Tehran

Tehran is a sprawling modern city at the foot of the Alborz mountain range. Currently home to about one-fifth of the country’s population and the Iranian capital since 1795. The city has numerous large museums, art centres, palace complexes and cultural centres, Iranian markets, with numerous bazaars covered like a railway station. The city, thought to have been inhabited since Neolithic times, is populated by a number of different ethnic communities. In addition to Persians, there is a population of Azeris in Tehran, as well as Armenian, Assyrian, Kurdish and Jewish communities. 98.3% of Tehran's residents speak Persian. The city is dotted with mosques, and there are a number of churches and synagogues.

Arriving in the city mid morning, we transferred to our hotel (again a place so devoid of character, that writing this two weeks later, I can remember virtually nothing about the place, not even its name), before taking a tour of the city, visiting the Golestan palace and the Imperial Crown Jewels, buried deep in a vault in the Bank of Iran. Tehran certainly has traffic and traffic jams - progress through the city was always slow and unpredictable. There was then just time to buy a carpet before dinner at a very nice "tea house".

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Every Iranian city has memorials to the "martyrs" who died in the bloody trench fighting during the Iran-Iraq war. Every Iranian town has posters up to the fallen - you see them tied to lamp posts , on hoardings, anywhere and everywhere. The memory of these men is certainly being kept alive. Tehran also has the Freedom Arch which is to Tehran what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, and the Statue of Liberty is to New York.

Carpet Buying

Given the shortage of time we went straight to looking at the double sided silk carpets and bought a very beautiful one with different versions of the tree of life on either side. The three girls from Hong Kong also bought carpets here, and the rest of the group took a walk in one of the parks.

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The Golestan Palace

Dates from the time of Karim Khan Zand and lies behind the historic walls of the city’s 16th century Arg (Citadel). The former residence of Qajar royalty, the site today is a wonderful fusion of gardens and throne rooms that are filled with elegant furnishings and artwork, set amongst a rich mix of European and Persian design. The oldest of the historic monuments in Tehran, a world heritage site, the Golestan Palace belongs to a group of royal buildings that were once enclosed within the mud-thatched walls of Tehran’s Historic Arg (citadel). Golestan Palace Complex consists of 17 palaces, museums, and Halls. Almost all of this complex was built during 200 years of the Qajar kings' rule. These palaces were used for many different occasions such as coronation and other important celebrations.

Golestan Palace

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During the Pahlavi era (1925–1979) Golestan Palace was used for formal royal receptions and the Pahlavis built their own palace at Niavaran for "everyday use". The most important ceremonies held in the Golestan Palace during the Pahlavi era were the coronation of Reza Khan (r. 1925-1941) in Takht-e Marmar and the coronation of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (r. 1941-deposed 1979) in the Museum Hall. In between 1925 and 1945 a large portion of the buildings of the palace were destroyed on the orders of Reza Shah who believed that the centuries old Qajar palace should not hinder the growth of a modern city. In the place of the old buildings modern 1950s and 1960s style commercial buildings were erected.

Crown Jewels.

The exhibition of the Imperial Crown Jewels is situated inside the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Tehran's Ferdowsi Avenue. To enter you have to go through several security checks, until finally you enter what is literally a vault - past a massive steel vault door. The guide instructs you that you cannot even put your hand on any of the display cabinets without triggering the alarms and the automatic sealing of the vault doors. Whilst we were there the alarms went off twice. When you see the value of what is there, you can see why they have all these precautions.

What looks like bucket loads of glass beads, are in fact real diamonds, emeralds or rubies. What looks like sticks covered in coloured glass baubles are sceptres encrusted with precious stones worth millions. The opulence of the life that the kings of Persia led is quite beyond belief, and it is not surprising that eventually they were removed - they just did not know when to stop. The oil money that they spent is now flowing to the Iranian Government, but it is impossible to see where this money is going: there is no obvious sign of it being spent on infrastructure, nor on social schemes. I did ask, but nobody was able to give me an answer.

The Imperial crown jewels of Iran include several elaborate crowns and decorative thrones including the "Peacock Throne", thirty tiaras, and numerous aigrettes, a dozen bejewelled swords and shields, a vast number of unset precious gems, numerous plates and other dining services cast in precious metals and encrusted with gems, and several other more unusual items (such as a large golden globe with the continents made of emeralds and the latitudes and longitudes marked in diamonds) collected by the Iranian monarchy from the 16th century (Safavid dynasty) on. Queen Victoria (and hence the British taxpayer) seemed to regularly gift Persian royalty with expensive knickknacks, now housed in places like the vaults here. The collection is housed at The Treasury of National Jewels (the official name) but is known colloquially as the Jewellery Museum.

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Dinner was in another atmospheric tea house, not quite as nice as the previous one in Mashhad, but it did boast a fine "character" of a waiter, who enjoyed frightening guests by pretending to spill drinks from his stacked tea tray.

On to Alamut

Silk Route Holiday 2013