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Esther & Mordecai Tomb

(Aramgah-e Ester va Mordekhay; 12 Zangeneh Lane; admission by donation, 8am-noon & 3-6pm Sun-Thu, 8am-noon Fri) The oldest monument in Hamadan is undoubtedly the mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai, a small brick tomb located in a small side street off Shariati Avenue, near Khomeini Square. This vaguely Tolkeinesque, XIV century tomb tower was once Iran's most important Jewish pilgrimage site. These days visitors are few (Hamadan has a very small and elderly Jewish community) and far between and some of the Hebrew inscriptions have been repainted so often by those who evidently couldn't understand them, that they have become stylised beyond readability.

Traditionally this is considered to be the burial site of Esther (for whom a book in the Bible's Old Testament is named) and her cousin/uncle/guardian Mordecai. Jewish orphan Esther had married Xerxes I (Biblical King Ahasuerus) who had ditched his first wife, Vashti, for being too much of an early feminist. Esther's better-honed feminine wiles are later said to have saved the Jews from a massacre planned by Xerxes' commander (and Mordecai's enemy) Hainan. Esther and Mordecai established Jewish colonies throughout the Persian Empire. With names very reminiscent of Babylonian gods, Esther (Ishtar?) and Mordecai (Morduk?) might be purely allegorical. Some suggest that the tower actually commemorated Jewish queen, Shushan-Dokht, who persuaded her husband, Yazdgerd I (r AD 399-420) to sanction a renewed Jewish colony at Hamadan.

The tower is mostly hidden behind a high grey metal barrier - ring the door bell (no English sign) and hopefully Rabbi will scurry out to greet you, opening the 400kg stone-slab door to the tower and telling you to don a scull-cap (provided) before crawling into the inner tomb area. Inside, are two wooden cenotaphs draped with cloth; the bones have been buried in the crypt.

In 1891, the tomb was described as consisting of an outer and inner chamber surmounted by a dome about 15 m high. The dome had been covered with blue tiles, but most of them had fallen away. A few tombs of worthy Jewish individuals were located within the outer chamber.

According to Stuart Brown, the site is more probably the sepulcher of Shushandukht, the Jewish consort of the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I (399–420 A.D.)