Lalezar Street: Champs-Élysées of Iran

Friday, June 7, 2013

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

The Lalezar Street in the Iranian capital city, Tehran, has been of special significance to Iranian and foreign residents of Tehran since the old times.

Even for many people who have only seen the modern version of this street, Lalezar has a special value as being representative of the true identity of Tehran.

Lalezar contains all of the various dimensions of a capital city: modern Lalezar, political Lalezar, tourist Lalezar, commercial Lalezar, and Lalezar as narrator of the story of Tehran and Tehran people have been among the most important characteristics of this street from many years ago up to the present time.

Nasser-ed-din Shah of Qajar dynasty was encouraged by his prime minister, Mirza Hossein Khan Sepahsalar, to take a trip to Europe in 1873.

The king was given warm and enthusiastic welcome in Europe, especially in the French capital city, Paris, and his arrival was celebrated by holding of a special ceremony in Paris’ Champs-Élysées Avenue during which a group of elephants accompanied the Iranian Shah’s entourage.

The ceremony had such a profound impact on the Iranian king that once back from Paris, he decided to create a street similar to Champs-Élysées in the Iranian capital city. As a result, he ordered construction of Lalezar Street at the Lalezar Garden.

In fact, according to that plan, two new streets – namely Lalezar and Bagh-e Vahsh (the present-day Sa'di Avenue) were supposed to be constructed on two sides of the garden.

Finally, toward the end of Nasser-ed-Din Shah’s rule – that is, around 1892 – the garden was sold for 900,000 rials because Tehran had already revoked the famous Tobacco Régie (monopoly) contract as a result of which the Iranian government had to pay remuneration to the London-based Imperial Tobacco Corporation of Persia despite the fact that the Treasury was actually empty.

The first modern Iranian hotel called the “Grand Hotel” was later built on a premium plot of land which belonged to the grandchildren of Fat’hali Shah.

As time went by, Lalezar Street became a hub of the Iranian cultural activities and everything which stood for that culture ranging from the unique architectural style of buildings to cafés, theaters and modern stores.

Later developments such as the introduction of the first horse-drawn carriage to the street, the beginning of electricity supply to buildings situated along the street, and the construction of the first tram line along Lalezar, brought further prosperity to this street. Even the first telegraph line was first made operational in this street.

One of the most beautiful relics of Lalezar is the garden attributed to Mirza Ebrahim Khan Amin Os-Soltan, who was in charge of Nasser-ed-din Shah’s coffeehouse and was also the father of Ali Asghar Khan Atabak Amin Os-Soltan.

Only 9,000 square meters of the garden exists now, which has been fortunately registered as a national heritage so as to help the property out of the way of harm.

This magnificent building, which stands at the end of Ettehadiyeh Deadlock, has a green gate and was once the location of the famous Iranian TV series “Dear Uncle Napoleon,” which was made by Iranian director Nasser Taqvai based on a story by Iraj Pezeshkzad.

The existing buildings of movie theaters Sara, Iran, Rex (whose name was changed to Laleh after the Islamic Revolution), Jahan (World), Shahrzad (Scheherazade), and Nader as well as Nasr and Pars theaters along with the building of Grand Hotel and part of the aforesaid magnificent garden with the building constructed in it by Mirza Ebrahim Khan Amin Os-Soltan are the last remnants of Tehran’s Champs-Élysées.

Even now, one can see on apparently deserted buildings of the past such a vivid relics as tilework, unique brick façades and plaster works by masters of that time, which are traces of the past history of Tehran’s most famous street.

After Iran was occupied by the Allies and Reza Shah was overthrown, Lalezar became a place where at every sundown, hundreds of cars roamed along the street flaunting the wealth of their owners.

By and by, Lalezar met the same fate as Champs-Élysées in Paris and Bond Street in London. The swarm of people on that street clearly proved that the Iranian modern class is burgeoning.

Although Istanbul, Mokhber-od-dowleh and Shah Abad streets were regular venues for demonstrations and other political gatherings, Lalezar also got gradually involved in politics though artistic activities for which the street was a hub.

It was during the same period that religious groups that saw domination of secular leftist and rightist political groups on Lalezar Street became more active and took control of Hedayat Mosque (that had been dedicated to public use by the family of Mokhber-od-dowleh).

The mosque stood between the old and new parts of Lalezar Street. As a result, the first modernist political cleric, Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleqani, chose the mosque as the main venue to deliver his famous sermons.

His sermons were attended by political figures ranging from Commander Fakher Hekmat, to Mozaffar Baqaei, Hossein Makki, Mehdi Bazargan and Dr. Sahabi.

They paid no attention to cafés around the mosque and the first cabarets of Tehran which had started to work at Melli (National) Alley of Lalezar. Of course, those places were closed down during religious mourning days of the two lunar months of Moharram and Ramadan.

It is true, therefore, that Lalezar has served as a criterion and urban measure of social developments in Tehran, which has likewise undergone a lot of change since its construction up to the present time.

Lalezar can be considered a symbol of modernity in Tehran. Although Nasseriyeh (the present-day Nasser Khosrow) Street was the first street to be built in Tehran according to urban environment standards and European concepts, Lalezar was the first street to be built according to European and modern style.

If you are willing to have a mental picture of Lalezar Street, we would suggest that you pay a visit to Ghazali Cinema Township where the late Iranian director, Ali Hatami, has built the Lalezar Street anew.