Set at the foot of the Alborz mountains, Tehran, once an agricultural enclave characterized by forests and abundant mountain water, developed at the site of a citadel since medieval times. Tehran was first walled during the Safavid era, in the mid-sixteenth century. With the decline of other regional centers, Tehran replaced Shiraz as the capital of the Zand dynasty in the mid-eighteenth century, before being proclaimed the capital of the succeeding Qajar dynasty in 1795. Tehran flourished under Qajar patronage, and the city gained the addition of various gardens and complexes, perhaps the most notable being the Kakh-i Gulistan, or Gulistan Palace.
By the early twentieth century, these walls were subsumed by the continually expanding city, as the population growth reached half a million. From 1870-2/1287-9 AH, Nasir al-Din undertook the city's modernization, extending the city walls, adding decorative towers and twelve new, tiled gates. Inspired by the urban development of Paris under Napoleon III, which al-Din had witnessed personally on a visit abroad in 1873, the new walls were designed with the work of Sebastien Leprestre de Vauban in mind, and the area north of the original city transformed to the likeness of the Boulevard Haussman. New avenues and squares were constructed, among them; Meydan-e Tupkhane (Cannon Square) , Avenue Lalezar (Tulipbed Street), and Ala Od Dwale Under al-Din's direction the city quadrupled in size, and many of the gardens surrounding the city were used for further construction. The Kakh-i Gulistan was rebuilt, and became the centerpiece of the city, with the addition of turreted towers, supervised by Dust 'Ali Khan Nizam al Dawla. Polychrome tiles replaced the painted ornamentation in much of the complex, as did carved stucco and decorative mirror-work. In addition to the Kakh-i Gulistan, summer palaces were constructed in the Shimiranat villages in the city's northern suburbs.
Tehran yet again underwent expansion and modernization efforts in the mid-twentieth century, as the prosperity that accompanied the exploitation of oil from the 1950s accelerated the growth of the city. In 1979, Tehran became a hub for revolutionary activities, aimed at concluding the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The city has continued to be a site of development, with over half of Iran's total industry being based in Tehran, and the construction of many research and educational centers.
Gholami, Reza. “English abstract of 'Tehran in the Naseri Era'". Translated by Reza Gholami. In Cities as Built and Lived Environments: Scholarship from Muslim Contexts, 1875 to 2011, by Aptin Khanbaghi, 146. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.
This 607-page book is an ambitious attempt at providing a historical, political, anthropological and sociological account of Tehran, the capital city of Iran, during the reign of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar, which spanned the latter half of the nineteenth century. The author’s choice to focus on this period reflects the widely held belief that Nasir al-Din Shah’s rule had an unrivalled impact on the development of Tehran as a modern city.
The book is organised in a somewhat haphazard way. A first glance at the contents pages – six in total – indicates that the book is not divided into chapters, but rather a very large series of topic headings and subheadings. However, the author describes the sections of the book as ‘chapters’, of which there are a staggering 117. This means that most ‘chapters’ are no more than a few pages in length.
Najmi begins by offering a concise but informative account of Tehran’s history, from the time it was an insignificant village until it became chosen as the capital. He also traces the etymology of the word ‘Tehran’. The book then proceeds swiftly through an encyclopaedic range of topics, covering everything from palaces, bazaars, coffee houses, restaurants and popular streets to magic and superstition, food, medical services, fashion, Tehran’s clowns and even methods of execution. In parallel, Najmi aims to highlight key modernising factors reshaping the social landscape of Tehran. He therefore writes, among other things, about the establishment of the banking system and various industries. He also provides glimpses into the personalities and contributions of important political figures of the time, focusing in greater detail on the reforms introduced by Amir Kabir, whilst exploring more generally the life and assassination of the latter. The book is accompanied throughout by photographs of the city, the people and various cultural practices, which provide an entertaining visual dimension.
The book’s strength is its ability to mesh descriptions of political affairs in some chapters with more light-hearted, almost anecdotal descriptions of the day-to-day lives of ordinary Tehranis in others. One weakness, however, is the nostalgic tone of these descriptions: Najmi’s representation paints a romanticised picture in which people led a ‘simple’ and ‘happy’ life. This view however is not substantiated by any historical evidence. Moreover, the author promises that the book will be a ‘complete and clear mirror’ showing the true face of Tehran during the period in question. This promise, however, remains unfulfilled. For although the attempt is certainly extensive in scope, the topics covered remain at a level of relatively shallow description and as such might be disappointing to scholars, particularly since Najmi’s account purports to be not only historical but also anthropological and socio-political. Nevertheless, the book is an entertaining and accurate account of Tehran in an extremely important era and therefore quite useful as a work of general reference.