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Tehran is a city of northern Persia. It was a town of only moderate size and fame in earlier Islamic times, but since the later 18th century has been the capital city of Persia, modern Iran, now the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I. Geographical position

It lies in lat. 35° 40' N., long. 51° 26' E. at an altitude of 1,158 m/3,800 feet, in a depression (gawd) to the south of the outer, southern spurs of the Elburz range, with the fertile Varamin plain, traditionally the granary of Tehran, stretching southwards from the town’s centre. To the east of the plain, a southern spur of the Elburz chain, the Sih paya “tripod”, forms a low barrier, and at the southern end of this lies the little town of Shah Abd al-Azim. The ruins of the great pre-Islamic and mediaeval Islamic city of Rhages or Rayy lie between Shah Abd al-Azim and the historic centre of Tehran. The villages on the Elburz slopes to the north of Tehran, such as Qulhak (Golhak), Tajrish and Shamiran, have traditionally provided summer retreats for the people of Tehran, avoiding the summer heat which forms part of the town’s continental climate; and in the 19th century Shamiran also provided Tehran’s water supply (and supplies much of it today), by means of subterranean channels (qanats, kariz). All these settlements, once separate, are now however within the vast urban sprawl of contemporary Tehran (see below, section 3b).

For all its undeniable strategic position in the corridor connecting western Persia with Khurasan, Tehran’s geographical position is not obviously one for a capital city; other cities of Persia, in the western highland region and south of the great central deserts, have had much more significant roles in political and military affairs and in the economic and commercial life of the country. Certainly, the choice of the hitherto undistinguished town of Tehran by Agha Muhammad Khan in 1200/1786 as his capital, in order that he might be in close touch with the Qajars’ Türkmen tribal followers in the Mazandaran-Gurgan plains region, did not immediately improve either the status or the amenities of the town. All early Western travelers describe early Qajar Tehran as mean and insignificant, lacking in public buildings, with a poor water supply, and extreme climate and an eccentric position in regard to the main roads crossing northern Persia. In any cases, centrifugal forces in the country, and the ancient traditions of provincial autonomy, were still strong at this time. Only towards the middle of the 19th century did Tehran’s position improve. With regard to communications, for connections with Mazandaran and the Caspian coast a road passable only by horses and mules was built by the Austrian engineer Gasteiger Khan in 1875. Between 1883 and 1892 a carriage road was begun by the Persians and finally finished by the English company of Lynch Brothers (150 km/95 miles). Communication with Russia used to be by Qazvin-Tabriz-Julfa-Tiflis. In 1850 a regular line by Russian steamers began to run between Baku and Anzali. Although, as the crow files, the distance between Tehran and the Caspian is only 110 km/70 miles, the passage of the Alburz was always very difficult. In 1893 the Russians obtained the concession to build a carriage road from Rasht to the capital (it was opened as far as Manjil on 1 January 1890 and to Tehran on 15 September 1899). Henceforth, the great majority of travelers took this route, which also became of considerable commercial importance. Only in the 20th century did Tehran acquire the usual modern transport services by means of motor roads, airlines and railways.

II. History to 1926

1. Early history. It is uncertain when the name Tehran first appears in geographical and historical literature. The earliest reference to Tehran is provisionally that of Ibn al-Balkhi’s Fars-nama, ed. Le Strange, 134 (written before 510/1116); its author talks highly of the pomegranates of Tehran, also mentioned by al-Samani (in 555/1160). But independently of these references, the village of Tehran must have existed before the time of Isakhri (in 340/951–2), for al-Samani mentions his ancestor Abu Abd Allah Muhammad b. Hammad al-Tihrani al-Razi, who died at Asqalan in Palestine in 261/874. According to Rawandi’s Rahat al-sudur (written in 599/1202), the mother of the Saljuq Sultan Arslan, who was on her way from Rayy to Nakhchiwan, made the first stop (the regular naql-i maqam of the Persians) “near Tehran”. The sultan himself occasionally stayed near Dulab (the name of a place to the south-east of Tehran, where the Russian cemetery now is). Ibn Isfandiyar in his history of Tabaristan (written in 613/1216, narrating the wars of the kings of the Persian epic, says that Afrasiyab’s camp was pitched at the place where “Dulab and Tehran” now are. Eight years later, Yaqut gave a brief note on Tehran which he had visited just before the Mongol invasion.

It was a considerable town, with 12 quarters. As the dwelling houses in Tehran were built underground, and the gardens around the town had very dense vegetation, the town was well protected and the government in its dealings with the inhabitants preferred to be tactful with them. Civil discord raged to such an extent in Tehran that the inhabitants tilled their fields with the spade out of fear lest their neighbors should steal their animals. Zakariyya al-Qazwini (674/1275) compares the dwelling houses in Tehran to the holes of jerboas, and confirms Yaqut’s account of the character of the inhabitants.

 All later writers note the subterranean dwellings, but only Ker Porter (Travels, i, 312) says in this connection that 200–300 yards from the Qazvin gate he saw inside the town “an open space full of wide and deep excavations or rather pits”, which served as shelters for the poor and stables for the beasts of burden. This must be a reference to the old darwaza-yi naw (pa-qapuk), to the south of which the quarter is called Ghar (“caves”). This name was also applied to the whole district stretching to the south of Tehran. As to the troglodyte life in the vicinity of Tehran, see Eastwick, Journal, i, 294: a village to the east of the bridge of Karaj, and Crawshay-Williams, Rock-dwellings at Rainah, in JRAS (1904), 551, (1906), 217.

 The growth of Tehran was the result of the disappearance of other large centers in the neighborhood. The decline of Ray dates from its destruction by the Mongols in 617/1220. In the Mongol period, Tehran is occasionally mentioned in the Jami al-tawarikh: in 683/1284, Arghun, after the victory gained near Aq-Khwaja (= Sumiqan) over al-Yanaq, Ahmad Tegüder’s general, arrived at “Tihran of Rayy”. In 694/1294 Ghazan, coming from Firuzkuh, stopped at “Tihran of Rayy”. According to Mustawfi’s Nuzhat al-qulub, Tehran was a considerable town (mutabir), with a better climate than Ray. Formerly (ma qabl ), the inhabitants of Tehran were very numerous.

 In the Timurid period, the village of “Tihran of Rayy” is mentioned in 806/1403 as the place where the Shah-zade Rustam spent 20 days to assemble the troops with whom he marched against Iskandar- Shaykh Chalawi. About the same time (6 July 1404), Tehran (ciudad que ha nombre Teheran) was visited for the first time by a European traveler, the Spanish Ambassador Clavijo (tr. Le Strange, London 1928, 166). At this time, the province of Ray was governed by T_m_r’s son-in-law, the Amir Sulayman-Shah. He lived in Varamin (Clavigo’s Vatami). The town of Ray (Xahariprey) was not inhabited (agora deshabi tada). In the tower of Tehran was a representative of the governor, and there was a house where the king stopped on his visits (una posada onde el Senor suele estar quando alli venia). Tehran had no walls.

2. The Safavids. Under the Safavids, the capital was moved in turn from Ardabil to Tabriz and then to Qazvin and finally to Isfahan. The district of Ray was no longer of great importance. There were only two towns of note in it: Varamin, which after a brief spell of glory under Shah Rukh had rapidly declined, and Tehran. According to Reza Quli Khan (Rawdat al-safa-yi nasiri ), the first visits of the Safavids to Tehran were due to the fact that their ancestor Sayyid Amza was buried there near Shah Abd al-Azim. The prosperity of the town dates from Ahm_sp I, who in 961/1554 built a bazaar in it and a wall (bara) round it which, according to the Zinat al-maj_lis, was a farsakh in length (Sani al-Dawla, Mirat al-buldan: 6,000 gam “paces”). The wall had four gates and 114 towers, the number of the suras of the Qur’an (on each of the towers a sura was inscribed). The figure of 114 towers is still given in Berezin’s plan (1842). The material for the construction of the citadel was procured from the quarries of Chal-i Maydan and Chal-i Hisar, which have given their names to two quarters. Ahmad Radi, himself belonging to the district of Ray, talks in laudatory terms of the incomparable abundance of the canals and gardens of Tehran and the delights of the plateau of Shamiran, and of the neighboring district of Kand and Sulaqan. According to the Majalis al-muminin of Nur Allah Shushtari, the village of Suleghan was founded by the celebrated Sayyid Muhammad Nurbakhsh, founder of many religious movements, who died in 869/1464.

In 985/1577, Tehran was the scene of the execution of Prince Mirza, whose enemies had accused him to Shah Ismaeil II of aiming at the throne. In 998/1589 Shah Abbas I, marching against the Ozbeg Abd al-Mu’min Khan, fell severely ill at Tehran (Iskandar Munshi, Alam-ara, tr. R.M. Savory, History of Shah Abbas the Great, Boulder, Colo. 1978, ii, 589), which enabled the Ozbegs to seize Mashhad. It is said that this gave Shah Abbas a great dislike for Tehran. It is, however, from his time that the building of the palace of Chahar Bagh dates, the site of which was later occupied by the present citadel (ark). Pietro della Valle visited Tehran in 1618 and found the town larger in area but with a smaller population than Kashan. He calls it the “town of plane trees”. At this time, a beglerbegi (“gran capo di provincia”) lived in Tehran; his jurisdiction extended as far as Firuzkuh. In 1627 Sir Thomas Herbert estimated the number of houses in Tehran at 3,000.

3. The Afghans. On the eve of the Afghan invasion, Shah Husayn Safawi made a stay in Tehran and it was here that he received Dürri Efendi, the ambassador of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III (at the beginning of 1720; Relation de Dourri Efendi, Paris 1810). Here also was dismissed and blinded the grand vizier Fath Ali Khan I’timad Dawla (“Athemat” of the Europeans), which precipitated the debacle. Shah Husayn only returned to Isfahan to lose his throne. Tahmasp II made a stay in Tehran in August 1725, but, on the approach of the Afghans, he fled to Mazandaran. European writers say that Tehran resisted and Ashraf lost many men. Some time afterwards, Tehran fell in spite of the feeble attempt by Fath Ali Khan Qajar to relieve the town. According to one source, the Darwaza-yi Dawla and Darwaza-yi Ark gates date from this period, for the Afghans everywhere showed themselves careful to secure the ways of retreat. The reference is, of course, to the old gates of those names.

 After the defeat of Ashraf at Mihmandust (6 Rabi I 1141/20 September 1728), the Afghans in Tehran put to death the notables and left for Isfahan. The inhabitants fell upon the impedimenta which they had left and, through negligence, a powder magazine was exploded (Histoire de Nadir Chah, tr. Jones, London 1770, 78). Ashraf himself was soon driven out of Varamin, and Shah Tahmasp II returned to Tehran.

 4. Nadir Shah. In 1154/1741, Nadir gave Tehran as a fief to his eldest son Reza Quli Mirza, who had hitherto acted as ruler of all Persia. The nomination to Tehran was preliminary to the fall and blinding of the prince. During the fighting among the successors of Nadir, Ali Shah Adil (1160/1747) took refuge in Tehran but was seized and blinded by Ibrahim’s supporters. After the fall of the N_dirids, the town passed into the sphere of in_ uence of the Qajars, rivals of Karim Khan Zand.

 5. Karim Khan. In 1171/1757–8, Sultan Muhammad Hasan Khan Qajar, after an unsuccessful battle with Karim Khan near Shiraz, retired to Tehran where his army was disbanded. Having learned that he had withdrawn from Tehran, Karim Khan sent his best general Shaykh Ali Khan there with an advance guard. With the help of Muhammad Khan Dawalu, Muhammad Hasan Qajar was killed and Karim Khan with his army (ordu) arrived at Tehran in 1172/1759. The head of Muhmmad Hasan Khan was buried with all honors at Shah Abd al-Azim. The next year, the order was given to build at Tehran a seat of government (imarat) “which would rival the palace of Chosroes at Ctesiphon”, a diwan-Khana, a Hram and quarters for the bodyguard. An__ al-Dawla added to these buildings the Jannat garden, and he says that Karim Khan intended to make Tehran his capital. It was to there that Agha Muhammad Qajar, captured in Mazandaran, was taken to Karim Khan, who treated him generously, for which he was very badly requited later. In 1176/1762–3, however, Karim Khan decided on Shiraz, to which he moved the machinery of government. Ghafur Khan was left as governor in Tehran.

6. The rise of the Qajars. Karim Khan died on 13 Afar 1193/2 March 1779. By 20 Afar, Agha Muhammad was in Shah Abd al-Azim, and the next day he ascended the throne ( julus) in the vicinity of Tehran. Tehran, however, passed into the sphere of in_ uence of Al_ Mur_d Khan, half-brother of Jafar Khan Zand. In 1197/1783, Agha Muhammad Khan made a first attempt to get possession of Tehran, but the governor Ghafur Khan Tihrani managed to procrastinate, and an outbreak of plague forced Agha Muhammad to withdraw to Damghan. After the death of Al_ Murad Khan (1199/1785), the town was besieged by Agha Muhammad’s troops. The inhabitants did not wish to surrender the fortress (qala) before Agha Muhammad had taken Isfahan. The news of the advance of Jafar Khan Zand from Fars caused Agha Muhammad’s troops to disperse. He was, however, received with open arms by the chiefs of Tehran (Hakim wa ummal) and henceforward the town was his capital (maqarr-i saltanat, dar al-saltana and later dar al-khilifa), from which he led the expeditions which united all Persia under his rule. According to the Ma’athir-i sultani, tr. Sir Harford Jones Brydges, Dynasty of the Kajars, 18, Tehran became the capital in 1200/1786 and the foundations of the palace were laid then. After the capture of Shiraz, all the artillery and munitions of the Zands were taken to the new capital. The last Zand ruler, Lutf Ali Khan, blinded and kept prisoner in Tehran, was put to death there in 1209/1794–5 and buried in the sanctuary of the imam-zade Zayd.

 After the assassination of Agha Muhammad Shah (21 Dhu l-Hijja 1211/16 June 1797), his brother Ali Quli Khan appeared before the capital, but the chief minister Mirza Shafi would not allow him to enter. In the meanwhile, the heir to the throne Baba Khan (= Fath Ali Shah) was able to reach Shiraz, and after the defeat of the second claimant Sadiq Khan Shaqaqi, was crowned in mid-1212/the beginning of 1798. The Shaqaqi prisoners were employed to dig the ditch of the capital (cf. Schlechta-Wssehrd, Fath Ali Schah und seine Thronrivalen, in Sitz. A.W. Wien [1864] ii, 1–31).

During the period of Anglo-French rivalry, a series of ambassadors visited Tehran: on the one side Sir John Malcolm (1801 and 1810), Sir Harford Jones Brydges (1807), and Sir Gore Ouseley (1811), and on the French side, General Romieu (d. there in 1806), A. Jaubert (1806), and General Gardane (1807). The Russians concentrated their efforts on Tabriz, the residence of the Persian Crown Prince. It was only after the treaty of Turkmanchay in 1828 that the Russian minister A.S. Griboedov paid a short visit to the capital. Just before his return to Tabriz, M_rz_ Ya’qub, one of the Shah’s chief eunuchs, an Armenian of Erivan forcibly converted to Islam, presented himself at the Russian legation and asked to be repatriated by virtue of article 13 of the treaty. This “apostasy” provoked an attack on the Russian embassy, and on 11 February 1829, 45 members of it were massacred (Griboedov, his secretaries, Cossacks and servants). The tragedy took place in the legation’s quarters (house of the zamburakchibashi near the old Shah Abd al-Azim gate; now the street called Sar pulak in the Zargar Abad quarter). On the death of Griboedov, celebrated in the annals of Russian literature, see D.P. Costello, The murder of Griboedov, in Oxford Slavonic Papers, viii (1958).

 When the death of Fath Ali Shah (19 October 1834) became known in the capital, his son Ali Mirza Zill-i Sultan proclaimed himself king under the name of Adil Shah and struck coins. But the heir to the throne Muhammad Mirza arrived from Tabriz, accompanied by representatives of Britain and Russia, and entered the capital without striking a blow on 2 January 1835. Adil Shah only reigned for six weeks. The succession of the next three Shahs took place without incident (even after the assassination of Nasir al-Din Shah on 1 May 1896). The history of Tehran under these Shahs is that of all Persia. The tranquility of the town was only disturbed by epidemics and the periodical migrations caused by famine; cf. the rioting on 1 March 1861, described by Eastwick, and Ussher, Journey from London to Persepolis, London 1865, 625.

Among the more important events may be mentioned the persecution of the Babis, especially in 1850 after the attempt on Nasir al-Din Shah’s life. The movement against the concession of a tobacco monopoly to the Tobacco Monopoly Corporation in 1891 also started in Tehran; see E.G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905–1909, Cambridge 1910, 46–57.

 7. The Constitutional Revolution. After the Persian Revolution, the capital, previously somewhat isolated from the provinces, rapidly became the political and intellectual centre of this country. The chronology of the events of the period was as follows: The bast of the merchants in the Masjid-i Shah, December 1905. The bast of the constitutionalists at the British legation from 20 July to 5 August 1906. The opening of the Majlis in the palace of Baharistan on 7 October 1906. The heir to the throne Muhammad Ali Mirza signs the constitution on 30 December 1906. Death of Muzaffar al-Din Shah on 8 January 1907. The assassination of the Atabeg Amin al-Dawla on 31 August 1907. Counter manifestations by the “absolutists” from 13–19 December 1907. Bombardment of the Majlis on 23 June 1908. Capture of Tehran by the nationalist troops commanded by the Sipahdar-I Azam of Rasht and the Sardar-i Asad Bakhtiyari on 13–15 July 1909. Abdication of Muhammad Ali Shah on 16 July; accession of Sultan Ahmad Shah on 18 July 1909. See Browne, The Persian Revolution; D. Fraser, Persia and Turkey in Revolt, London 1910, 82–116; Vanessa A. Martin, Islam and modernism. The Iranian revolution of 1906, London 1989. On the events of 12 May 1911 to 11 January 1912, information can be found in Morgan Shuster, The strangling of Persia, London 1912. In 1915, Tehran became involved in the First World War. The representatives of the Central Powers nearly carried Ahmad Shah off to Qum with them. The capital was outside of the zone of military operations proper, but on several occasions movements of troops took place in its vicinity (skirmish on 10 December 1915 near Rabat-Karim between Russian Cossacks and the Amir Hishmat’s gendarmes, who were on the side of the Central Powers). Down to 1917, Russian troops controlled the region between the Caspian and Tehran. From 1918 British troops took their place; cf. L.C. Dunsterville, The adventures of Dunsterforce, London 1920. The division of Persian Cossacks commanded by the Old Russian instructors was also employed to protect Persia against a possible offensive from the north. The Russian of_ cers were dismissed on 30 October 1920. The greater part of the division was stationed at Qazvin, where a British force under General Ironside was still quartered. On 21 February 1921, 2,500 Persian Cossacks, who had come from Qazvin under the command of their general Reza Khan, occupied the capital. Sayyid Diya al- Din formed the new cabinet (24 February–24 May) and Reza Khan was appointed commander-in-chie (Sardar Sipah). Towards the end of 1923, Ahmad Shah left the country, at the same time as the Prime Minister Qawam al-Salana (from 4 June 1921), who was accused of intriguing against the Sardar Sipah. The latter remained master of the situation and was finally crowned on 25 April 1926.