Saturday, May 11, 2013

Remnants of the Persian Empire- Ganj Nameh

My trips back to Iran usually entailed the same 4 places: Tehran, Taleghan, Mashhad, and Neyshabur. Going back to Iran meant visiting relatives, and my relatives lived in those four places. Why go anywhere else? It was only in my college years when friends brought to my attention that I hadn't really seen anything. They were astonished that I had been to Iran numerous times, yet had never seen Shiraz or Esfahan, Persepolis or Yazd. I realized they were right! I needed to see more. And that’s how I started adding an extra leg to my trips- a “discover Iran” leg.

My last “discover Iran” trip was to Hamedan in the west. Hamedan is thought to be one of the oldest cities in Iran (and maybe the world). It’s famous for Ali Sadr Cave, Avicenna, Baba Taher and Ecbatana among other things. We packed up the car with all kinds of ajeel (mixed nuts), chai (tea), and noon panir (bread and cheese) and set off on the 4-5 hour drive from Tehran, passing through Saveh (famous for one of my favorite fruits-pomegranates).  

Like other Iranian cities I had been to, Hamedan did not disappoint. In addition to having my first water cave adventure, learning about The Canon of Medicine, and listening to a beautiful voice sing Baba Taher’s poetry inside his mausoleum (all coming in future posts), I also discovered a place that I had never heard of before. It was a few kilometers outside of Hamedan in the Alvand mountains. The trees and waterfall added to the beauty and mystery of the area, giving some shade and cooling down that scorching summer day. 

I was familiar with khate mikhi, cuneiform, in Persepolis, but there, carved in granite on the side of the mountain, were two cuneiform tablets known as Ganj Nameh, Treasure Epistle. These two tablets are written in 3 languages- ancient Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian and were placed at a frequently traveled road that connected Ecbatana and Babylonia, two of the most important Achaemenid capitals. They describe the conquests and lineage of 2 Achaemenid Kings: Darius (on the left) and his son Xerxes (on the right).

Because many people could not read the cuneiform script, they assumed that these tablets must be a treasure map giving the location of hidden treasure, hence the name Ganj Nameh. However, it has also been referred to as Jang Nameh, War Epistle, possibly due to the assumption that it described the ancient Archaemenid wars.

The inscriptions, however, were first studied by the French archaeologist Eugene Flandin, and later by Sir Henry Rawlinson, a British explorer who deciphered the cuneiform characters. The following is the translation of Ganj Nameh:

I wonder if the locals in Hamedan who go to this area with friends and family to take a walk, eat some dizi (a kind of stew), or smoke hookah fully appreciate the history that hangs above their heads. Or have they become immune to it? I remember during my first trip to Rome, I could barely make it out of the metro station because my jaw was on the floor at the sight of the Colosseum standing directly before my eyes. Once I made it out of the station, I saw the remains of the ancient Roman Empire in their entirety. I was lost in time while people politely and hastily walked around me to get where they were going. Unfortunately, I think that’s what happens when you live somewhere. You don’t see its full beauty any more- or you just get used to it. I know I’m guilty of that myself. But for me, Ganj Nameh will always be one of those unforgettable places full of the mystery of the great Persian Empire. 

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