Sang-e Shir is a walrus-sized lump of rock eroded beyond recognition by the rubbing of hands over 2300 years. Supposedly once a lion, you’d never look twice at were it not the only surviving ‘monument’ from the ancient city of Ecbatana whose gates it once guarded. Some claim it was carved at the behest of Alexander the Great.
The off-line south iwan leads into a hall (currently under restoration) over which there’s an impressively large brick dome. The new north iwan is lavished with patterned blue tilework that continues on four of the mosque’s six minarets. Some areas are restricted to men only.
In the mud beneath this scraggy low hill lies Hamadan’s ancient Median and Achaemenid city site. Small sections of the total area have been fitfully excavated by several teams over the last century, most extensively in the 1990s. The most interesting of several shed-covered ‘trenches’ allows you to walk above the excavations of earthen walls using plank walkways on wobbly scaffolding. The walls’ gold and silver coatings are long gone of course and it’s hard to envisage the lumpy remnants as having once constituted one of the world’s great cities.
Literally translated as ‘Treasure Book’, Ganjnameh is so named because for years its cuneiform rock carvings were thought to be cryptic clues to help find caches of mythical Median treasure. Belatedly translated, the texts turn out instead to be a rather immodest thank you to the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda from the Achaemenid monarch Xerxes for making him such a very, very good king. To emphasise the point the message is repeated in three languages (Old Persian, Elamite and neo Babylonian) on rock faces some 2m high. A second panel similarly commemorates his dad, Darius. The site is in a rural mountain valley at Hamadan’s westernmost extremity, some 8km from the centre.
This vaguely Tolkeinesque, 14th-century tomb tower was once Iran’s most important Jewish pilgrimage site. These days visitors are few 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 and her cousin/guardian Mordecai. Jewish orphan Esther had married Xerxes I (Biblical King Ahasuerus) who’d 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 mas sacre planned by Xerxes’ commander Haman.
A 1954 tower that looks something like a vast, unfinished concrete missile. It is loosely modelled on Qabus’s 1000-year-old tower in Gonbad-e Kavus, which Buali probably saw inaugurated. Paying the entry fee (entry from west) allows you to see the single-room museum of Avicenna memorabilia, his tombstone, a small library and a display on medicinal herbs. But the tower itself is better observed from a distance.
It looks like a failed prototype for Thunderbird 3. There’s little reason to go inside unless you enjoy Persian calligraphy, inscribed here on some gently opalescent stone wall-slabs.
The Alaviyan Dome is now a misnomer, as the 12th-century green dome, immortalised in a Khaqani reference, has long since been removed. The dome-less brick tower remains famous for the whirling floral stucco added in the Ilkhanid era. This ornamentation enraptured Robert Byron in Road to Oxiana.