Tehran (Persian: تهران – Tehrān, pronounced [tehˈrɒːn] )) is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With a population of around 9 million in the city and 16 million in the wider metropolitan area, Tehran is the most populous city of Iran, the 2nd-most populous city in Western Asia and the 3rd-largest metropolitan area in the Middle East. It is ranked 29th in the world by the population of its metropolitan area.
In the Classical era, part of the present-day city of Tehran was occupied by a Median city that in the Avesta occurs as Rhaga. It was destroyed by the Mongols in the early 13th century, and remains now as a city in Tehran Province, located towards the southern end of the modern-day city of Tehran.
Tehran was first chosen as the capital of Iran by Agha Mohammad Khan of the Qajar dynasty in 1796, in order to remain within close reach of Iran’s territories in the Caucasus, before being separated from Iran as a result of the Russo-Persian Wars, and to avoid the vying factions of the previously ruling Iranian dynasties. The capital has been moved several times throughout the history, and Tehran is the 32nd national capital of Iran.
The city was the seat of the Qajars and Pahlavis, the two last imperial dynasties of Iran. It is home to many historical collections, such as the royal complexes of Golestan, Sa’dabad, and Niavaran, as well as the country’s most important governmental buildings of the modern period.
Large scale demolition and rebuilding began in the 1920s, and Tehran has been a destination for the mass migrations from all over Iran since the 20th century.
The most famous landmarks of the city include the Azadi Tower, a memorial built during the Pahlavi period, and the Milad Tower, the world’s 17th tallest freestanding structure, which was built in 2007. Tabiat Bridge, which was completed in 2014, is considered the third contemporary symbol of the city.
The majority of the people of Tehran are Persian-speaking people, and roughly 99% of the population understand and speak Persian; but there are also large populations of other Iranian ethnicities in the city such as Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Lurs, and Kurds who speak Persian as their second language.
Tehran is served by the Mehrabad and Khomeini international airports, a central railway station, the rapid transit rail system of the Tehran Metro, as well as a trolleybus and a BRT system, and has a large network of highways.
There have been plans to relocate Iran’s capital from Tehran to another area; due mainly to air pollution and the city’s exposure to earthquakes. To date, no definitive plans have been approved. A 2016 survey of 230 cities by consultant Mercer ranked Tehran 203rd for quality of living. According to the Global Destinations Cities Index in 2016, Tehran is among the top ten fastest growing destinations
The present-day city of Tehran was a suburb of an important Median city that was known as Rhaga in Old Persian. In the Avesta‘s Videvdat (i, 15), Rhaga is mentioned as the twelfth sacred place created by the Ohrmazd. In Old Persian inscriptions, Rhaga appears as a province (Behistun 2, 10–18). It was a major area for the Iranian tribes of Medes and Achaemenids. From Rhaga, Darius the Great sent reinforcements to his father Hystaspes, who was putting down the rebellion in Parthia (Behistun 3, 1–10). In some Middle Persian texts, Rhaga is given as the birthplace of Zoroaster, although modern historians generally place the birth of Zoroaster in Khorasan. Derived into Modern Persian as Rey, it remains now as a city located towards the southern end of the modern-day city of Tehran, which has been absorbed into the Greater Tehran metropolitan area.
Mount Damavand, the highest peak of Iran, which is located near Tehran, is an important location in Ferdowsi‘s Shahname, the long Iranian epic poem that is based on the ancient epics of Iran. It appears in the epics as the birthplace of Manuchehr, the residence of Keyumars, the place where Freydun binds the dragon fiend Aži Dahāka and the place where Arash the Archer shot his arrow from.
During the Sassanid era, in 641, Yazdgerd III issued his last appeal to the nation from Rey, before fleeing to Khorasan. Rey was dominated by the Parthian Mihran family, and Siyavakhsh—the son of Mihran the son of Bahram Chobin—who resisted the Muslim Invasion. Because of this resistance, when the Arabs captured Rey, they ordered the town to be destroyed and ordered Farrukhzad to rebuild the town anew.
In the 9th century, Tehran was a well known village, but less known than the city of Rey, which was flourishing nearby. The medieval writer Najm od Din Razi declared the population of Rey about 500,000 before the Mongol Invasion.
In the 10th century, Rey was described in detail by Muslim geographers.Despite the interest that Arabian Baghdad displayed in Rey, the number of Arabs in the city remained insignificant and the population mainly consisted of Persians of all classes.The Oghuz Turks invaded Rey discretely in 1035 and 1042, but the city was recovered during the Seljuk and Khwarazmian eras.
In the 13th century, the Mongols invaded Rey, laid the city to ruin and massacred many of its inhabitants. Following the invasion, many of the city’s inhabitants escaped to Tehran, and the new residence took over its role.
In July 1404, Castilian ambassador Ruy González de Clavijo visited Tehran while on a journey to Samarkand, the capital of Timur who ruled Iran at the time. Clavijo later described Tehran as an unwalled region under the Timurid Empire.
Early modern era
When the Italian traveler Pietro della Valle passed through the city overnight in 1618, he mentioned it as “Taheran” in his memoirs, while Thomas Herbert mentioned it as “Tyroan”. Herbert stated that the city had 3,000 houses in 1627.
In the early 18th century, Karim Khan of the Zand dynasty ordered a palace and a government office to be built in Tehran, possibly to declare the city his capital, but he later moved his government to Shiraz. Eventually, the Qajar king Agha Mohammad Khan was the first to choose Tehran as the capital of Iran in 1776.
Agha Mohammad Khan’s choice of his capital was based on a similar concern for the control of both the northern and the southern regions of Iran. He was aware of the loyalties of the inhabitants of the previous capitals Isfahan and Shiraz to the Safavid and Zand dynasties respectively, and was wary of the power of the local notables in these cities.Thus, he probably viewed Tehran’s lack of a substantial urban structure as a blessing, because it minimized the chances of resistance to his rule by the notables and by the general public. Moreover, he had to remain within close reach of Azerbaijan and Iran’s integral Caucasian territories in the North and South Caucasus, at that time not yet irrevocably lost per the treaties of Golestan and Turkmenchay to the neighboring Imperial Russia, which would follow in the course of the 19th century.
After 50 years of Qajar rule, the city still barely had more than 80,000 inhabitants.
Up until the 1870s, Tehran consisted of a walled citadel, a roofed bazaar, and a town where the majority of the population resided in the three main neighborhoods of Udlajan, Chale Meydan and Sangelaj. The first development plan of Tehran in 1855 emphasized the traditional spatial structure. Architecture, however, found an eclectic expression to reflect the new lifestyle.
The second major planning exercise in Tehran took place under the supervision of Dar ol Fonun. The map of 1878 included new city walls, in the form of a perfect octagon with an area of 19 square kilometers, which mimicked the Renaissance cities of Europe.
Late modern era
As a response to the growing social awareness of civil rights, on June 2, 1907, the first parliament of the Persian Constitutional Revolution passed a law on local governance known as the Baladie Law. The second and third articles of the law, on Baladie Community (or the city council), provided a detailed outline on issues such as the role of councils within the city, the members’ qualifications, the election process and the requirements to be entitled to vote.
After the First World War, Reza Shah immediately suspended the Baladie Law of 1907, and the decentralized and autonomous city councils were replaced by centralist approaches of governance and planning.
From the 1920s to 1930s, the city was essentially rebuilt from scratch, under the rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi. Reza Shah believed that ancient buildings such as large parts of the Golestan Palace, Tekye Dowlat, the Toopkhane Square, the city fortifications and the old citadel among others, should not be part of a modern city. They were systematically demolished, and modern buildings in the pre-Islamic Iranian style, such as the National Bank, the Police Headquarters, the Telegraph Office and the Military Academy were built in their place. The Grand Bazaar of Tehran was divided in half and many historic buildings were demolished in order to build wide straight avenues in the capital. Many Persian gardens also fell victim to new construction projects.
The changes in the urban fabric started with the street-widening act of 1933, which served as a framework for changes in all other cities. As a result of this act, the traditional texture of the city was replaced with cruciform intersecting streets creating large roundabouts, located on the major public spaces such as the bazaar.
As an attempt to create a network for the easy movement of goods and vehicles in Tehran, the city walls and gates were demolished in 1937 and replaced by wide streets cutting through the urban fabric. The new city map of Tehran in 1937 was heavily influenced by the modernist planning patterns of zoning and gridiron networks.
During the Second World War, Soviet and British troops entered the city. Tehran was the site of the Tehran Conference in 1943, attended by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The establishment of the planning organization of Iran in 1948 resulted in the first socio-economic development plan to cover 1949 to 1955. These plans not only failed to slow the unbalanced growth of Tehran, but with the 1962 land reforms that Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi called the White Revolution, Tehran’s chaotic growth was further accentuated.
To bring back order to the city and resolve the problem of social exclusion, the first comprehensive plan of Tehran was approved in 1968. The consortium of Iranian consultants Abd ol Aziz Mirza Farmanian and the American firm of Victor Gruen Associates identified the main problems blighting the city to be high density suburbs, air and water pollution, inefficient infrastructure, unemployment and rural-urban migration. Eventually, the whole plan was marginalized by the 1979 Revolution and the subsequent Iran–Iraq War.
Tehran’s most famous landmark, the Azadi Tower, was built by the order of the Shah in 1971. It was designed by Hossein Amanat, an architect who won a competition to design the monument, using Sassanid and Achaemenid elements. Formerly known as the Shahyad Tower, it was built in commemoration of the 2,500 year celebration of the Persian Empire.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Tehran was rapidly developing under the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Modern buildings altered the face of Tehran and ambitious projects were envisioned for the following decades. The majority of these projects, such as the Milad Tower, were continued after the 1979 Revolution when Tehran’s urbanization had reached its peak, and the new government started many other new projects.
During the 1980–88 Iran–Iraq War, Tehran was the target of repeated Scud missile attacks and air strikes.
The 435-meter-high Milad Tower was completed in 2007, and has become a landmark of the city of Tehran. The 270-meter pedestrian overpass of Tabiat Bridge is another landmark of the city, which was designed by the award winning Leila Araghian and was completed in 2014.