Lying at an altitude of 1,340 meters above sea level, 619 km northwest of Tehran, the second largest city in Iran until the late 1960s and one of its former capitals (with a population of 1,400,000 according to 1992 census), Tabriz is located in a valley to the north of the long ridge of Mount Sahand. The valley opens out into a plain that slopes down gently to the northern end of Lake Orumieh, 60 km to the west.
With a very rich history, Tabriz used to house many historical monuments. Unfortunately, many of them were destroyed in repeated invasions and attacks of foreign forces, negligence of the ruling governments, as well natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. What remains now mostly dates back to the Illkhanids, the Safavids, and the Qajars. Some of the monuments are unrivaled masterpieces of architecture.
The Shahrdari Square is the center of the town, on the south-west of which stands the imposing edifice of Municipality. The railway station (5km from the center of the town) is at the western edge of the town. The Quri Chai River runs through Tabriz, and most places of interest to the visitor are to the south of this river and along or north of Imam Khomeini Avenue.
Tabriz Great Bazaar:
Strolling in the center of Tabriz, particularly Motahari Avenue, one is reminded very forcibly that it is a commercial city: one cannot miss its very large and 15th century covered bazaar occupying an area of one square kilometer. It is already much diminished in its variety of goods, but still a great place for getting hopelessly lost amid its dusty architectural splendors. Its architectural style, numerous caravansaries, mosques, and schools have added further beauty and glory to this complex. Exact information on the history and origin of the bazaar is not available; however, historical buildings such as the Jame Mosque, Talebieh School, and Sadeqieh School indicate that the complex is one of the oldest structures of the city. The present structure of bazaar dates back to the closing years of the Zand dynasty (1750-1779 AD). While seeing the real bazaar, the visitor will understand with the amusement of recognition the shocked tone of the Moor, that indefatigable traveler Ibn Battuta, who visited Tabriz in 1334:
“I passed through the jewelers bazaar, and my eyes were dazzled by the varieties of precious stones that I beheld. They were displayed by beautiful slaves wearing rich garments with a waist sash of silk, who stood in front of the merchants, exhibiting the jewels to the Turks wives, who bought them in large quantities to outdo each other. A riot broke out among them may Allah preserve us from such a din! We went on to the ambergris market, and witnessed the same rowdiness, if anything even worse.”
The complex has high brick domes and arches. It includes several small bazaars, or bazaarches, each for a specific guild and craft. Carpet making is the main trade, but Tabriz is also renowned for its silverware and jewelry. The spice bazaar, one of the most pungent and impressive in Iran, is an excellent place for picking up henna. Look out also for the traditional Azeri hats resembling those worn by the gypsies of Western Europe.
The Blue Mosque (or Masjid-e Kabud) on the north side of Imam Khomeini Avenue, is a 15th century structure destroyed by one of Tabriz’s recurrent earthquakes. Despite showing a sorry ruin, it was recently restored with the utmost skill. Because of the blue tiles used in the decoration of both interior and exterior of the mosque, it has become to be known as the Turquoise of Islam.
What remains of the mosque is a witness to its earlier grandeur and splendor. Completed in 1465 by Nimatullah ibn Mohammad Bawwab, architect of Prince Jahan Shah Turkman Salimi (of the Qara Qoyunlu rulers) even today its Timurid tilework (main entrance) with a blue-on-white inscription band of mosaic tile in Riqa calligraphy is of a magnificence rivaling that of the Sanctuary of Mashhad, as well as a remarkable aspect of the new techniques, designs and wider range of colors used here.
The entrance portal with its two minarets appears to have been connected with the main prayer hall (Shabestan) under the largest cupola of the mosque, by means of vaulted corridor. On both sides along the corridor, there stand the remains of the chambers with vaulted roofs. The walls of the mosque have been riveted with marble slabs and decorated with superb mosaic tiles. Some of the blue mosaics in the mosques portal are heavily damaged and half missing. The mosque is now almost permanently closed, but renovation work and eventual reopening seem inevitable.
Before you leave Tabriz, do not miss El Goli or the National Park (former Shah Goli), a pleasant hillside garden and park around an artificial lake to the area of 54,675 square meters in the style of the much smaller Bagh-e Takht north of Shiraz or the Qasr-e Qajar north of Tehran. El Goli, only 4 km south of downstream Tabriz, is so lovely a place that it deserves an illustration. It is a popular weekend resort for the locals.
A hill in the eastern side of the park leads down to the pool with steps and a fountain from the top of the hill flows down to the pool. In the center of the pool there is a grand hexagonal building. The pool itself is said to have been built during the reign of Aq Qoyunlu kings. However, it was extended by the Safavids. During the rule of Qahraman Mirza, son of Abbas Mirza of Qajar dynasty, it was fundamentally repaired. Recently a big park has been built on the Airport Road, which attracts many visitors.
Aqmiyoon Fire Temple, Sarab:
This structure is in the village of Aqmiyoon 8 km. north of Sarab; at present only the stone foundations of which have been remained. Originally, the structure was a fire-temple of the Sassanid era and during the Islamic period has become similar to a shrine. There is a tomb on an elevation in the center, well known as ‘Imamzadeh Hassan’ relative to the year (708 A.H.).
From the earliest day of Christianity there has been a sizable Armenian community in Tabriz, and the city boasts a number of churches, including one mentioned by Marco Polo on his travels.
Nowadays Tabriz has six churches, the most important of which are: Saint Serkis Church, located in the Armenian quarter of Tabriz, Baron Avak, which was renovated in 1845; probably the most interesting and the oldest but substantially rebuilt Church of St Mary (Kelisa-ye Maryam-e Moghaddas) which was completed in 1785, on the corner of North Shariati Ave and Jomhuri Ave; Able Mary Church which was built in 1910 and is on Miar Miar quarter of Tabriz.