The modern powerhouse of the government and its engineers, Tehran (meaning warm slopes) was originally a village on the suburb of Rey, Iranian capital until Mongol invasion of the country in 1220 AD, when it population moved to the present site of Tehran. Actually, very little is known of the origin and early history of Tehran. It is possible that it may date back to the ninth century AD, but for the first few hundred years of its existence, it was an insignificant town, its development being retarded by its proximity to the larger and flourishing Rey (now 7 km to the south of Tehran).Karim Khan Zand, Shah of Iran (1750-79) came to Tehran in 1759. He was evidently most favorably impressed with the town and its situation, for he gave orders for a government office to be erected there that would rival the great Sassanian palace at Ctesiphon, as well as a number of other buildings. He entertained for a time the idea of making Tehran his capital in place of Shiraz, but finally he dropped the idea and returned to Shiraz.Tehran’s development as an independent city, however, began in the 18th century, when it was finally made Iran’s capital by Agha Mohammad Khan, the first of the Qajars impressed with Tehran, in 1795, because of its enjoying special importance from the geographical, political, and economical points of view. That is why most of the historical buildings of Tehran are of the Qajar period.
With a difference in elevation of more than 500 meters, and an officially announced population of 6,620,461 (according to 1992 census) in an approximate area of 600 square km, modern Tehran is situated on the northern fringe of the great central plateau and at the foot of the southern slope of the impressive mountain chain of Alborz. The Tochal ridge, just under 4,00 meters high (which was climbed by Fath-Ali Shah Qajar), successor of Agha Mohammad Khan) dominates the town on the north; while nearly 80 km to the northeast, but seemingly much closer in the clear air of the Iranian uplands, is the magnificent snow-capped volcanic cone of Damavand, 5,670 meters in height (See also Sports and Games page) the highest mountain in Iran with which many legends are connected. According to one such legend, Zoroaster once lived on the lower slopes of Damavand, close to where the picturesque village of Ask now stands. Also according to another legend, many of the episodes of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh have taken place in and around this same mountain.
The 200th anniversary of Tehran’s nomination as the nation’s capital was celebrated in 1991. Probably the first European to visit Tehran was Don Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, the Ambassador of King Henry III of Castile to the Great Timur. Clavijo halted at Tehran in July 1,404 while on his long journey to Timur’s court at Samarqand.
Despite being a creation of early twentieth century, the present-day Tehran is becoming an established highlight on the foreign tourist’s itinerary because of its vestiges of antiquity dating mainly from the Qajar period. For some, its attractions are shops, well stocked with every modern product, as well as local handicrafts, and the museums with their spectacular exhibits on display. Since most international flights take in Mehrabad Airport, the town has become an important distribution center for visitors from abroad. Furthermore, its status as a Capital City and commercial center brings many businessmen and diplomats every year. As a result, most of the country’s hotels, both large and small, as well as tourist facilities have grown up in Tehran.
Summer relaxation resorts and recreational centers are equally available for local and foreign travelers and tourists in and around Tehran: parks, reservoirs and banks of three major dams (Amir Kabir, equipped for water skiing, boating and swimming, Latyan, and Lar), mountain entertainment facilities north of Tehran, Towchal Tele-cabin, Damavand peak, bowling and other wholesome pastimes, the valleys of Jajrud and Karaj rivers (both a trout fisherman’s paradises), and the ski resorts of Dizin, Shemshak, and Ab-e Ali. Reception and accommodation facilities are so versatile in Tehran and its suburbs that they would no doubt suit the taste and choice of every tourist.
When in Tehran, most probably a taxi will take you to your hotel from Mehrabad International Airport (an ultra-modern airport is already under construction) while passing around a spacious roundabout in the middle of which the remarkably beautiful monument of Azadi Tower attract one’s attention. There are three bus lines from the Mehrabad Airport to three major destinations in the north (Vanak Square), center (Enghelab Square), and south (Rah Ahan Square or the railway station) of Tehran, which are incomparably cheaper than any taxi. After getting settled, all in all we advise traveling everywhere in Tehran by service taxi and planning your visit to each of the following sites in advance.
There are sufficient number of package tours and all other tourist centers, which you can book either through the hotel or personal contact. The prices are not so ruinous compared to American or European standards.
Carpet Museum of Iran:
Not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art and also adjacent to Laleh Park, the Carpet Museum of Iran is one of the most rewarding of Tehran’s museums. Most of the carpets on display are from the 19th or 20th centuries; and photography is permitted though use of a flash is not.
The Golestan Palace (the Rose Garden palace) was the Qajar’s royal residence and stands as a monument to the excesses of the Qajar shahs. The palace includes several buildings that are open to the public. You can wander around the gardens and admire the painted tile work. The garden has a pavilion that shelters one of the best organized museums in Tehran. It showcases everything that makes up the basic originality of Iranian life in the various provinces of the country.
In his travel book, Pietro Della Valle has describe Tehran as a “garden full of plane trees that has surrounded the royal palace”. Although the construction dates back to Safavid period, its importance has laid in Qajar era when Agha Muhammad Khan defeated Zand dynasty and coronated back in Tehran in Nowrooz 1795, as the king of Iran. Also, the palace’s history has been intertwined with a political climax, i.e., Constitutional Revolution. It is situated close to Tehran Grand Bazaar. Next, the palace was home to the Pahlavi kings. Among the splendid monuments within the palace “Shams-ol-Imarah” or the sun house has marked the most famous, with five floors which was the highest building back at the time. It has a European architecture and there is a clock on top of the building that was a gift from Queen Victoria. There are several valuable museums inside the palace including mirror hall with artworks belonging to Kamal-al-Molk, the most famous painter of the era. The ancient utensil museum consists of European gifts for the kings and an anthropology museum as the outstanding ones.
National Jewelry Museum:
One of the most spectacular and splendid places of which Iranians are so proud of is the museum of jewelries which hosts the most precious stones and fabrics from Safavid dynasty to the contemporary era. Some of them were brought here from Asian and European countries centuries ago while some others have been made by Iranian artists. Also, between two precious and popular diamonds, Koh-i-Noor and Daria-i-Noor the former was exited from the country and has been dedicated to Queen Victoria while the latter rests in this museum. The jewelries, not only recount historical stories about the defeats and victories in Iran, Iran civilization and suppressed people during preceding eras but they also shows the creativity and artistry of Iranian artists. Now the museum is a firm support to the central bank of Iran and will be open to public from Saturday to Tuesday. Nobody has been able to value this treasure and they say it is priceless because some of the jewelries are quite rare in the world.
Niavaran Palace Complex:
The Niavaran Palace Complex consists of several buildings and a museum. The Sahebqraniyeh (Kings Special Office) contains a collection of art, the Shah’s golden phone, and royal pistols. The Palace of the Qajar dynasty is also inside this complex. This palace was the primary residence of the last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Jahan-Nama Museum (Queens Private Museum) has more art plus archeological finds from Iran, Egypt and even Mexico.
Saad Abad Palace:
The northern part of Tehran has welcomed to the most extended palace which contains 180 acres of natural forests, water springs, gardens, greenhouse and avenues. There used to be a river inside, from Qajar to Pahlavi eras which used to distribute water among the habitants of the palace and outside for public. Some parts of this structure is now under the service for the Presidential Organization. It also consists of 18 palaces in different dimensions and status within the complex, which are recently turned into various museums. These include Green Palace, where they keep Iranian and European furniture, White Palace, which is the biggest one with a white facet and where they keep priceless Iranian carpets, Ahmad Shahi Palace, the oldest one, Farshchian Museum, with a valuable collection of miniatures by this famous artist, Black Palace, Nations Palace and many others.
Nation Palace: Shah Reza summer villa.
Nation Arts Museum (or Africa Museum): Situated in the Nation Museum are the dedications to the Shah from the Chinese, Indians and Africans.
Green Museum: Shah Reza Summer Palace.
Anthropology Search Museum: All kinds of Iranian customs, relating to the culture and civilization of ancient Iran are shown.
Military Museum: Equipment and Weapons from the Achamenian period to now.
Mir Emad Museum: Calligraphy Masterpieces of Mir Emad and other calligraphists.
Abkar Museum: Klara Abkar Paintings.
Behzad Museum (miniature): Hossein Behzad Paintings.
Fine Art Museum: 18th & 19th century European Paintings.
Water Museum: Keeping, restoring and revenue operation of water in Iran.
Sepahsalar school & mosque:
One of the greatest Iranian School architecture, it is located down town, adjutant to Baharestan. Dating back to Qajar era, it is a 20800 m2 complex, built by the most famous architects of its time in 1795. The 8 minerat specially create a beautiful and unique scenery.
The capital of Iran, Tehran, is a place in which many constructions are built in large scales and sometimes this is what makes Tehran amazing and lively despite the hustle and bustle of the crowd. Even though industrialization paces faster than before, swallowing the traditional commercial centers, we cannot ignore the function of grand bazaars in Iran and Tehran in specific.
Traditionally, Tehran Grand Bazaar has been among those extensive structural designs as it is about 10kms long. Although bazaar-like constructions have been dated back to the 4th century B.C, the growth of Tehran Bazaar does not predate the Safavid Era. Besides, many sections of Tehran bazaar were developed later, in 19th century while some parts were added during Reza Shah Pahlavi in 20th century.
This jumbo local covered bazaar suits best for shopping fans and traders since it comprises almost all thinkable items of which jewelry and carpet are of special note. It has several corridors each specified distinct kinds of goods. Interestingly, the bazaar of Tehran is called “a city within a city” not only due to its innumerable shops but also its various mosques of which the Shah Mosque is the most noticeable. In addition, Moslem Restaurant definitely catches your eyes with its long line of people waiting for its well-known Tahchin (a traditional Iranian dish made of rice and meat).
While this maze-like bazaar provides you a quintessential place to get lost, it contains several entrances each of which wending your way to the closest exit or else, you will always find someone to ask about the direction, mostly among Bazaaris, who know bazaar like the back of their hand.
The Bazaaris (shopkeepers in the bazaar) are both an inseparable part of the Grand bazaar and the economic system and without them the bazaar would be senseless. They have been performing a key role in the climax of socio-political situations throughout history specifically during 1979 Revolution when they situated themselves opposite the autocracy and supported the public.
You will find some of the Bazaaris purely sympathetic to the extent that they invite you to a cup of tea, however, you might like to have your tea in the smallest tea house in Tehran, Haj Ali Darvish, in the clock shops section. Sorry! You should stand in front of the tea house as the place is restricted but it is worth a tasty chāi (tea).
The moment you enter the garden, you see a beautiful structure which was born almost a hundred years ago. During Qajar era, Ahmad Qavam was the owner of this octagonal two-story construction. It has five halls now in which the most ancient glassware, ceramics and clay works are being kept. Amazingly, besides the museum and works in there, the vitrines seem quite attractive because their design are on the basis of the columns of Persepolis, Tachara Palace and Ka’abaye Zartosht in Necropolis. The valuable works date back to the 4th thousand B.C and the oldest clay works belong to the Parthian Empire.
Museum of Contemporary Arts: [Suffered from Periodic Changes]
The modern establishment of Contemporary Arts building was ordered by Farah Pahlavi in 1977 and constructed by her cousin, Kamran Diba. He was inspired by the winding lanes (bādgir) used in the desert cities of Iran. It is considered as the largest archive of art in Iran which is home to many European and American collections of modern masterpieces outside Europe and America as well as the best Iranian modern artworks. The artistic creations of Contemporary Arts Museum include impressive works by Chagall, Dali, Picasso, Warhol, Pollock and many others. After the revolution in 1979 many of these works were sent back to the West, having been labeled as “impossible to be exposed” out of their non-Islamic contents. For the same reason, a portrait of Farah Pahlavi, depicted by Warhol was ripped away and the statue of Bahman Mohasses was broken. It was not before President Khatami that the gallery followed its previous direction regarding the modern art and exhibited the existing statues and drawings as well as other avant-garde artefacts.
Engraving on copper and brass
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