Top things to do in Hamadan: Iran’s oldest city
This post is a travel guide about the best thing to do in Hamadan, the oldest city in Iran.
A history of Hamadan
Nobody knows how old Hamadan really is, but it used to be called Ecbatana. Herodotus was the first person to mention it. According to him Ecbatana was made the capital of the Medes kingdom in the 7th century BC. Some believe that it was already mentioned in a cuneiform script from the Assyrians.
What is for sure is that Ecbatana was an important centre of trade and commerce in the region. With such a long history, Hamadan saw many different rulers and the city had its ups and downs.
The Parthians, Seljuks and Aechemenids made it their capital, the Arabs conquered it and the Mongols destroyed it. 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 Hamedan 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.
Things to do in Hamadan
1. 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.
2. The bazaar
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.
3. Avicenna’s mausoleum
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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
Things to do near Hamadan
7. 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
8. 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.
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
Ordibesht Hotel is 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
When to visit Hamadan
Winters are cold in Hamedan, but summers are not as sizzling hot as elsewhere in Iran. Still spring and autumn are the best times to visit.
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
Hamadan is a very safe city with low crime levels and if you follow normal precautions you should not face any problems.
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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