Capital of Iran since the late eighteenth century.
In 1800, Tehran was a small city with an estimated population of 20,000; it was surrounded by twenty-foot mud walls with four gates. The wall was encircled by a moat, which was up to 40 feet wide and between 20 and 30 feet deep. Although several new buildings were constructed during the reign of Fath Ali Shah Qajar (1797–1834), the first major expansion of Tehran dates from the reign of Naser al-Din Shah (1848–1896), the third Qajar monarch. The old walls were pulled down, plans for an octagonal wall on a French model were followed, and twelve gates were built. New grounds were added to the city compound, as well as large boulevards and imposing public and private buildings, designed with many European features. The city had a small railway leading to a place of pilgrimage in the south, and the summer resorts in the Alborz Mountains in the north were developed and became popular with richer Tehranis. In 1852, a first census and a count of all the buildings were made, which show how small the city still was: It had only 12,772 buildings, 8,697 houses, and 4,220 shops. The second census, prepared in 1869, gave the population as 150,000.
Tehran's second phase of development dates to the reign (1926–1941) of Reza Shah Pahlavi, founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. The city was expanded outside its old walls, especially to the north and the northwest. A notable feature was the neoclassical buildings, designed mainly by European architects, especially exiles fleeing the Russian Revolution but also Iranians who had studied abroad. Houses began to be built facing outward, to the street, instead of inward, to the courtyard, and streets were planned for the passage of automobiles. The ornate gates, a special feature of old Tehran, were pulled down, as were many buildings of the Qajar dynasty period.
Tehran's third phase of development dates to the early 1950s, when a new generation of Iranian architects and technocrats, who had studied in U.S. universities, returned to erase many of the remaining features of the old city. Tehran began expanding rapidly and haphazardly, because of the petroleum industry, oil-induced construction, and the industrialization boom of the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1956 and 1976, the city's population tripled, from 1.5 million to 4.5 million. Despite the economic, political, and social upheavals caused by the Iranian Revolution (1979) and the Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988), Tehran's population continued to grow at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s. Thereafter, population growth declined by about 1 percent per year within the city, but nearby towns and rural areas experienced rapid growth as they were developed as suburban communities to the east, south, and west of Tehran. According to the 1996 census, a total of 6,759,000 people lived in the city of Tehran; more than 1.3 million lived in suburbs, including the densely populated communities of Islamshahr and Karaj.
see also fath ali shah qajar; iranian revolution (1979); iran–iraq war (1980–1988); naser al-din shah; pahlavi, reza.
Adamec, Ludwig W., ed. Historical Gazetteer of Iran, Vol. 1, Tehran and Northwestern Iran. Graz, Austria: Akademische Drucku, 1976.
Ettehadieh, Mansoureh. "Patterns in Urban Development: The Growth of Tehran, 1852–1903." In Qajar Iran: Political, Social and Cultural Change, 1800–1925, edited by Edmund Bosworth and Carole Hillen-brand. Edinburgh, U.K.: Edinburgh University Press, 1983.
Firoozi, Ferydoon. "Tehran: A Demographic and Economic Analysis." Middle Eastern Studies 10, no. 1 (Jan. 1974): 60–67.
updated by eric hooglund