Esther's Tomb

Iran's Jewish queen defies decay and dissolution.

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Until the 1970s, the shrine was hidden away in a crowded part of Hamadan, surrounded by houses, and only accessible through a narrow dirt alley. But in 1971, in honor of a national celebration of 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy, the Iranian Jewish Society commissioned architect Yassi (Elias) Gabbay to undertake a renovation.

Houses around the tomb were purchased and demolished, making the shrine accessible from the main street via a bridge Gabbay constructed over the new courtyard and a partially-underground synagogue chapel he also built, to complete the shrine complex. The subterranean chapel has a skylight in the shape of a Star of David that can be seen in Google Earth, quite possible making the Islamic Republic in Iran home to the only Jewish Star visible from space.

The renovation did not significantly alter the shrine itself, or the grave stones cluttering the plaza outside the old shrine. (Some prominent local Jews had in the past secured burial plots outside the shrine, which they considered holier than plots in the main Jewish cemetery in Hamadan.)

One of the old structure's remarkable features that Gabbay preserved is its front door, a massive piece of granite with a hidden lock. Less than four feet high, the stunted doorframe forces visitors to bow as they enter, in deference to the site's holy occupants.

An outer chamber holds tombs of famous rabbis and provides access by means of an archway to the interior chamber. The interior chamber features Hebrew writing along the walls and holds two carved sarcophagi, supposedly marking the burial spots of Esther and Mordecai. This chamber also houses a cabinet with a 300-year-old Torah scroll.

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