The Best Things to do in Hamadan: Iran’s oldest city
This post is a travel guide about the best thing to do in Hamadan, Iran. Hamadan, or Hamedan, is one of the oldest cities in Iran and has a rich history and culture. It was the capital of the Medes in the 6th century BCE and has been inhabited since the Median Empire. Throughout its history it has always been an important center of Iranian culture and civilization.
A history of Hamadan
Nobody knows how old Hamadan really is. Herodotus was the first person to mention it. According to him Ecbatana was made the capital of the Medes kingdom in the 6th century BC. Some believe that it was already mentioned before by the Assyrians.
What is for sure is that Ecbatana was an important centre of trade and commerce in the region that dates back over 2,500 years. The city has been known by various names, including Ecbatana, Hegmataneh, and Hamedan. With such a long history, Hamadan saw many different rulers and the city had its ups and downs.
The city was the capital of the Median Empire, which ruled over much of Iran from the 6th to the 4th centuries BCE. It was also the summer capital of the Achaemenid Empire, which succeeded the Medians and ruled over Iran from the 6th to the 4th centuries BCE.
Hamadan also played an important role in the development of Iranian culture and religion. The city was the site of the first Zoroastrian fire temple, which was built in the 6th century BCE, and it was also an important center of Jewish learning and scholarship during the Talmudic period.
In the Islamic era, Hamadan became a center of Islamic scholarship and culture. The city was the birthplace of the renowned Persian physician Avicenna (Ibn Sina), who lived in the 10th and 11th centuries CE and wrote many influential works on medicine and philosophy.
During the Mongol invasions in the 13th century, Hamadan was devastated, but it was later rebuilt and flourished under the Safavid dynasty in the 16th and 17th centuries. Even the Russians and the Ottomans fought over this important city. It always returned to Iran eventually, but it suffered a lot of damage in the first World war and the Iran Iraq war.
What to do in Hamadan
Most people come in search for history to Hamadan, but they might be in, for a bit of a surprise. For such an ancient city, there are not a lot of historical things to do in Hamadan. Like Kermanshah, not much is left. Most of what you see nowadays is fairly new and the plan of modern Hamadan was in fact developed by a German architect.
Even though Hamadan lacks any obvious tourist attractions, it doesn’t mean it is not worth a visit. I found Hamedan to be a very pleasant city with its bustling bazaar, green parks and beautiful views over the mountains.
It’s not for nothing that the Aechemenid kings, made it their summer capital. Hamadan’s mountains were a welcome respite from the heat elsewhere in Iran and it still is. It might lack the Islamic architecture you will find in Shiraz or Isfahan, but it gives you an insight into a modern Iranian city. A day in Hamadan won’t dissapoint you.
The best things to do in Hamadan
Hamadan archeological Park
Archeological research in Hamadan is difficult, because most of the modern city actually covers the ancient site. However, at Hagmatana hill some parts of the old Median city have been excavated.
You can visit the archeological park, but you will need some imagination. Still, considering how old the ruins are it is pretty impressive. Furthermore, Hegmatana hill has a scenic location with some nice views on the mountains and the city.
Hamedan’s bazaar was small, but a joy to visit with the shops full of spices, nuts and herbs. Iran’s bazaars are always a great place to meet people. Two curious ladies invited me inside their make-up shop. They wanted to know everything about fashion in the Netherlands.
Women in Iran know very well how to dress elegant and beautiful within the limits of the dress code. Besides they are experts in make-up with multiple layers applied to perfection. At times I felt unfashionable with my comfortable travel clothes.
Avicenna was a famous scientist and philosopher from Afghanistan. Ibn Sina is one of the greatest Persians and the father of modern medicine. He ishas become national icon for the Persian people and is still admired by many.
Ibn Sina or Avicenna, died in 1037 in Hamadan where he was buried. The current complex at his burial site is from 1952. It includes a library and a small museum.
Imam Khomeini square
The Imam Khomeini square is at the centre of Hamadan. This is where everything happens. The square holds a small park where in the evening families and old men gather here to drink tea.
I sat down in the grass with my own cup of tea to watch the old men gossiping, the women playing with their children and see the sun go down behind the mountains.
The war memorial in Hamedan
The Iran Iraq war took 8 years from 1980 till 1988. In many cities you will still find pictures of the soldiers who died and who are still honoured as martyrs who died for the Islamic republic of Iran. It is one if the most important events in recent history that is defining the Iranian mindset.
How many Iranians exactly died is unknown and the number will always be controversial. In any case, there were too many lives lost and the long term effects of the chemical weapons that Iraq used are still causing casualties.
Hamadan was also severely damaged in the war and a memorial stands in the center of town.
The tomb of Esther & Mordechai
This small mausoleum is the burial place of the biblical Jewish princess Esther and her cousin Mordechai. Others believe it was a different Jewish queen, but in any case, this is still the most important pilgrimage site for Jews in Iran.
The best things to do near Hamadan
Ganj Nameh inscriptions
12 kilometer south west of Hamadan are several cuneiform scripts by the Aechemenid kings Darius and Xerxes. The same kings that built the ancient city of Persepolis.
While Persepolis was their administrative capital, Hamadan was their summer capital, because of its higher altitude and pleasant climate. The Ganj nameh inscriptions have a scenic location at Mount Alvand
Ali Sadr caves
The Ali Sadr caves are 100 kilometers north of Hamadan and make an excellent day trip if you have your own transport. They are one of the largest water caves in the world.
Hamadan Travel tips
Where to stay in Hamadan
Booking hostels in Iran online is rather difficult. Because of the sanctions, most regular sites like Booking.com or Airbnb won’t work.
To book your hotel beforehand you either need to contact them directly or use 1stQuest
Budget: I stayed at the Ordibesht Hotel. An excellent hotel in the middle of the bazaar. The reception desk is friendly and they can arrange taxi tours if you like to visit the Ali Sadr caves
Midrange: For a bit more comfort you can check out the Parsian hotel
When to visit Hamadan
The best time to visit Hamadan is during the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) seasons when the weather is mild, and the temperature is comfortable for outdoor activities. During these months, the days are sunny, and the nights are cool, making it ideal for exploring the village and its surroundings.Summer (June to August) can be hot and dry, with temperatures reaching over 30°C (86°F), and winters (December to February) can be cold and snowy
Money Matters in Hamadan
Due to the sanctions, Iran has been cut off from the international money transfer system. There are no ATM’s in Hamadan that will work with a foreign bank card. You will have to bring all your money in cash (euro’s or dollars).
Safety in Hamadan
Iran, including Hamadan, is generally a safe destination for travelers, and millions of tourists visit Iran each year. The city has low crime levels. However, it is always important to exercise caution and take necessary safety precautions while traveling.
Update 2023: A wave of protests erupted throughout Iran in 2022 and 2023. Although this is not a reason to avoid Iran, it is good to know that these protests can become violent. Due to the political situation, it is even more important to be aware of your surroundings. Avoid political demonstrations, expressing strong political opinions and respect the local rules of law. As a foreigner it is better to be safe than sorry.
For solo female travellers I wrote a post with tips and advice about traveling as a woman in Iran.
How to travel to Hamadan
You can check the bus times and book your bus tickets on the 1stQuest booking system.
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