Gabae: ancient town in southern Media, modern Isfahan.
The ancient city of Gabae is mentioned several times in our sources, but is not very well-known. This is unlikely to change, because the site is now occupied by the city of Isfahan, one of the largest metropoles in the world.
However, it may well have been an equally important town in Antiquity, because it is situated on the Zayandeh Rud (litt. "life giving river"), one of the main sources of water in the western part of central Iran. It must have been an agriculturally rich place and was the logical place for travelers to halt and relax. Many people must have passed through the city, because Gabae commanded several main roads:
- across the Zagros Mountains to Susa in Elam;
- to Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in Media;
- along the desert to Rhagae (near modern Tehran);
- to Persis, with important cities like Pasargadae, Istakhr, Persepolis, Shiraz, and Firuzabad;
- and to Yasuj, Bishapur, and the Persian Gulf.
In the spring of 330, Alexander the Great, pursuing the last Achaemenid king Darius III Codomannus, passed through Gabae. The fact that the town is mentioned in our sources proves that it existed in Achaemenid times. Several years later, the armies of two of Alexander's successors, Antigonus I Monopthalmus and Eumenes, clashed near Gabae (text) in the decisive battle of the Second Diadoch War. Eumenes lost.
The town was a provincial capital in Parthian times and received its current name Isfahan in the age of the Sasanians (Aspahan, "place of the army"). However, the name Gabae also remained in use: the Arab conquerors were to call the city "Jay". Sasanian princes usually studied statecraft in Isfahan, which had by now the standard, circular lay-out of an Iranian city. Reportedly, it had four gates and 104 towers. A Jewish quarter is also mentioned in our sources, and we must assume that there was a Zoroastrian fire sanctuary.
The ancient settlement, or a satellite of the main settlement, has been identified 4½ kilometer southeast of the center of the modern city: a sandy hill that does not really betray its secrets. The nearby Shahrestan Bridge, however, still stands on a foundation from the Sasanian age and resembles the bridge at Shushtar.
Ten kilometer west of the modern city center was a Sasanian fort, situated on a steep rock called Marbin or Maras, which is about two hundred meters high. On top of it, several buildings have been identified; the oldest date back to the Iron Age. Some of them appear to have had the four-arched plan that is commonly associated with the ancient fire temples and are called atashgah.
The most famous structure on the hill is a circular building that may have been a watchtower from the Ilkhanid age, although this has recently been contested and it may in fact be much older. However that may be, it certainly offers a splendid view of the Zayandeh Rud,and is consequently a favorite pick-nick site of the Isfahanis.