TValiasr Street from Ehran is a long, winding road with plane trees and streams that were once fed all year round by the cold waters of the Alborz Mountains – when there was enough snow and when there was enough water. Known as the longest street in the Middle East, Valiasr crosses the city from south to north and reminds you that Tehran is almost surrounded by mountains, like a bird in cupped hands, so fragile and transient.
Going up this street on any given day, from the extreme south to the elegant north, is to see history engraved on walls and windows. Tehran is a city that has a lot to remember – when that's possible.
Scattered throughout Valiasr, in random corners, are some of the city's most overlooked treasures: 19th-century Qajar houses and 20th-century Pahlavi-era houses, with their distinctive architecture of colorful gardens and deep cellars. But be sure to look in the most unlikely places.
In southern Valiasr, north of Mowlavi Street, behind a large Sheep Butchers Union sign, is theAnis al-Doleh's house, favorite wife of the Qajar king, Nasser al-Din Shah. Her story is a rags-to-riches real-life tale: the orphaned daughter of shepherds, the Shah met her on a hunting trip and brought her to Tehran. She gradually became the most prominent wife andraees-e andaroni, chief executive of the harem.
Although the house was designated a national landmark in 2002, it still serves as headquarters for the sheep butchers' union, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. At least it gave the house a life.
The house isn't big, but it's rosy and welcoming. A blue round pool dominates the garden, reflecting the trees and carvings on the walls – as well as the hideous three-story building next door. The first floor is fenced as a storage space. The second (and main) floor houses the union offices and they kindly let me in. Delicate sculptures of flowers and birds in pastel tones fill every room, all juxtaposed with the sound of sheep auction hours and slaughterhouse prices that men shout into the phone.
A high pyramidal aluminum roof indicates that it has recently snowed heavily in this area. Nowadays we forget about the snow that covered the entire city during the winter, even a decade ago.
Tehran is not associated with ancient history: popular opinion knows it as the city of the Qajars and Pahlavis. But howrecent excavationssuggest, Tehran was settled 7,000 years ago. Even so, the Qajar and Pahlavi eras shaped modern Tehran, giving it a distinctive architecture. Divergent art has defined Iran's cities: from Qeshm to Kashan to Astara, each built according to its locale, climate and artisans. Today, Tehran, like other cities and others, is totally disfigured.
In Tehran of more recent centuries, elaborate houses had intricate underground cellars andaab anbar– a deeper basement for water storage. No matter how luxurious or simple the house was, she almost always treasured a blue lake in the backyard, around which fruit trees grew. The windows and doors were wooden, and intricate carvings filled the walls with patterns that became more intricate as the owner's financial situation increased.
Few of these homes remain today unless renovated by a major organization. The luckiest ones have been turned into museums and art houses. Few, like the house of Anis al-Doleh, were the only ones in the group that were kept intact but overtaken by random associations.
As late as the 1930s, Deh-e Vanak in northern Tehran was an agricultural district in the center of the city. Today, nearby Vanak Square is one of the city's most congested areas, but walk towards the village and you'll still find houses built in the 1920s, 1930s and even earlier. Why weren't they turned into apartment buildings in this frenzy? One wonders.
Ali Vanaki comes from a family that has lived in the village for hundreds of years. “We've been farming in this area for centuries, until Reza Shah came along and gave the entire village to his prime minister, Mirza Hassan Mowstofiyol Mamalek. We refused to leave, but many of these houses do not have the proper documents, even today.”
Despite this, they still sell for up to 17 million tomans (£3,500) per square meter in the winding streets, and 30 million tomans (£6,000) for houses with larger gardens.
Mowstofiyol Mamalek's grandchildren in Vanak remain some of the only former royals still living in their grandfather's orchards and Qajar-era home. The house is secluded by high brick walls, but is available for wedding photos for astonishing sums. From the trees that peek behind the walls, we can only marvel at the history of this place. Mowstofiyol Mamalek sold part of the village's land to millionaire industrialist Gashtasb Firouzgar, who in turn sold it to Tehran Municipality.
Mowstofiyol Mamalek came from a long line of landowners and government treasurers, so they were given that title a century before his birth.
Today, this piece of land is called Baqh-e Irani (the Iranian garden) and is one of the most exquisite open spaces in the country, covering 3.4 hectares. It is a public park but, as the name implies, with creeks and ancient orchards. “Just here, Tehran Municipality spent a billion tomans on tulips,” says Vanaki.
Much of Tehran has already beenkhooneh baqhi(houses within orchards), of which the remaining trees in Vanak village and Valiasr Street are but small reminders. In northern Tehran, where the most lush orchards once thrived, entrepreneurs have dried trees to turn their properties into land for lucrative skyscrapers for decades.
According to Tehran municipal law, it is not possible to build an orchard. So they dry the trees and then apply for building permits. This is how the history of this city is erased: by burning the flesh of the trees.
But on many street corners you will occasionally find an old house still in use. It is usually an elderly couple with children abroad. After the couple's death, the house is sold by the heirs and the trees dry up, followed by a block of apartments.
A house on Pasdaran Street, close to our school, was inhabited by an elderly couple with four children abroad. After the couple passed away, it became a 15-story apartment building. “Each of the children made millions,” comments an angry neighbor, dissatisfied with the heavy traffic the building has brought to that once-idyllic corner.
In northern Tehran, with the exception of the few houses rehabilitated for museums, skyrocketing property prices have left almost nothing intact. Adding to the confusion are the houses that were confiscated shortly after the revolution, taken over by various organizations, passing through the hands of one promoter after another, to the point where past ownership is almost untraceable. One could live in a skyscraper that can cost up to 70 million tomans (£14,000) per square meter, not knowing who used to sleep, sit or read on the very ground on which the tower was built.
One of North Tehran's best known houses, Baq-e Ferdows or the Mohammadieh palace, now serves as the city's film museum. The house was built in Shemiran, near Tajrish Square, in the mid-19th century, but it underwent many ownership and architectural changes before the ministry of culture took the reins after the revolution.
Iranian scholar Mahmoud Afshar bought large areas of land around the orchard and later donated it to academic activities (such as theDehkohda Language Institute) that remain to this day. Despite these haphazard reminders, most of what remains of ancient Tehran is to be sought in the center and southern areas of the city. The north was mostly lost.
A rather well-preserved house from the Qajar era in central Tehran is the home of Qavam ol-Saltaneh, Prime Minister of the Qajar and Pahlavi monarchies. Qavam's home is Abgineh, the glass and ceramics museum, which occupies 7,000 square meters of land. Wooden windows, long wooden stairs and delicate carvings adorn a building that served as both home and office for Qavam. Oindoor museum spaceit was designed by renowned Austrian architect Hans Hollein.
The care taken with the Qavam house is in stark contrast to many other places, including another Qajar-era house in the center of town,Ettehadiyeh House. To the public, it is known as Dayi-jan's house. ("Dear Uncle") in the popular television adaptation of Iraj Pezeshkzad's novelmy uncle napoleon. The historic house lies in disrepair, deteriorating year after year as the Tehran Beautification Organization tries to fight back against developers who consider it a true prime location for a mall. It is located in Lalehzar, in the heart of Tehran's financial district.
“What can you expect from a city whose many janitors aren't even from the city?” architect and urban planner Kamran Safamanesh said at a ceremony to remember old Tehran. His observation suggested that many current officials rose to prominence with the revolution from villages across Iran, and have no understanding of cities, their histories and histories. “The memories of a city are the identity of a city. Eliminate them and there will be nothing left,” Safamanesh said.
Tehran is certainly not the first city to be overtaken by a development boom. In recent years, gigantic shopping centers have only meant faster destruction: Palladium, the recently opened luxury shopping center in northern Tehran, sits on the grounds of an old orchard that has been dried up to make way for the mall, built with invested capital. mainly by a kebab dynasty known as Raftari.
“I remember the orchard,” says one resident. “Now our neighborhood has become the parking lot of death.” He is selling everything and leaving as traffic has made it "impossible" for him to live here, he said.
While not as old as many others, one of Tehran's most sought-after antique houses is the home of Ostad ("master") Behzad, the prominent miniaturist of the 20th century. It was here that some of the best known artists and intellectuals of the last century in Tehran gathered.
Behzad's only son bequeathed the house to the Iranian Heritage Organization in a deal that would turn the house into a museum. But once the papers were signed, the Heritage Organization may have forgotten its part of the deal. Today it serves as a library and storage space for the organization – a place for sleepy middle-aged ladies with office dress codes to sit and drink tea and biscuits. The old tiles from the master's work were removed and even the street where the house is located, formerly called Behzad, was changed years ago to Nofallah.
Tehran's old houses are not only reminders of this city's past art, but also of past coexistence. Haroon Yashayayi is an Iranian-Jewish writer who has spent the last few years writing about his beloved Oudlajan, the once predominantlyjewish quarternear the bazaar.
Oudlajan, along with Sanglaj, Arg, Dowlat, Bazaar and Chaleh Meydan were the neighborhoods that made Tehran-e Asr-e Nasseri, Tehran during the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah, as the dust rose from a tired and sleepy city traveling to a new and unknown world.
At the time, with nearly 3,000 homes, Oudlajan was known as a prosperous place. Today, walking down the alleys you wouldn't know it. The hanging domes have been reformed but remain deformed and alienated.
“I remember when the streets were prosperous, when Molook Khanom, a local woman, would walk through the streets and wave to everyone,” says Yashayayi, in a talk he gave about his upcoming book of Oudlajan stories, to be published in Tehran. The neighborhood is home to the oldest synagogues in Tehran, isolated from pedestrians, tourists and walkers.
The home of prominent Zoroastrians also serves as a reminder of the city's past: the home of Arbab Homroz in eastern Tehran was the mostrecently releasedsuch as the National Iranian Museum of Graphic Arts. At Chahar Rah-e Valiasr in central Tehran (the intersection of Valiasr and Enqelab streets) a shiny monument looks out of place: this is the home ofRostam can, the Zoroastrian and industrialist member of parliament who also headed the Zoroastrian association until his death in 1980.
During Mohammad Khatami's presidency, the house was purchased by Jahad Daneshgahi, an educational organization, and renovated by the Heritage Organization. It is now a fully functional building that serves as a classroom space.
Not all existing houses had the same fate. Hassan Pirnia's house isone of the most significant architectural wonders of the Qajar era, but it is in ruins, awaiting a shopping center on one of its lands. Some of the sculptures in the house were looted.
Pirnia was a legislator, historian and prime minister in the late Qajar era. this house isnot simply a historical artifact. Within its walls, one of the most significant events of the 20th century in Iran took place: the drafting of the constitution after the Constitutional Revolution of 1906.
These houses connect the memory of Tehran. Qavam wrote, Pirnia ceded the space. The Constitution and the house suffered the same fate: under rubble. A huge hole was dug for the mall - which was not built - but permanently damaged the main building.
Emarat-e Masoodiyeh, the Masoodiyeh palace, built by order of Zel-ol-Soltan, son of Nasser al-Din Shah, occupies five hectares of orchards. It has a remarkable façade with incredible carvings, disguising the fact that it is falling apart from the inside.
The house attracted public attention like no other in Tehran. In 2014, Tehran's autumn music festival was held there, and more recently, popular band Pallett held an album release ceremony on the palace grounds, with nearly 1,000 fans in attendance. They also have a song dedicated to Masoudiyeh on their new album: Tehran, Smile. None of this has quickened the pace of promised interior renovations, jointly run by the Tehran Beautification Organization and the Heritage Organisation.
The Tehran Beautification Organization, an agency operating under the municipality but with its own independent budget, is on shaky ground. On paper, it is responsible for carrying out artistic projects around the city and, together with the Heritage Organization, for repairing and maintaining the city's monuments. While it employs sociologists, artists and architects who understand the value of the city's ancient treasures, it is under the wing of a much larger body, the municipality, which leads the way in building skyscrapers and shopping centres.
“It often feels like we have to fight our own members,” says an artist who works for the organization. The municipality seems lost between the thirst for more and more properties, which generate income, and the need to save what remains of what gives character to the city. Some of Tehran's most notorious property developers sit on the city council, which only exacerbates this dilemma.
But so are we, the residents. Our very existence has changed the shape and appearance of this city, from 15,000 residents in Qajar times to over 8 million today. The fact that Tehran's rats are almost as big as cats speaks not only to the greed of entrepreneurs, but also to how cities came to be in the 21st century. Mass migration from villages and small towns to cities is the fuel that drives more and moreapartment buildings, moretrash, more waste, the very thirst formore.
A city without memory can be a lost city. But what makes Tehran's history oscillate between the tragic and the uplifting is not just what was lost, but what was regained, repaired and somehow maintained. Part of this city's history is this push and pull, this battle of opposing forces.
Tehran is a city with a past, and there are walls, houses and even people here to still remember it. If you look closely, beyond the malls and butcher shops.
As a result, the average housing price increased by 67% in these neighborhoods in June 2022 compared to June 2021. Today the average housing price in Tehran is 414,800,000 Iranian rials per square meter ($128 per square foot) — roughly the same as the median price for each square foot of housing in the United States.Can Americans buy property in Iran? ›
Yes, within the framework of the law and bylaws of aliens' proprietorship, ownership of land within the confines of personal use is allowed for foreign natural persons. Establishing the ownership [however] requires acquiring special permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.What is the most expensive area in Tehran? ›
Among the most expensive areas of Tehran, we can mention Lavasan, Sahibqaranieh and Elaheh. However, Zafaranieh neighborhood is not left out of the game either. It can be said that Zafaranieh is the most expensive property in Tehran. Persian: الهیه is an affluent and upper-class district in northern Tehran.