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Published: July 21st 2017
A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.– Sa’adi
Uneventful six-hour bus ride to Tehran. Arrived late afternoon and took a long taxi drive to the Markazi Hotel in central Tehran – fine rooms but an uninspired breakfast. One of the first things we noticed about the city, in addition to its size and the traffic, was the way that shops were set up in different parts of town by specialty, like a gigantic bazaar, with shop after shop selling similar items. We were staying the in the indoor lighting area ourselves. We were within walking distance to many of the sights – brave souls! – and thus didn’t have an opportunity to take the metro, reportedly very busy at all hours. We were also fortunate to have some good cafes in the area, and a street vendor selling beets, fava beans and turnips right near out hotel. Delicious! Early dinner at Aghiegh
Restaurant – beef stew, kasht bademjan.
Tehran is the largest city in Iran and Western Asia, with the second-largest metropolitan area in the Middle East. The capital has been moved many times throughout the long history of the country; Tehran is the 32nd
national capital of Iran, and archaeologists believe that people have lived in this area since Neolithic times. At nearly 14 million people, Tehran is large but, more importantly it’s hectic – terrible traffic, too many motorbikes, no clear street crossings. As our guide told us, each successful road crossing in Tehran is a miracle, which wasn’t much of an exaggeration; I later found out that Iran has some of the most dangerous roads in the world. Not the largest city we’d been to but still plenty of craziness to go around.
On our first full day in the city our tour began at the National Archeological Museum, showcasing pre-historic to pre-Islamic artifacts. The collection includes ceramics, pottery, stone figures and carvings taken mostly from excavations at Persepolis, Ismail Abad, Shush, Rey and Turang Tappeh. Next door we were very pleased to be able to visit the newly re-opened Islamic Museum, with amazing pottery, carpets, textiles, miniature paintings, calligraphy and Korans – by far my favorite museum of the day! Be prepared, however, to leave your belongings at the kiosk before entering; stuff your pockets with your valuables beforehand or you’ll be distracted wondering what you'll do if the currency
you brought goes missing. No pockets, too bad for you. A quick lunch at Farhang Hall Restaurant and then a trip to the Glass and Ceramic Museum, set in a beautiful Qajar-era mansion nearly surpassing the collection, and finally the Carpet Museum, with more than a hundred lovely pieces from across the country, dating from the 17th
century to the present day. Tea in the early evening at Ivan Café, very modern with excellent music but extremely slow service, near the hotel.
Our final day in Tehran began at the Golestan Palace. Originally a Safavid-era citadel, Qajar ruler Nasser al-Din Shah, impressed by what he’d seen of European palaces, constructed the current complex, which was subsequently altered by more recent governments. Currently it’s surrounded by tall gray government buildings that mar the view. Entrancing mirrored halls, painting of contemporary European royalty, golden gifts to the Shah, carpets, an ethnological museum, and parrots in the lovely garden – our entire morning was absorbed in its history and artwork. A quick lunch at nearby Arta Restaurant – eggplant and a lamb dish with lentil rice – and then onwards to the National Jewels Museum, with an incredible collection of jewelry, royal
regalia, priceless swords and piles of loose stones, plus the incredible Globe of Jewels (made in 1869 of 51,366 precious stones, with the seas made of emeralds and the land from rubies, with Iran, France and England set in diamonds) and the Peacock Throne. Most of the collection dates back to Safavid times, when the shahs scoured Europe, India and the lands of the Ottoman Empire for treasures for their capital in Esfahan. The treasury was plundered and its contents sent to India in 1722. When Nader Shah Afshar ascended the throne in 1736 he first asked for the jewels back, then sent an army, forcing Mohammed Shah of India to hand back the diamonds the Darya-ye Nur (Sea of Light, the largest uncut pink diamond in the world) and Kuh-e Nur (Mountain of Light) and assorted other treasures. After Nader Shah’s murder in 1747 the treasury was plundered again, which is how the Kuh-e Nur diamond found its way to the Tower of London. Sorry, no photos. Evening was quiet, more tea at the Ivan Café and goodbyes to Mehdi, whom we joined in hopes for a future reconciliation between our countries.
Two additional sights definitely worth a
visit are the Reza Abassi Museum, which features Iranian art from ancient times, fine calligraphy and illustrated manuscripts and paintings by Reza Abassi himself, and the Tehran Bazaar, the largest and most important bazaar in the country but not as architecturally appealing as those found in Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz. Plan for more time than you think you’ll need in Tehran – distances are far and traffic is thick and slow. The city doesn’t have much charm but the sights are good – give yourself an extra day to explore.
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