level
⦁    numerous archeological sites. Ancient Ecbatana – one of the oldest sites in Iran Hamadan (Hamedan) province is situated in a mountainous area in the centre of western Iran. Mt. Alvand is tallest peak in the province at 3574m and with much of the area located well over 1700m above sea level, it has the coldest and longest winters in the whole of Iran. A cool and pleasant summer climate does however attract tourists escaping from the intense heat elsewhere. One of the most famous natural attractions in Iran, the Ali Sadr Cave, is situated approximately 100km north of Hamadan City. The cave is in fact a sealed underground lake of crystal clear water, quite unlike river caves whose water flows out through an exit. Thus the cave is completely devoid of plant or animal life. Discovered by chance by a shepherd around 40 years ago, 14km of caves have now been explored with 4km now arranged for tourists to explore by boat and on foot. The main chamber is 100m across at its widest and has a ceiling 40m high with the second largest not much smaller than this one. With numerous stalactites and stalagmites (some over10m tall) and walls covered with mineral deposits unique to this cave, visitors are surrounded by scenes of magic and splendour. An artificial entranceway which once guided water out of the cave to the surface bears an inscription dating back to the reign of Darius I (521-485 BC).

Hamadan City

Assyrian inscriptions dating back to 1100 BC mention, Hangmatana, the ancient name of Hamadan but the city had almost certainly been populated since the 3rd millennium BC making it the oldest city in Iran and one of the oldest in the world. It was here in 673 BC that the first Median capital was established under the name of Ecbatana, meaning “place of assembly”. From 549 BC, after he last of the Median kings had been defeated by Cyrus the Great, the city became the summer capital of the Achaemenid kings who would come here to escape the baking heat of Susa. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that, at the height of its glory, Ecbatana was a shining jewel of the ancient world with buildings plated with precious metals and seven layers of city walls, the inner two being coated in silver and gold. From the time of Alexander, the city suffered many invasions and lost much of its wealth and importance though it remained the summer capital during Parthian and Sassanid  times. The city was captured by the Arabs in 644 and its name was changed to Hamadan. For several centuries it prospered as a commercial hub and provincial capital. In the latter half of the 12th century the Seljuks made Hamadan their capital and so it remained for fifty years until 1220 when the city was destroyed by the armies of Tamerlane. In the following centuries, wars with the Ottoman Empire caused further destruction and as a result, little remains of the city that predates its partial reconstruction in the 17th century. The modern city of Hamadan was built according to a plan by the German architect Karl Fritsch with six avenues radiating like the spokes of a wheel from a central square.

Sang-e Shir (Stone lion)

The only remaining relic of the ancient history of Hamadan, this 2.5m long stone statue of a lion, now badly eroded by time, has been tentatively dated as far back as Median times. It has also been said that the statue may have been commissioned by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC to mark the grave of his general and friend Hephaiston who died in Hamadan. It is now situated in a park in the south east part of the city.

The Grave of Avicenna

Avicenna is the name by which the great Persian scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina is known in the West. During his lifetime he wrote 450 books on a wide range of subjects and is considered by many to be the father of modern medicine. Avicenna died in 1037 near Hamadan. The current construction dates back to 1952, its predecessor having been destroyed by an earthquake in 1948. The tower design was inspired by the Gonbad-e Kabus funerary tower which is located in the city of the same name in Mazandaran Province, northeast Iran. The tower houses a small museum dedicated to his life and works. Beside the grave of Avicenna is the grave of his great friend Abu Said.

The Grave of Esther and Mordechai

According to legend, this is the last resting place of Esther, the Jewish princess and wife of Xerxes I, along with her uncle Mordechai who, it is said, persuaded the king to allow Jewish colonies to be established throughout the Persian Empire. However, the shrine has also been attributed to a much later Jewish Queen of the Sassanid period who persuaded her husband Yazdegerd I to establish a Jewish colony in Hamadan in the early 5th century AD. The construction is a simple brick building on a square plan that dates from some time between 13th and 17th century. The architectural style reflects that of Islamic shrines but bears inscriptions in Hebrew from the Torah and the Ten Commandments. Situated alongside the tomb is a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery.

Gombad-e Alaviyan

A 12th century Seljuk mausoleum belonging to the Alavi family though whose grave it houses is unknown. The interior is decorated with stucco carved with arabesques and inscriptions in Kufic which are considered some of the most beautiful of the Seljuk Period. Though the original domed roof has not survived, the tomb is still a fine example Seljuk architecture and is similar in style to the Gombad-e Sorgh (“Red Tower”), in Maragheh, East Azerbaijan.

The Ganj Nameh Inscriptions

20km from Hamadan, high in the Alvand mountains are two cuneiform inscriptions, each in the Ancient Persian, New Elamite and New Babylonian languages, carved side by side on a large granite stone. The left hand inscription tells of the conquests of the the Achaemenid King Darius I (522-486BC) and gives thanks to the god Ahuramazda who bestowed upon him the right to rule.
An identical inscription can be found at the gates of the Apadana Palace at Persepolis. The second inscription is identical in content to the first but instead tells of Xerxes I (486-465BC), son of Darius. Before these inscriptions were translated it was believed that they contained instructions directing the reader to the location of undiscovered treasures of the Achaemenid Empire, hence the name Ganj Nameh which means “treasure letter”. The inscriptions are located on a mountain pass that merchants on the Silk Road would have seen on their travels.

Hamadan Province Access

There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (5 hours), Esfahan (8 hours), Rasht (6 hours) and Ahvaz (9 hours).