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10 Facts about Tehran

Updated on April 9, 2014

Tehran, the capital and largest city of Iran, is located in north-central Iran, at the juncture of the Trans-Iranian rail network. Tehran (also Teheran) is the capital of Tehran ostan (province). About 65 miles (105 km) south of the Caspian Sea, the city lies on a broad alluvial plateau that slopes south from the Elburz Mountains. The older part of the city lies lower down the slope than the modern center. The elevation of the latter is about 4,000 feet (1,220 meters).

1. Modern residential suburbs, such as Shimran, are at the base of the mountains. Numerous qanats (tunnel-wells) terminate in the city, and irrigation ditches flow down many streets, providing water for gardens inside courtyard walls.

2. Maydan Sepah (formerly Topkhaneh) is the focal point of the city. A large and beautiful square, it is surrounded by modern government buildings, including the ministry of post and telegraph, the radio station and police headquarters, and offices of the municipality. The Museum of Iranian Ethnology and the Museum of Iranian Art and Archaeology, also on the square, have outstanding collections of national cultural artifacts.

Tehran grand bazaar
Tehran grand bazaar | Source

3. The historic citadel, or arg, and main bazaar are nearby. The classical Muslim city of Tehran, with its mosques, religious schools, baths, teahouses, and sporting clubs, centers on this area. Most of the major mosques are near the bazaar, including the Shah mosque, which was the center of revolutionary activity leading to the establishment of constitutional government in Iran in 1906. The Gulistan (Rose garden) Palace, which dates from 1786, houses the marble throne of Karim Khan Zand and the jeweled Peacock Throne of Fath Ali Shah. The crown jewels of Iran and the Grand Mughul (Mogul) throne are kept in the National Bank.

4. New Tehran stands in striking contrast to the old city. The layout of the streets and residential areas is reminiscent of European capitals, especially Paris. Reza Shah adopted a grid pattern for Tehran in 1926. The rectangular plan was partially superimposed over the old city and completely dominates the business and residential areas north of Shah Reza Avenue and west of Pahlavi Avenue.

Tehran road heading north for the mountains
Tehran road heading north for the mountains | Source

5. The pattern of urban life is influenced by Western models. Middle-class residential areas have developed in the central city, near the new centers of business and administration, as well as around the apartment complexes in the northwest and southwest. Although their numbers have decreased, traditional minorities, such as Jews and Armenians, have moved north to the Doulat quarter and beyond. Near the base of the mountains, the new suburbs have luxury hotels, the summer seats of foreign legations, and residences of the rich and elite. Elsewhere on the periphery of the city, the new residential areas include slum villages that house new immigrants and workers in the adjacent industries.

6. Many of the modern businesses are located near Shah Reza Avenue and Maydan Sepah. The Iranian Oil Company headquarters building is the focus of a new commercial area, which includes the Plasko Shopping Center and the Firdausi Department Store. Most of the banks and dealers in antiques, modern handicrafts, and Persian carpets are on Firdausi Street. Jewelers, cloth merchants, tailors, lawyers, physicians, and real estate brokers are on Lalehzar Street. To the west, Shah Reza Avenue leads to the House of Parliament, in the modern center of government and administration. The city's educational institutions include the University of Tehran and Tehran Teachers College.

7. Industry, commerce, and services dominate Tehran's economy. Although traditionally concentrated in the bazaar, the shops and offices, especially the newer ones, are scattered throughout greater Tehran. Less than half of the more than 30,000 industrial and manufacturing establishments are in the central part of the city. They include a wide variety of traditional, small-scale handicraft industries such as textiles, paper products, printing and publishing, and leather and leatherworking.

8. Most of the medium and large modern firms are located on the main transportation routes near the periphery of the city. Textile mills, chemical industries, and oil storage facilities are in the southwestern sector. Brick furnaces and plants producing construction materials are in the south, and transport equipment manufacturers are in the west, along the highway to Karaj. Other industries, such as food processing and metal assembly, are found in all sectors of the city.

9. Tehran is located 6 miles (10 km) north of the ruins of the ancient city of Ray. After the Mongols destroyed Ray in 1220, many of the people were attracted to the village of Tehran by its rich soil and good climate. The village grew, and by the mid-16th century it was a prominent center of agriculture, trade, and commerce. The first wall was built in 1553–1554. It was 3 miles (5 km) in length, with 114 towers and 4 gates. A chapter of the Koran was buried under each tower.

10. In 1788 the founder of the Kajar (Qajar) dynasty, Aga Muhammad Khan, moved the capital from Shiraz to Tehran. A century later, a second wall was built by Nasir al-Din Shah. Patterned after the wall of Paris, it was octagonal in shape, with a circumference of 10 miles (16 km), and had 12 gates and 58 towers. This wall determined the form of Tehran until 1926, when it was destroyed as part of Reza Shah's plan of urban development. Iran's oil boom after World War II spurred the city's modernization and expansion. By the 1970s, Tehran had grown to nearly seven times the size of Isfahan, the next-largest city in Iran.


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