KING CYRUS, in 550 B.C., defeated Astyages, the Median king, capturing the royal city, Ecbatana. That city was the forerunner of Hamadan of today. History also states that later in 333 B.C. this same city of Ecbatana fell into the hands of Alexander the Great, then but 23 years old, after his smashing victory at the battle of Arbela, where with a force of but 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry he engaged and scattered the forces of the Persian king, Darius III, 1,000,000 men strong.
Alexander added Persian soldiers to his army, ordered his troops and officers to marry Persian women, and he himself married two of royal lineageone being the daughter of Darius III whom he had vanquished. It was this army gathered together in Persia that in 327 B.C. crossed Afghanistan and entered India through Khyber Pass past the Indus, and defeated the stubborn forces of King Porus at the Jhellum River. When the captive King Porus, an opponent worthy of the steel of Alexander, was brought before that great conqueror, his noble bearing aroused the admiration of Alexander, who asked him how he expected to be treated, to which Porus replied, “Like a king.” History records that they became friends and allies, and upon Alexander retiring within a year he left Porus as ruler of the kingdom that had been enlarged by the Macedonian’s campaign.
It was here at Ecbatana (Hamadan) that we arrived on a lovely, springlike day following our experience on the Assadabad Pass. We were here the guests of Dr. and Mrs. J. A. Funk. One can easily imagine my unalloyed joy and that of Dr. Collin’s following our arrival at Hamadan. That evening, after a delicious dinner noiselessly served by a stocking-footed servant wearing his brown kola (hat) and a Prince Albert or ministerial style of coat, we enjoyed a chat with our host and hostess before a warm fire; later, before retiring, we reveled in a hot bath and then stretched out between clean sheets and coverlets on a comfortable American bed with a real, honest-to-goodness down pillow on which to lay our sleepy heads.
Marvelous changes can occur in a traveler’s conditions and comforts within 24 hours, traveling in a remote land with no, or at least at the best, very poor hostelries, and where only by trying, can one learn if the bed assigned to him is his only. Ten to one you will find company, and these little bed-fellows have a very uncomfortable way of leaving their card; an irritating stamp of an unwelcome guest, which for several days after, your hide resents. Such experiences, however, awaken heartfelt appreciation of the every-day comforts of life of which we are usually quite unmindful.
Mt. Elvend, rearing its head 12,000 feet in the Persian blue, is the guardian peak of Hamadan and a noble background to a flat, mud hut city. Dr. Funk showed us the town. Of course we walked; first because I always prefer this mode of travel when exploring towns and villages, for in no other way can one secure so intimate a glimpse of a place and its inhabitants, and I know no other way of securing delightful snapshots, and I must plead guilty of being a camera enthusiast.
There is also another very good reason for walking in Hamadan, namely, the streets between the mud walls, houses and courts are too narrow to permit a carriage, and rickshaws or sedan chairs are not in vogue as in China or Japan. A stroll through these same dark passageways at night, however, when you are wending your way to a dinner party, is quite different. On such occasions, dressed in your evening clothes and wearing pumps, preceded by a servant carrying a lantern dimly lighting the way, and often more of a hindrance than a help, you stumble along through the dark, tortuous, rough-paved alley-ways, endeavoring to avoid mud and running water, hopeful of arriving before the gate of your host without requiring a change of raiment or being obliged to remove your shoes before entering. Oh ! watch-man, tell us of the night and its pitfalls !
There is, practically speaking, only one thoroughfare in Hamadan that might be so interpreted from an American viewpoint, and I am told that it was but recently constructed by dependents of the Relief Commission. It can be briefly described as following for a very short distance only, beside a laughing brook and then disappearing. The brook, however, is of far greater importance. It is formed by the snows of Mt. Elvend and wanders from the higher side of the town, where the American Mission Hospital is located, tumbles down a rock strewn course that is fringed by some poplars and is spanned by one or two little stone bridges.
This little stream, by the way, or rather, on its way, turns the stones of several flour mills, but knowing the flour mills that my compatriots are familiar with and might mentally erect by this waterway, let me add that one of these tiny, several-times-removed cousins, bears no resemblance to the flour mills of Minneapolis. It is a little mud building (every building is of mud in Persia), perhaps 15 feet square, tucked by the side of the stream. A little canal leading from the rivulet farther up at a higher elevation tumbles its water into a flue leading down through the flat mud roof of the mill and turns the chipped circular stones between which the wheat is ground into meal. None of the precious material is lost, for the hut-mill, which I entered through a low doorway, had no other opening and the flour whirls out from between the stones and is deposited on the mud floor, over and through which the dusty (that sounds better than dirty) miller tramps and scoops up the flour for his patrons. There you have a word picture of one of thousands of flour mills in Persia.
There are some very interesting bazaars in Hamadan that our host showed us but which I shall not describe, for those of Teheran are so much more wonderful, in fact, the most remark-able and interesting bazaars I have ever seen.
I would not be doing Hamadan justice if I did not mention two important shrines, and the American Mission Hospital might honestly be added as the modern, third sanctuary. Naturally enough, when accompanied by two doctors our pilgrimage was first to the tomb-shrine of Avicenna, that philosophical medico of the tenth century accredited with being the last and greatest of Arab philosophers of the east.
Beside the brook before referred to and facing a little enclosed garden, is a small, low, square, mud building with a dome, within which is sup-posed to be the mausoleum of Avicenna. I use the word “supposed” advisedly, for as a rule whenever I undertake to investigate supporting evidence regarding some sacred shrine or tomb of the ancients, it usually results in expressions something as follows: “The authenticity is questioned,” or “It may reasonably be accepted,” or “Some authorities place it here, while others,” etc., etc.
However Avicenna (Ali al-Husain ibn Abdallah ibn Sina) was an Arabian philosopher, born in 980 and died in 1037, a physician of the Persian monarchs of the tenth and eleventh centuries. It is stated that his precocity was extraordinary and that at ten years of age he knew the Koran by rote, also much Arabic poetry. He became a great scholar and philosopher, learned in medicine, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy in fact, by the time he was seventeen years of age scarcely any science was left untouched by him; a lecturer on logic and philosophy and a voluminous writer, his greatest work being his Canon of Medicine, long used as a textbook both in the Orient and Occident. His was a checkered career, subject to the rise and fall of fortune and favor. He is looked upon as the greatest of the Arab philosophers of the east, a sage, who was gifted with unusual power of mind and memory.
The other shrine of interest to travelers visiting Hamadan is the supposed tomb of Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai. The Bible story of this beautiful young queen is one of the most dramatic and romantic in the scriptures. It has always been of interest to me to note the manner in which our Bible records connect up with those of other historians of that period. In this in-stance, we discover that King Ahasuerus is generally accepted by historians as being none other than Xerxes (519-465 B.C.), the younger son of Darius.
The Biblical story records “that in those days when the King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan” (Esther, i, 2), that he commanded that his queen Vashti be brought before him, but she refused to obey the summons, which greatly displeased the king, who therefore acted upon the advice of his wise men who counseled: “If it please the king let there go a royal command from him and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes that it be not altered that Vashti come no more before King Ahasuerus and let the king give her royal estate to another that is better than she” (Esther i, 19). This was done and that other was chosen.
“And the king loved Esther above all the women and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther ii, 17).
They must have been a royal couple indeed, for Esther was fair to look upon, and Herodotus observes when speaking of Xerxes that there was not one man among the millions of his army that was equal to this monarch in comeliness or stature. Centuries ago, writers made mention of Esther’s tomb at Hamadan and it appears to have been destroyed several times. The existing monument is accredited to two pious Jews of Kashan who restored it in 1713.
This tomb is just another Persian mud building with a dome, and lacking in architectural beauty, picturesqueness, or decorative features. It is surrounded by an unkempt square which upon the day that I visited the tomb was used as a depository for dead dogs, for it appears that a decree had gone forth in Hamadan to poison all unclaimed dogs (and there are legions of such in Persia), and several of these executed animals lay in the square, while there was plenty of other evidence to show the natives’ complete lack of regard for sanitation and decency.
The book of Esther is too good a story to allow the heroine of that episode to lie in a tomb (even if unauthentic) surrounded by filth.
In Dr. Funk’s garden, I observed a sun dial and I was interested in his statement that this was his only dependable means of securing correct time. By the shadow cast by the sun on the dial, with the assistance of an almanac, he could calculate the correct time, for be it known the time of your Mohammedan is as variable as the sunset.
Twice, going and returning, I reluctantly took leave of our genial hosts at Hamadan, for they dispense a hospitality to the stranger within their gate that is not soon forgotten, especially by a sojourner in this land of mud huts and none too good hostelries. But such need be the way of the traveler. Two of the brightest spots in my recollections of Persia are two American homes; one located along with the Mission Hospital in a pleas-ant compound at Hamadan, the other situated within the walls of the new campus of the American College at Teheran. Bright because of the love, the hope, the faith, the wholesome hospitality that they reflect and radiate. Dedicated to their task of service to humanity and their Master, these educational and medical missionaries are representatives of our country of whom we fellow Americans may well be proud. Theirs is a task demanding sacrifice and devotion to fellow men, but they invite no pity, for ask any one of them if they were free to choose their future what would be their choice, and with one accord they would carry on the work begun in Persia. It is a bridge they are building spanning the quagmires of life, over which they hope even in the dim future, a part of the human family in a land where the moral and mental temperament is not highly advanced, may pass to a highway leading to better things.
For bear in mind it is only within the past two decades that liberty of conscience, of the person, education, speech and press was granted. It is a country where administration of justice has been none too equitable, largely due to conflicting codes of the civil and the divine laws prescribed by the Koran, where bribery, corruption, and perjury have been prevalent in legal procedure,. where severe sentences have been imposed and carried out before the indifferent gaze of the public, where ignorance and superstition predominate, but where there exists a people with the same original Aryan stock as we Americans, and enjoying a great historical background, rich in legendary tales. A people that have retained their national and racial distinctiveness despite wars, conquerors, and the tyranny, lust and corruption of their rulers during the past thousands of years.
These missionaries fully realize that they are but the footings, the foundation stones that are sunk deep down below the surface, but the important bearing upon which the permanency and safety of this future, social bridge-structure depends. They have no time to argue and quarrel among themselves over questions of fundamentalism, nor have they any patience with these quibblings going on in the homeland; they are far too busy endeavoring to teach and practice the doctrine of love as exemplified by Christ. They are splendid examples of true, working Christians, endeavoring to administer in His name.
And so once upon a time, as the old stories recited, we left our genial host and hostess in the early morning after a refreshing rest and a good breakfast and were again following a highway that stretched for 60 miles across the highlands to the north of Hamadan. After crossing these highlands, a mile and over in elevation, we again passed from a land enjoying springtime, to the deep snows of winter that enveloped the mountain peaks of Sultan Bulagh Pass, of 8500 feet altitude, over which we rose on our way to Kazvin.
But no serious difficulties were encountered going over this pass, and again we descended through the rugged foothills to the plains of the valley lying to the south of the Elburz range, which now lay between us and the Caspian Sea. It is a treeless region but not without its distinct beauty. Often we traveled for miles without passing through a village, and there are no farm buildings strewn picturesquely throughout the landscape, as in America.
The highway, however, is far from being deserted. It is quite constantly being blocked with flocks of sheep and goats, or even donkeys that are not much larger but usually bearing burdens under which they are nearly hidden. Then there are the camel caravans, constantly on the move, swaying rhythmically, and numbering from a dozen to a thousand camels, for I saw two or three such large caravans, made up of ten or a dozen groups of more than one hundred each.
There are also the pack-trains of mules and horses jingling with bells and laden with freight which usually drew to that side of the road you least expected, or what was even more confusing, some going one way, while the others went the opposite. I observed that the camel sensed the klaxon just a little more quickly than any other animal and without any apparent nervousness, but promptly sharing the trail with his most recent competitor. I can imagine he would gladly transfer and assign forever to that inanimate object of metal and speed (the automobile) any vested rights or monopoly that he has in the past enjoyed as a freight-carrying ship of the desert, and retire to the quietude and silence of his native surroundings.
There were also others with whom we shared the road; heavy two-wheeled carts and cumber-some four-wheeled gharries piled high with bales and boxes; post-coaches carrying the mail and often with passengers squatting among bundles and packages. To these different vehicles were hitched sturdy and oftentimes undersized horses, but which were muscled like badgers. Often beside the highway were camels peacefully resting, crouched in rows facing one another and munching the forage spread between them, their packs unburdened, the freight scattered about the caravansary.
Between Hamadan and Kazvin, we observed beside the road and usually at the toll-gates, some very substantially built yellow brick buildings, although many were vacant and being allowed to fall into decay, which is characteristic of Persia. These, we were informed, were post-houses erected by the Russians in former days during the period of their influence in Persia and were used as relay stations in the conveying of mail and passengers.
The sun was sinking low, the snow-covered summits of the Elburz range were a cold gray, when rounding a bend in the road and crossing a stone bridge spanning a stream, we halted before “The Sublime Porte of Kazvin,” the first truly Persian gateway we had seen, an oriental archway with grained recesses leading through a great mud wall into a typical Persian city. The façade of this gateway is decorated with bright colored, glazed tile, above which rise slender minarets. It impressed me as being quite beautiful, but of course one’s judgment of beauty is after all usually comparative, and it must be remembered that these bright, tile-encrusted gateways are with but few exceptions the only outstanding, artistic, colorful structures in Persia, and there-fore a pleasing contrast to their unsightly surrounding of mud walls and mud huts.
We passed the sentry and on through the gateway, following what was an unusually straight and long street for a Persian city. It was hemmed in by little shops, dwellings, and caravansaries whose portals (large arches) formed vaulted passage-ways leading into an open court in the back surrounded by a cloister-like building. Within this court might be seen camels chewing their cuds, bales of merchandise piled in heaps, swarthy men moving about or cooking their meager fare over little fires of charcoal or camel dung, the smoke curling upward toward the night sky. The common fuel of the common people, and surely at least 90 per cent can be so classed, is dried camel dung, which besides giving heat, gives plenty of smellthe aroma of Persia. The more aristocratic fuel is kerosene oil, and although a product of Persia, its cost is about four times greater than in America. Persia has coal but no transportation facilities enabling reasonable delivery costs, and as for wood, Persia is practically tree-less.
Hotel Grande was the name of our hostelry in Kazvin, but the word must not be translated too literally. It was, however, about as good as any found in Persia, and the beds were not floored over with boards as at Kermanshaw, but were fitted with Russian springs. The cuisine was very acceptable, especially under the circumstances.
It is a little less than 100 miles from Kazvin to Teheran, the last leg of a 600-mile journey. The road leads over a high but rather level country, the Elburz range lying but a short distance to the north. The 100-mile drive is easily negotiated in five hours. We skirted Teheran outside its walls and drove direct to the new campus of the American College, surrounded by high mud walls. Within these grounds of approximately 60 acres extent is situated the home of Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, whose guests we were while visiting this city.