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Iran – Discovering the Traces of Old Persia in the Islamic Republic – Azadi Tower. Episode 4

Things to see in Teheran: Azadi Tower

Ok, I am recovered from all these Teheran diamonds! I take another look at Lonely Planet and I decide. Let’s go to the Azadi tower! Nothing simpler. I stop a taxi, I tell him where we want to go, we haggle over the price a little and off we go towards the Azadi tower.

If Paris has the Eiffel tower, London– Big Ben and New York the Statue of Liberty, oh well, Teheran has a symbol monument. This is the Azadi tower. Built in the Western area of the capital, two steps away from the Mehrabad airport (the only airport of the metropolis until the pretty recent inauguration of the Imam Khomeini International Airport), the tower was inaugurated in 1971 by Shah Reza Pahlavi on the occasion of 2500 years since the Persian Empire was established.

It’s worth saying a few words about this anniversary. At a certain point, the Shah thought that it would not be bad to hold an event that would strengthen the Iranian patriotic feeling and, why not, to tie them more tightly around the monarchy. So, somebody came with the idea of celebrating 2500 years of Persian Monarchy. Two objectives were thus fulfilled – both the state and the monarchy were celebrated. It was approved and the propagandists started to work… Budget? Unlimited! So under the conditions of an unprecedented economical crisis, determined especially by the Shah’s extravagances, this cherry on the cake ultimately proved to be the candy from the dish.

Millions of dollars were spent for the Azadi tower, but also for other monuments all across the country, while in Persepolis, the regime erected a village full of super luxurious tents, full of marble and gold in which kings and presidents, prime ministers and cinema stars arrived to see the reborn monarchy of Darius and Xerxes, were to be hosted. No spending was too big, special charters brought every day sea food from the Caribbean, fine French food from Maxim or even the Shah’s favourite, the Romanian “Sibiu Salami”. The dissidents speculated the unrestrained luxury and the popularity of the Shah, instead of rising, collapsed to the lowest levels in history. Seven years later, he was quickly fleeing the country from the Mehrabad airport, throwing a last look at his Azadi tower.

After we shoot photo after photo, we enter the tower. It can be visited, but we will be led by a guide. We are told that the architect was an Iranian from Canada. We are quickly told a name. Although I tried to extract some more subversive explanations, the guide said nothing more, nothing about the fact that the Azadi tower was built by the Shah for the famous anniversary, nothing about the fact that the architect Hossein Aamnat won the architectural contest when he was only 24 years old. Why so secret ? He is on the regime black list because he is a Baha’i, and that the tower has some pre-Islamic Persian symbols.

We enter a large dark hall over which we are moved by an horizontal escalator. Now and then, some laminated glass buildings… I have a revelation – it is the map of Iran and these buildings are landmark buildings from each city. Obviously, the great majority are mosques.

After we cross this map – hall, we start to climb towards the upper floors of the tower. The view is fascinating – the city, huge, frantic, overwhelming reveals itself at our feet, towards North, I can see a huge mountain range, full with snow, towards East, South, some completely bald hills, a motorway with about 8-9 lanes on each direction enters the town and the traffic seen from above is similarly Brownian… But you can’t detach yourself from this panorama.

After enough minutes spent at the peak, we descend… we see pretty enough exhibits, but the most entertaining is a peak of Iranian engineering – a robot that sings at a piano, a character similar to those from the first episodes of Star Wars.

In the end, like in any museum from any part of the world, you reach the souvenir ship… But here, you can buy some gigantic statues, replicas of the ones from Persepolis… I just see myself with a two ton statue on the road to my home :).

I have spent the evening at the restaurant in the posh North part of Teheran. After my taxi searched for it on several streets, I stopped in front of an entrance flanked by torches… It is a cool restaurant, but traditional, full with good people, but with an unexpected artistic program. The Islamic authorities have what they have against the music, so, in principle the public performances are forbidden, but it seems that the rule is not made of iron… And the singers put heart in it, so it is a pleasant show, next to the already classic rice kebab, well wet by beer with pomegranates.

Tomorrow, we will run away from the capital city of Iran towards Kashan, a little traditional town, at about 200 km south of Teheran. We have decided to take the public transportation for a little bit of local color – firstly, the subway to the bus station and then the bus for Kashan… But about this, in the next episode :). Stay tuned !

Images of  Teheran:

 Things to see in Teheran: The Azadi Tower

The Azadi Tower

Things to see in Teheran: Azadi

Teheran: Azadi Tower

Things to see in Teheran: The first hall in Azadi tower – the map of Iran

The first hall – the map of Iran

Teheran: the map of Iran

Panorama of Teheran: Azadi avenue

Teheran at our feet.

Sights of Teheran: Azadi avenue

Do you like the large boulevards? Teheran has plenty of them

Things to see in Teheran: Tochal Mountains covered in snow

Mountains covered in snow on the left hand side

Things to see in Teheran: Bald mountains

Bald mountains on the right hand side

Things to see in Teheran: The singing robot

The singing robot – it is the brother of C3P0 :)

Teheran: Iranian souvenirs at Azadi tower

Who wants a Persian statue to put it in his living room?

Things to see in Teheran: Azadi tower

Azadi at sunset

Traditional Persian restaurant in North Teheran

At the restaurant

Teheran restaurant

I hope you are not hungry when you are watching these photos :)

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