Tehran Overview

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.

Tehran Highlights

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.

Golestan Palace:

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.

National Jewelry Museum:

Located in the basement of the National Bank of Iran on Ferdowsi Avenue, in front of the embassies of Germany and Turkey, this is one of the best known museums in Iran. It displays an impressive collection of some of the most famous and spectacular jewels in the world including many priceless pieces. The majority of the items on display were given to Safavid kings as gifts but many pieces were taken by Nader Shah on his conquest of India. These include the Darya-e Nur diamond, the Peacock Throne and the Jeweled Globe, other pieces include the crowns of the Qajar and Pahlavi Kings.

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 Sadabad Palace is a palace built by the Pahlavi dynasty of Iran in the Shemiran area of Tehran. The complex was firstinhabited by Qajar monarchs and royal family in the 19th century. After an expansion of the compounds, Reza Shah lived there in the 1920s. And his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi moved there in the 1970s. After the Iranian Revolution, the complex became a museum. However, the current presidential palace is located adjacent to the Sa’d Abad compound. Sad Abad has 18 palaces, which 7 palaces had changed to museums.

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.

Sepahsalah 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.

Tehran’s Bazaar:

A City within a City: Tehran’s history as the capital dates back to the Ghajar time. Besides museums, palaces and mosques which are the mirror of a nation’s history, this bazaar of Tehran has its own fair share of the nation’s history.
Tehran’s bustling and crowded bazaar covers a huge area. There are also mosques, guesthouses, banks and even a fire station within the sprawling area in south Tehran which is covered by the bazaar district. The main business in Tehran’s grand bazaar takes place around noon (10-12) and between 5-7 pm in the evening. Visitors are encouraged to bargain over prices.
The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art on the west side of the very lovely Laleh Park is a low-lying dun-brick building functioning as Tehran’s most important museum of contemporary art. Notice the skylights raised from the roof. Reminiscent of the “badgirs” of Yazd or Kashan, these allow the harsh sun to softly light the central sunken well of inner space – itself a modern interpretation of the cool underground havens of desert city residences. Labyrinthine corridors spin off the central hall and guide you through the history of modern Iranian art.

Things To Do

Tehran Bazaar
Tehran Museums
Tehran Palaces

Handicraft & Shopping

Engraving on copper and brass
Khatam (inlaid)
Wood carvings
Painted glass
Leather works