Day 57: Comparing pre- and post revolution architecture

Tehran Travel Blog

 › entry 82 of 260 › view all entries
Azadi tower

Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Araz, Bahar, Bahadur (Iran)

Araz joined me for some sightseeing today. One of the places I wanted to see was Azadi square. This is basically the one image of Tehran that we see on TV in the west. Whenever there is a rally, or some public announcement, this square is where Iranians gather and Ahmadinejad talks to the people. This was also the place where the protests of 2009 were held.

The Azadi tower is one of the few striking modern buildings in Iran. It was built in 1971 (so before the revolution) to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire.
Underneath the tower is an extensive museum with a strange collection of exhibitions.

Azadi tower
There was some kind of abstract Disneyland style representation of the map of Iran, which took a while to figure out just what was what (also for Araz, so the 'instantly recognisable' monuments and lifestyles depicted aren't all that obvious). Nonetheless I liked it. It was quirky and not at all what I had expected to see in an Iranian museum. There was a fair amount of propaganda as well though, including a visual presentation of the revolution and a photo exhi on Iranian rural life.

For some reason the second exhibition was about gemstones. No idea what the relationship was between gemstones and the Azadi tower, but it was there. Only after visiting the gemstone exhibition were we allowed to go up to the viewing platform.

The view over busy Azadi square and the surrounding area was quite impressive.
Inside the Azadi tower
The weather was reasonably clear so you could see the city sprawling in every direction.
A guard warned us not to take in the south-western direction. No, actually, he warned Araz to warn me not to take any pictures. Tehran's airport extends directly to the south-west of Azadi square. Wwhile it is OK for locals to take pictures of it, God forbid a tourist is able to see and photograph the airport, because, well, you know, I might be a spy. (Apparently the Iranian government is not too worried about spies having access to American satellites, google maps or Iran Air in-flight magazines for images of the airport).

I liked the Azadi tower. It is a pity that no interesting modern architecture has been built in the city since the revolution. Well, there is one other tower.
View from Azadi Tower
The 435m Milad tower, the largest tower in the Middle East and among the ten largest buildings in the world. From a distance it looks like a copy of the CN tower in Toronto, though it seems they used photos rather than blueprints to build their copy. It is possible to go up the tower, but apparently they charge an extortionate $20 entrance, so we decided against it.
It seems a bit silly to build such a large tower in a closed country. The official explanation is that the upper decks will be used as a congress centre. What kind of congresses will be held in Tehran in the near future remains to be seen. However, locals claim the tower has a completely different purpose. Satellite TV is illegal in Iran, but almost everybody has a dish on their roof. Rather than spending all this police force to raid people's houses and take all the equipment, all major cities in Iran now have a large broadcast tower which jams the signals of satellite TV reception.
Khomeini shrine
Sad but true. Iranians have gotten used distorted footage when they watch their daily soap series.

The second place we visited was the Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini. When Khomeini died in 1989 this is where he was buried and subsequently a ridiculously large shrine emerged. From a distance it looks like a giant mosque, designed to at least outdo the mosque in Mecca. Four 91 metre minarets (symbolising Khomeini's age when he died) stand in an awkwardly a-symmetrical position around a giant concrete dome, underneath which Khomeini rests.
Islam forbids worship of living beings and I have always found it remarkable how this doesn't seem to apply for politicians. Whether you go to Turkey, Syria or Iran, political leaders of past or present are exalted to near-divine beings - either by their own doing (Syria) or by that of the present government (Turkey and Iran).
Inside shrine. I do hope that when I die they give me a nicer place...


While it is very normal to erect large monuments for anyone who has played an important role in the history of a country or its religion (as well as their entire extended family, but more on that later)  all these mausoleums are more or less anonymous buildings. Anyone could be in the grave.
In Khomeini's case it is different. He is revered as if divine, but his face is plastered on virtually every bare wall in the country.

As we entered the mausoleum we had to leave our shoes and cameras behind, but I got a special treatment. Because the guards were impressed with a foreigner visiting, we were allowed to take one camera inside.

Inside the mausoleum is an awful place. I guess they were in a hurry when they erected the mausoleum, and inside it looks more like some sort of concrete aircraft hanger rather than a holy place.
Khomeini's grave
In the middle stands the encased tomb of Khomeini (again with a picture) where people throw themselves at the cast-iron bars, shoving no small amounts of money through the tiny gaps between the bars.

Visiting these two sites has taken most of the day. Tehran is a big city. From Azadi square to the mausoleum took almost two and a half hours. So by the time we got back in centreal Tehran it was already dark and time for dinner.

We had been invited for dinner by a friend of Araz', Bahadur, and his sister Bahar. They had cooked an interesting Iranian variety of macaroni as well as some local stew.


Seeing Bahar walking around the house in normal clothes and without a hejab. This was the first time I saw a woman without hejab in Iran and once again confirmed my suspicion: many women in Iran wear hejab because they have to, but their religious beliefs have waned so much that they can't be bothered if a strange man sees them uncovered.
How to mend a broken Qalyan: add a garden hose


Back home Araz and I mended his broken qalyan (with a garden hose no less) in order to smoke some nice Iranian tobacco while we discussed life, the universe and everything at great length. An excellent ending for a good day. All that was missing was a nice ice-cold beer...

Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Azadi tower
Azadi tower
Azadi tower
Azadi tower
Inside the Azadi tower
Inside the Azadi tower
View from Azadi Tower
View from Azadi Tower
Khomeini shrine
Khomeini shrine
Inside shrine. I do hope that when…
Inside shrine. I do hope that whe…
Khomeinis grave
Khomeini's grave
How to mend a broken Qalyan: add a…
How to mend a broken Qalyan: add …
Azadi square
Azadi square
Azadi tower
Azadi tower
Azadi tower
Azadi tower
old man at Azadi Square
old man at Azadi Square
Views over Tehran from Azadi tower
Views over Tehran from Azadi tower
View from Azadi Tower
View from Azadi Tower
Inside the Azadi tower (this is su…
Inside the Azadi tower (this is s…
Some typical (?) scenes of Iran
Some typical (?) scenes of Iran
Iranian highlights
Iranian highlights
Abstract exposition of Iran
Abstract exposition of Iran
Some kind of propaganda multi-medi…
Some kind of propaganda multi-med…
The black flags were there to comm…
The black flags were there to com…
Inside the Azadi tower
Inside the Azadi tower
Inside the Azadi tower
Inside the Azadi tower
One of the great modern inventions…
One of the great modern invention…
Another robot, this one could actu…
Another robot, this one could act…
Interesting mural
Interesting mural
Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini
(to …
Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini (to…
Being dead is good business in Iran
Being dead is good business in Iran
yup, it works!
yup, it works!
Araz trying his new qalyan
Araz trying his 'new' qalyan
Tehran
photo by: macajam