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Hamadan, the capital of Hamadan Province, and is believed to be among the oldest Iranian cities and one of the oldest in the world. It is possible that it was occupied by the Assyrians in 1100 BCE; the Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, states that it was the capital of the Medes, around 700 BCE.

It is equidistant from Sanandaj, Kermanshah and Arak at the foot of the Alvand Mountains in the Zagros, at an altitude of 1,700 metres. Hamadan occupies a key site on the road which, even in antiquity, linked Mesopotamia to the Iranian Plateau. Known in classical times as Ecbatana, Hamadan was once one of the ancient world's greatest cities. Pitifully little of antiquity remains, but significant parts of the city centre are given over to excavations and there is a scattering of historical curiosities. Sitting on a high plain, Hamadan is graciously cool in August, but snow-prone and freezing cold from November to March. In the summer the air is often hazy, but on a rare, clear spring day there are impressive glimpses of snow-capped Mt Alvand (3580m) preening itself above the ragged neocolonial cupolas of Imam Khomeini Sq. A popular summer retreat, Hamadan's main draw card for Iranian visitors is its proximity to the Ali Sadr Caves, but these are vastly over-rated. The special nature of this old city and its historic sites attract tourists during the summer to this city, located approximately 360 kilometres southwest of Tehran. The main symbols of this city are the Ganj Nameh inscription, the Avicenna monument and the Baba Taher monument. 

By road, take an intercity bus from Tehran, Qazvin, etc. Within the city, it will be quicker and easier to take a local taxi to visit the various places.

History of Hamadan

According to ancient Greek historians, Median king Deiokes fortified a palace here in 728 BC, and over succeeding decades the Median capital of Ecbatana grew into an opulent city. The Medes, who formed a loose federation of warlike tribes of Indo-European origin, settled on the plateau around the IX century BC. In 673 BC, the chieftain of one of these tribes, Phraortes, succeeded in unifying the various Median groups under his command and established his capital at Ecbatana, the 'Place of Assembly'.

Its massive walls were said to have had seven layers, the inner two coated in gold and silver, the outer one as long as that of classical Athens. By 550 BC it had fallen to the Achaemenid Persians; Cyrus the Great defeated the last Median king, Astyages, and Ecbatana became the summer residence of the Achaemenian court, well away from the torrid heat of Susa. The Medes retook the city in 521 BC but were kicked out again within six months by Darius who was so pleased with himself that he recorded his achievements in stone beside the Royal Road at Bisotun.

After Alexander the Greats conquest (331 BC), Ecbatana lost much of its former importance although it remained a staging post between the plateau and Mesopotamia. After centuries of pre-eminence and wealth under Parthian and Sassanian dynasties alike, Ecbatana/Hamadan faded somewhat after the Arab conquest in the mid-VII century AD, but it became the regional capital under the Seljuks for some 60 years in the late XII century. Known as Hegmataneh (Meeting Place of Sufis) in Old Persian, Hamadan suffered the usual devastations by Mongols (1220) and again in 1386 (by Tamerlane), but only hit a major decline in the XVIII century following a Turkish invasion.

Because of its position, Hamadan was also severely hit by the wars between the Ottoman and Safavid empires - the Turks occupied the city from 1724 to 1730 - to the extent that when the English writer James Morier visited it in 1813, he found little more than a mass of ruins.

The city began to recover in the mid-XIX century and was totally redesigned to a modern city plan in 1929 by German engineer Karl Frisch; Frisch's master plan is a cartwheel design with six avenues radiating from Imam Khomeini Sq, widely referred to simply as 'meydan'. The wheel distorts to the northeast around the lumpy hill of Tappeh-ye Mosallah and the excavation site of Hegmataneh Hill.