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Iran is not blessed with one of the world’s loveliest capitals. Pollution, chronic overcrowding and a lack of responsible planning have all helped to make Tehran a metropolis that even the most effusive travel agent would have difficulty praising. If you’re expecting an exotic crossroads steeped in oriental splendour, you’ll be sadly disappointed. The distances are vast, the traffic is shockingly bad and the main sights are spread out. However, the hotels are good, the variety of restaurants is impressive, the facilities are far ahead of those anywhere in the provinces, and the Tehranis are friendly. The major attraction for visitors is the city’s excellent museums


Human settlement of the region dates from Neolithic times, but the development of Tehran was very slow and its rise to prominence largely accidental. From the mid-16th century, Tehran’s attractive natural setting and good hunting brought it into the favour of the Safavid kings. It developed from a moderately prosperous trading village into an elegant, if dusty, city, and European visitors wrote of its many enchanting vineyards and gardens. In 1789, Agha Muhammed Khan declared Tehran his capital, and six years later had himself crowned as Shah of all Persia. The town continued to grow slowly under later Ghajar rulers.
From the early 1920s, the city was extensively modernised on a grid system, and this period marked the start of phenomenal population growth and uncontrolled urban development that continues to this day. Today Tehran is so vast that getting hopelessly lost at least once is a near certainty, no matter what form of transport you take. If you need landmarks, the Alborz mountains, known as the ‘North Star’ of Tehran, are to the north; and the huge telephone office at Emam Khomeini Square dominates inner southern Tehran.
The National Museum of Iran houses a marvellous collection including ceramics, stone figures and carvings dating from around the 5th millenium BC. Many of the relics are taken from excavations at Persepolis, Shush, Rey and Turang Tappé and will probably mean more to you if you come here after you’ve visited the archaeological sites. The Glass & Ceramics Museum is one of the most impressive in Tehran, not only for its professionally organised exhibits, but also for the building itself. The Reza Abbasis Museum, another stunner, contains examples of Islamic painting, pottery and jewellery. The National Palace (White) Museum used to be the last Shah’s palace and is now a complex of museums.
Tehran’s best non-museum sight is the haphazard bazaar, so big it’s practically a separate city. Also worth a look are the busy Emam Khomeini Mosque, the drab Armenian Sarkis Cathedral, and the city’s parks and gardens.
Just about every cheap place to stay in Tehran is in the southern part of the city, within about a 1km radius of Emam Khomeini Square. This is also the place to look for a good kebab. Four and five-star hotels are scattered through the city, most of them hopelessly inconvenient if you’re hoping to use public transport. The airport is about 10km (6mi) south-west of central Tehran.
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2021.04.17 Saturday, April

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