Wonders of Iran: What Happens in Tehran?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hedieh Ghavidel

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A view of Tehran at night with the Milad Tower
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A picture of Tehran's Shemiran gate
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An Iranian women skiing at the most important Middle East ski resort, Dizin
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Tehran is an architecturally diverse city.
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The Azadi Monument houses a museum celebrating Iran's cultural contributions to the world.
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A waiter preparing to serve food in traditional Iranian restaurant
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One of Tehran's oldest coffee shops, Café Naderi has for many years been a gathering place of youth.
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'Maternal Love' is one of the many sculptures erected in Tehran's Mellat Park.
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Tehran's beautiful Stone Garden, Jamshidieh
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Iranian women having fun on a snowy day.
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Tehran's metro is considered by many as the fastest means of transportation to the far sides of the city.

While the splendor of Isfahan (the cultural capital of the Islamic world), Shiraz (the city of poetry and orange groves) and Yazd (the city of wind towers) is what often attracts tourists to Iran, the political capital Tehran is the country's beating heart, where modernity meets tradition.

Situated on the southern slopes of the Alborz Mountains and 100 kilometers from the Caspian Sea, Tehran should not be written off as another metropolis with little oriental allure.

With excavations showing human settlements in the area dating back to 6000 BCE, the architecturally diverse Tehran continues to expand with multistory buildings, replacing traditional one-story family homes.

Before the founder of the Qajar dynasty (1779-1925) Agha Mohammad Khan gave the city prominence by making it his capital in 1788, Tehran was an obscure town that had received scarce mention in the 11th-century autobiography of Khatibe Baghdadi, History of Baghdad, and the writings of the Castilian ambassador to the court of Tamerlane, Don Ruy Gonz?lez de Clavijo.

The only other Iranian ruler to have taken any interest in Tehran was the Safavid King Tahmasb I, who in the 16th century gave the city four entries -- the Shah Abdul Azim, Doolab, Shemiran and Qazvin gates.

The memory of horse-driven carriages trotting its cobble-stoned streets and its four gates are still fresh in the mind of senior citizens. Tehran nevertheless has come a long way.

The fact that Tehran means 'warm place' in Old Persian may bring to mind a desert oasis with warm dry weather all year round, a conclusion that those who have not visited Iran are quick to jump to.
Iranians experience the four seasons of the year to the fullest extent. In Tehran, despite dry and hot summers, winters are relatively cold with the most snow between December and the end of February.

At the sign of the first snowfall, the ski-loving youth of Tehran head out to the city's largest and the Middle East's most important ski resort in Dizin; Advanced skiers tend to prefer the Shemshak slopes.

The fashionable districts in the north are home to the many skyscrapers that dominate the city; older districts and the famed Grand Tehran Bazaar are located to the south.

Some of the world's noticeable skyscrapers and monuments have been replicated in the city. One example is the Milad Tower, the tallest in Iran and the fourth tallest tower in the world, which resembles the telecommunications tower in Kuala Lumpur.

The best times to visit Tehran are late spring and autumn. The two-week Persian New Year holiday, Nowruz, (about 21 March) is a hectic time for the city and may not be the best time to arrive in the Iranian capital.

Tehran has two airports. Mehrabad is inside the city and mostly services domestic flights; the newly-built Imam Khomeini International Airport is an hour-long drive from the city. Before IKIA became operational, the Freedom Square, home to the Azadi (freedom) monument, was the first landmark tourists came across upon leaving Mehrabad.

Although it is one of the most polluted and populated cities in the world, the traffic jams in Tehran are not comparable to those in Bangkok. The inhabitants of the grand city have found the metro as the solution to fast and reliable transportation to the far sides of the city.

Once the economic heart of the city, the Grand Tehran Bazaar offers a real taste of the local culture. Anything imaginable from food, clothes, shoes and gold jewelry to carpets, handicrafts, tools, and machinery can be found at the Bazaar, making it worth at least one visit.

Tehran is a lively city with friendly people who love three things most: picnics, hiking and barbeques. Iranians are passionate about their kebab. One taste of this self-proclaimed national dish available in kebabis all over the country will change your life forever.

The people of Tehran also like to indulge in international dishes. Pizza parlors have rapidly increased in number in recent years and there are food courts and eateries which offer a wide range of dishes from Korean, Thai and Chinese to French, Mexican and Lebanese.

The causal youth gathering places are traditional and modern coffee shops. Hookahs with flavored tobacco never seem to go out of fashion in Tehran. Everyone finds traditional restaurants with their tasty Persian cuisine and after-dinner hookah accompanied by enchanting Persian music hard to resist.

Having always been famous for its agricultural products namely pomegranates, drink stalls throughout Tehran to this day lure weary passers-by with cold pomegranate juice sprinkled with Persian marjoram.

If you visit Iran during the warmer months of the year, find time to stop for a glass of Khakshir -- a sweet drink made of hedge mustard -- and wash away your fatigue.

Being the creators of Paradise Gardens, Iranians have a passion for beautiful parks.

Jamshidieh Park, a Stone Garden in Tehran, incorporates numerous restaurants, teahouses, picnic areas and hiking trails as well as an open-air amphitheater in which plays are staged in summer and spring.

Laleh (tulip) Park lies between the Carpet Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Its closeness to Tehran University has turned it into a meeting place for young students who congregate there between classes to study, socialize, eat or shop in nearby malls.

Another park worthy of mention is the Mellat Park (nation's park), which with its small bird zoo, lake and modern sculptures has inspired the creation of parks with the same name all across the country.

A popular weekend and holiday pastime is mountain climbing. Darband and Darakeh trails play host to many hikers who climb mountain routes to the peak and stop for a rest in little teahouses and Kebab shops along the way.

Many of Iran's outstanding figures such as Iraj Mirza (poet), Forough Farrokhzad (poet), and Abolhasan Saba (musician) have been laid to rest in Darband.

Tehran is also a city of many museums which offer an insight into the Persian past and present culture.

To name but a few: Abghine Museum (glass museum), Archaeology and Ethnography Museums, Golestan Museum (a 19th century royal palace home to the bejeweled Naderi and peacock thrones), National Arts Museum, Reza Abbasi Museum (which has collected extraordinary miniature paintings) and the Crown Jewels Museum.

Most of the royal palaces in Tehran have been turned into museums, notably Niavaran, Sa'adabad and the Marmar (Marble) palaces.

The Niavaran Palace complex, once a reception quarter for foreign guests, houses a diverse collection of paintings from Sohrab Sepehri and Parviz Kalantari to Paul Gaugin and Pablo Picasso as well as displays ranging from Native American and Mexican artifacts to Luristan metal works and Amlash ceramics.

The prominent universities located in Tehran make the city an ideal place not only for Iranians but also for the international students who come to the capital to pursue their dreams of higher education.

To understand a country, one must first come to appreciate its culture and people. In the case of Iran, the best starting place is definitely the heart of the country Tehran. One visit will dispel all false impressions and offer a different perspective of its age-old civilization.


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