Iran is a complicated and mysterious country and Tehran is more so. Activities, population and cultures have shaped a new and ever changing logic upon which people relate to one another without prior familiarity. This phenomenon, despite being problematic, expands and facilitates innovations and
In fact, this is a characteristic of all metropolises to instigate new dynamism. Availability and awareness of economic, social and cultural information are necessary for understanding a city. These concepts, however, make sense only when they materialize within a country, an urban space or its periphery.
Although the City of Tehran can be similar to Los Angeles or Shanghai in terms of urban planning, size, variety, internal dynamics and economic role, it cannot be understood without its territorial and cultural characteristic.
Tehran’s population increased fifty folds from 200,000 in 1900 to10.3 millions in 1996, of which 6.8 millions live within the city limits of Tehran. In the same period, however, total population of Iran increased only five folds, from 9.8 million to 60 million. Tehran, which had only a 2% share in total population, now incorporates more than 15% share. This proportion has remained relatively stable since 1970s. This population explosion is the result of migrations due to the Capital’s unique attractions. A capital that was merely a town 100 years ago has now become a more or less modern metropolis, because of governmental
centralization and improvements in social welfare. Hence, Tehran, despite its many unique aspects, is comparable with large cities such as Ankara, Brasilia, and even St. Petersburg.
The first mention of Tehran has been made in a work by the Greek Theodosius, who has mentioned Tehran as a suburb of Rey about 2000 years B.C.
However, the oldest Persian document on Iran shows that the city existed before the third century AH because an author called “Abu Sa’d Sam’ani” has mentioned a man called “Abu Abdollah Mohammad ibn Hamed Tehrani Razi” who has lived in Tehran and Rey and has passed away in about 261 AH or 874 AD.
Abolqasem Mohammad ibn Hoqal has described Tehran as such in 331 AH, “Tehran is located north of Shahr-e Rey and has many gardens and diverse fruits.”
Aboleshaq Estakhri has given a detailed report on Tehran in his book, Al-Masalik wal Mamalik, in 340 AH. Ibn Balkhi has explained about Tehran in his book, Farsnameh, which he has written in about 500 AH.
Najmeddin Abu Bakr Mohammad ibn Ali ibn Soleiman Ravandi has noted in his famous book, Rahat us-Sudur (authored in 599 AH) that the mother of Sultan Arsalan Seljuk, who was going from Rey to Nakhichevan in 561 AH, stopped near Tehran while Sultan was residing in Doulab region, which was located southeast of Tehran.
The area between the southern hills of Alborz and the northern parts of Kavir Desert is relatively smooth and very fertile which extends from east to west. This region has been among the most important centers of population and one of the main routes connecting the east to the west. Therefore, the city of Rey and its perimeter up to a radius of about 100 km has been the birthplace of one of the most important human civilizations which has been known as “Central Iranian Plateau Civilization” and dates back to more than 8000-12000 years ago.
Existence of the renowned Silk Road through this city, presence of permanent rivers like Halileh Roud, Jajroud, and Karaj which reach the plateau of Rey as well as major alluvial regions created by the said rivers in addition to suitable climatic conditions have kept the region alive throughout the history and have helped the city survive through centuries close to its main origin, which is currently known as Tehran.
The ancient city of Rey dates back to about 6,000 years ago. This claim has been proved by Dr. Eric Schmidt who was heading an American archeological delegation. He explored a region near Rey, which is known as Cheshmeh Ali, and recovered pottery and painted dishes whose antiquity has been estimated at about 6,000 years after frequent scientific tests. At present, the report prepared by Dr. Schmidt is kept on the bulletin of University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Rey, as a name, has been registered in ancient tests such as Avesta, Torah, and Greek and Latin books as Rega, Ragha, and Rages. It has been called Raga and Regai under Median and Achaemenid rule. This city has been called Europos under Seleucids and Arsakia under Sassanid rule. Arabs have registered its name as al-Rey.
In the middle of the 8th century AH, Rey was part of the Median territory and it was part of the Achaemenid rule in the 6th century AH. Its name has been registered as Raga on Bistoon inscription. Under the rule of Sassanid kings, Mehran was governing Rey and the city enjoyed a special spiritual position under Sassanid kings when it included a burning fire temple.
What can be gathered from written works of historians and geographers about Rey is that many of them have attributed establishment of the city to Sheith, the son of Adam. Some have noted that legendary kings like Houshang of Pishdadi dynasty, the son of Kioumars, has built it and some have attributed it to Ruy or Razi, who was a song of Noah. But, most stories have noted that the city was first built by Houshang, the first Iranian king, in 4000 B.C.
After many historical ups and downs, Rey was demolished by Moguls in 617 AH. Although it was relatively prosperous under Mogul Ilkhans, but Klavikhu, who passed through the city in 806 AH, has described it deserted. Although the city became prosperous again under the Safavi rule, it never achieved its past status.
Tehran is located on the southern slopes of Alborz, and in approximately equal distance from eastern (Afghanistan) and western (Turkey, Iraq) borders, sitting on the ancient and famous City of Rey. Tabriz and Mashhad are respectively 550 and 750 kilometers away. Tehran is not far from Khazar (Caspian Sea) with an aerial distance of 100 kilometers. However Alborz and Emâmzâdeh Hâshem passes, with an altitude of more than 2700 meters, must be overtaken on the way from Tehran to Mâzandarân to reach the Sea. Isfahân, the capital during the Safavi dynasty, is 350 km to the south. Today, Iran’s Capital, although far from other big cities of the country, is located in an ancient strategic crossroads. On the one hand it is situated on the route from Anatolia (Turkey) to India and China along Alborz mountains and on the other hand, at the intersection of roads that extend from southern parts of the country along Zagros mountains (Persian Gulf, Shirâz, Isfahân) and from the west (Mesopotamia, Qasr-e Shirin, Kermânshâh, Hamedân). Today, Tehran Metropolis is the most urbanized area between Istanbul and Karachi. These distinct elements, i.e. mountain, mountainside and desert, have formed the region’s
landscape as well as its natural, social and cultural environment: from high to low, from cold to warm, and from summer resorts to winter resorts. Towns and villages are located on the mountainside between these two poles and human activities have followed suit.
Tehran is a mountainside city with an altitude of 900 to 1700 meters above the sea level. Its urban area spreads entirely over the Iranian plateau, on the slopes of a very high and dense mountain barrier, with a peak of 3933 m (better known as Towchal ) which is 2200 m higher than the City’s residential areas. From Qazvin to Varâmin, the view is dominated by the Alborz Mountains, with rivers that are full in springtime and dry in summertime, flowing to satiate underground water tables hidden in the very thick layers of sedimentary rocks (gravel, sand and clay) from the Quaternary.
Multiple aqueducts bring the water to surface that, in turn, flows through irrigation canals and brooks along all streets and avenues of Tehran and many other towns and cities within the province.
Unlike Isfahan, no sizeable river passes through this province’s towns, other than Karaj. In higher parts of the slope, i.e. over 1500 m, it becomes cooler while major water resources in the area have provided for the development of big and arborous (mainly poplar and fruiters) villages. Lower parts, between 900 to 1200 m, have a fertile soil and a gentle slope that permit a productive agricultural activity. In these plains, there are many sources of surface or underground water tables, supplied by aqueducts, flood ways and branched out rivers.
In the south of Tehran and its suburbs, beyond the new airport, the desert begins. Dry and very hot weather in summer and sometimes very cold in winter, make this region seem hostile, although this open and bare space plays the role of a strategic reserve space for Tehran Metropolis and its 12 million inhabitants.
From geographic, natural and human points of view the same desert is the negative of the mountain side and has no significant role in Tehran’s landscape and activities. Qom, with 800000 inhabitants, is closely related to Tehran. It is, however, separated from Tehran by the desert and belongs to a quite different geographic entity.
Tehran is the biggest and most important educational center of Iran. Today There are nearly 50 major colleges and universities in total in Greater Tehran.
Since the establishment of Darolfonoon in the mid 1800s, Tehran has amassed a large number of institutions of higher education. Some of these institutions have played crucial roles in the unfolding of Iranian political events. The University of Tehran is the earliest state university and the largest university of Iran. Tehran also is home to Iran’s largest military academy, and several religious schools and seminaries.
Today’s Tehran has advanced modern hospitals and other medical centers, hundreds of pharmacies, hotels of different categories, restaurants, movie theaters, mosques, churches and synagogues for religious minorities, several banks with hundreds of offices all across the city , 26 museums , 10 cultural centers, 20 public libraries, more than 50 universities and other higher education institutes, an extensive bus service network, bus terminals at the city’s south, east and west, an international airport (Mehrabad), a number of military airports, mini bus and public and private taxi services, several insurance companies, large recreation centers for children, several large gymnasiums, ski slopes, tens of large parks across the city. and all essential types of urban and recreational services. The city’s mass media include hundreds of newaspapers and magazines, five TV networks and five round the clock radio programs.
Tehran, Social situation
In 2004, the population of Tehran Metropolis passed beyond 12 million. This is a high figure but is not disproportionate with respect to the total population of Iran (15.6%). This proportion has remained nearly constant for the past 40 years. Tehran’s urban region, after a period of rapid growth between 1950 and 1970, similar to other metropolises of the world is now witnessing slow growth rate. Since 1976, other cities of Iran have had a faster growth rate than Tehran. Thus the proportion of Tehran’s urban region population to the total population, after its stability between 1930 and 1960 at around 25%, decreased from 30.4% in 1976 to 24.1% in 1996. In this sense, Tehran is neither disproportionate nor too large. It is a metropolis within scale of a country with 70 millions inhabitants. Since 1976, and especially after 1986, development of Tehran Metropolis has been characterized by a rapid growth of its suburban areas that contain 30% of its now 12 million inhabitants. Therefore, Tehran’s urban region is geographically very different from 1970s, not only in terms of population (according to 1990 census, Karaj, Eslamshahr and Qarchak had 940000, 265000 and 138000 inhabitants, respectively) but also socially, culturally, economically and administratively.
Today, territorial divisions between rural and urban areas are more meaningless than before. There are villages with population of several thousand which cannot acquire the status of “cities”. This situation has caused some dehestan (rural cantons) to be considered as the most populous concentrations of the province. In the 1996 census, 7 cities had more than 100000 and 34 cities had more than 25000 inhabitants.
Some dehestans could be considered as cities in terms of population, but do not have adequate facilities and services to be called cities. For example, Emamzadeh Abutaleb, near Robatkarim, has 125000 residents, or Mohammadâbâd, near Karaj, has a population 100000; yet both are considered as dehestans.
Distribution of population in the City of Tehran and its urban area is quite unbalanced because the province of Tehran has both vast rural areas in the desert regions with low population as well as very rich and well irrigated arable lands that include very populous large villages. Populated areas in old quarters of the City are in a clear contrast with industrial regions with nearly no residential population. Therefore, average population density in various regions is meaningless: average density of province is 5.3 persons per hectare (pph), while in the City of Tehran it is 92 pph and in the province without Tehran, it is only 1.9 pph.
Tehran is a capital with a low average density because it has vast areas which are unbuilt. Previously, cities and villages used to take from in groups. Scattered huts, houses or industries were rare. This manner of occupying lands had led to completely distinct urban and rural landscape identity. This distinction between the “city” and the “village” is still obvious, although they now have similar socio-geographic features in social, cultural and economic respects. Since the emergence of suburban settlement is a relatively new phenomenon, no suitable method is yet available to turn empty arable and barren lands into built-up ones. Arable and barren lands that surround Tehran have given this metropolis a very heterogeneous and unbalanced image. Differences are always striking between highly dense areas in the southern half of the City (with 412 pph in districts 10, 14 and 17, and an overall average density of 300 pph) and low density areas in northern quarters with 40-90 pph (Vanak 44, Zafaraniyeh 54, and Tajrish 63 pph).
Although southern quarters have a higher density, there is no real contrast between the City’s north and south. Rather a more complicated geographical situation has been shaped: the City center that previously had a higher population density is now facing a decrease in residential population and its density is now lower than the City average (Ferdowsi, 92 pph). Municipal districts 21 and 22, which are recent additions to Tehran’s limits, and are less populated, could be exceptional because the industrial zone between Tehran and Karaj as well as the vacant and afforested land are located within them.
The unbalanced distribution of population is also observable beyond Tehran’s borders as well. Between the less populous mountainous area to the north and the desert rim areas, with a population of less than one pph, to the south, population concentration is greater in the mountain’s base. Except the Varamin plain and specially in the southern part of Tehran, where agricultural activities have become marginal and where villages have become cities indeed, agricultural areas have remained very thinly populated (between 1-3 pph). Suburbs have often taken shape without a plan. They have developed on arable lands that are restricted by law to be used for building construction. Much of such land has turned into cities such as Qarchak (212 pph) or Akbarâbâd (825 pph). The situation in Eslamshahr (81 pph) or Karaj (49 pph) is better because their urban development was quickly brought under control.