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Tehran: The Capital City of Islamic Republic of Iran

By: Jawad Yassavoli
Situation and access: Altitude between 1,200 and 1,700 meters; Mehrabad Airport to the west of the city Railway: European link through Tabriz and Istanbul, internal lines to Mushhad, Yazd and Khoramshahr. Regular coach services in all directions.
Nearly 12 million dwellers as against only two hundred thousand in 1920! Tehran is immense and proliferates like a coral reef, but in an orderly manner. Nine-tenths of the built-up area is in square blocks with absolutely straight boulevards. The visitor who expected a city built in bits and pieces around a central medina or caravanserai must cross off this first cliché from the list of “Orientalisms” he brought with him on the trip. If he has not been back to the capital for 10 years (or even 5 according to some) he can no longer find his way. New roads link the western part of the city to the northern quarters. Towering buildings have been erected right and left. Large stores, super-markets, self-service shops have been opened, public buildings, government departments and monuments have been built and an array of giant cranes show the Iran’s development fever.
The taxi that picks you up at the modern Mehrabad International Airport (an ultra-modern airport is under construction) first takes a stretch of motorway bordered by flower-decked bushes, goes around a spacious roundabout in the middle of which the remarkably beautiful Azadi (freedom) Tower has been erected then for kilometer after kilometer speeds along perfectly straight avenues crossing each other at right angles and punctuated at intersections by fountains, statues or flower-beds.

  Golestan Palace and Rose Garden
The Golestan (Rose Garden) Palace was the Qajars’ royal residence. Its garden is an oasis of coolness and silence in the heart of the city. The main building, architecturally unpretentious, houses a museum with objects from the Qajar period in the overloaded and pompous style of last century.
In the Golestan Garden, a one story pavilion to the right and slightly behind the entrance, shelters one of the best organized museums in Tehran. Do not be discouraged by its scientific title. It contains about thirty show-cases, presenting everything which makes up the basic originality of Iranian life in the various provinces of the country.
Tehran became the capital in the 19th century. Its more ancient monuments bear the marks of that period when everywhere in the world, taste had degenerated. Furthermore, its rapid growth explains the proliferation of houses without any style, fortunately laid out in square blocks, but anonymous, without harmony, gray, with never a flower on their window-sills. The baroque and pretentious appearance of certain facades, particularly banks, built twenty or thirty years ago, do nothing to improve the city’s appearance.
Daring modern buildings, erected during the past few years, give, despite their frequently dry architecture, an impression of what Tehran’s beauty will be in the near future. The Islamic Parliament, the Vahdat Hall, the City Theater with its circular shape recalling that of Mongol towers, even the Esteqlal and Evin Hotel foreshadow the city of the future, and of course the Azadi Tower which dominates them all, (not considering the Milad Tower which is now under construction ).
The Capital, a veritable boom town undergoing intense activity, continues to expand according to a rational plan in a checkered pattern. Modern buildings rise up beside 19th century houses.

Three Thousand Years of History at the Archaeological Museum
Iranians call the Archaeological Museum “Iran Bastan”. It is based on a small square off Imam Khomeini (RA) Avenue, about 100 meters from the Central Post Office. A guide-book is available in several languages. The displays were rearranged in 1971. Wall-signs are in French, which is exceptional, probably because the French archaeologist Andrea Goaded was the initiator of the museum. Seen from the outside, the building gives no indication whatsoever of the wealth of art treasures it contains.
Iranologists find here an inexhaustible source of study. Objects uncovered during recent excavations are to be found side by side with objects representing the great periods of history and pre-history.
In about two hours, the tourist gets a comprehensive view of Iranian art throughout the ages: the ground floor covers antiquity up to and including the Seasoned period, the first floor is devoted to the Islamic period. But most visitors come to admire a few much-photographed items which have come famous all over the world. Sialk potteries with astonishingly modern stylized decorations (11th - 6th century BC); terra cotta animals of the same period from the Caspian and Azarbaijan regions, several famous Lurestan bronzes (8th century BC); the famous delicately chiseled Marlik gold tankard with its decor of winged rams (10th century BC). Gold and Silver chest-plates, cups and dishes show how long the tradition of rich metal craft was kept up throughout the centuries.
Visitors who do not have time to go to Persepolis or Susa will find in the Iran Bastan Museum significant vestiges of Achaemenian decorations: enameled brick panels, bull head-shaped column capitals, gold plates engraved with royal decorations in three languages: ancient Persian, Babylonian, Elamite and so on.
Tehran is pleasant. It derives its originality from its dry climate, always cool in the evening, its pure sky, the nearness of the mountains, its numerous parks and gardens where flowers blossom throughout the year, the alleys of young plane-trees in the avenues or even smaller streets, the water which runs down from the upper city along deep and wide gutters which look like small rivers unless it is stored in canals on a central terrace before being distributed to pools and fountains on squares and roundabout. All this contributes to the pleasure of a visit to Tehran.
In winter, the mountain hotels and ski-clubs at Shemshak, Shahrestanak and Dizine are full several days a week, In all these places and in all circles of society foreigners are warmly welcomed and listened to with consideration.

Mountains at the Threshold of the City
A short excursion you should not fail to make on a Friday (the weekly holiday) consists in a visit to Sarband, the road terminus north of Tajrish. The road runs alongside the Sa’dabad Palace, passes in front of the Sa’dabad hotel and ends at the entrance of a gorge on a small square where a bronze statue has been erected to honor Iranian mountaineers. In a much less ambitious venture, you can join the crowd of families setting off for a picnic and soon find yourself sitting in a chairlift. After a long aerial journey you reach a high valley. Dozens of small houses with zing roofs nestle among the bushes. Some are private dwellings, but most are coffee-houses. Mountain streams run among the tables. But everyone does not sit around a table, many of the customers prefer the ancient-style comfort of low divans covered with old carpets. Delicious “kababs” are peacefully consumed accompanied by boiling hot tea or Doogh (a kind of drink made of yogurt, water and salt).

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