Situated at the historical heart of Tehran, the area formerly known as Mashq Square is a Tehran must-see. You can easily spend a day visiting its different museums. That’s not enough for us, though. We like to see Mashq Square as just one piece of a bigger picture: Imam Khomeini Street.
Named after the turbaned founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the leader of the 1979 Revolution, Imam Khomeini Street is one of Tehran’s central thoroughfares. It is a street crowded with museums (and tool shops, for some reason).
Much of the historical architecture has roots in the Tehran of 150 years ago, when Naser al-Din Shah held his disastrous 50-year reign.
That romantic era feels hardly relevant today when trying to navigate the sidewalks of Tehran’s concrete jungle. But isn’t Iran’s present political situation still kind of a stubborn hangover from the militancy against the Qajar era’s scandalous mismanagement?
And thus, we feel, 2 important (if not exactly great) Iranian leaders are connected through this street across the ages: Naser al-Din, the unintending father of Iranian nationalism through his sell-out of Iran’s assets to foreign powers, and Imam Khomeini, the man who would lead that movement to its revolutionary zenit.
Seeing how some other interesting streets like Si-e Tir, Vali-Asr, Laleh Zar and Naser Khosrow cross Imam Khomeini, this is a place to revisit. So there is no need to take in all museums in one go. You won’t manage anyway.
This walk bridges the 2 km between metro stops Daneshgah-e Emam Ali and Imam Khomeini. We start at the former, but you can do it in reverse as well, of course.
- Along Imam Khomeini Street
- Mashq Square / National Garden
- Imam Khomeini Square
- Continue the walk
Along Imam Khomeini: Quran Museum to Si-e Tir
Exiting the metro, head east along Imam Khomeini and you quickly hit eternally-logjammed Vali-Asr street. On your left, the Quran museum features a collection of rare Korans.
Across the street stands the Mehrab theatre, one of only a handful of places in Tehran where you can currently see actors (and actresses!) performing. A good idea for the evening should you speak Persian.
Moving on, your gaze will inevitably drift towards the front gate of the Moghadam Museum. In our opinion, this is one of the nicest traditional houses in Iran (yes, that includes those in Kashan).
It holds a unique collection of artefacts from Iran’s rich history, saved from neglect or, in some cases, the sledgehammer, by its owner Mohsen Moghadam, an archaeologist, painter and art historian.
Continuing east, you will soon come across Hasan Abad Square. Like the Moghadam house, it was constructed during the rule of the Qajar king Naser al-Din Shah in the late 19th century. In the 1930’s the square’s bold design, surrounded by identical curved buildings, was carbon-copied 300 km west into the center of Hamadan, where it now goes by the (not very imaginative) name of Imam Khomeini square.
Keep going straight until Si-e-Tir Street, a passage of surprising religious diversity. On the corner stands the National museum of Iran, which splits into 2 collections: the museum of Ancient Iran and the Islamic Museum.
Had a look? Still have energy left? Progress east. Loafing down Imam Khomeini Street, you cannot help but notice a magnificent gate on your left. It’s an obvious invitation to enter the National Garden.
Mashq Square / National Garden
The Meydan-e Mashq (Parade Square) started out as a military shooting range. Nasir al-Din Shah enjoyed watching his troops practice here. When he was eventually murdered, his assassin, Mirza Reza Kermani, was executed here.
The Cossacks Quarters (now the University of Art) is the only building left from that time. During the Pahlavi era, the shooting range got rebranded to Bagh-e Meli or National Garden, and a host of exceptional-looking government buildings went up to make this the new heart of the city, fronted by a mind-blowing gate.
The name National Garden eventually disappeared as well. It isn’t really called anything at all at the moment.
Architecture and museums
Each building in the National Garden features a unique mix of Iranian and European styles of different historical eras. In a city where most interesting or historical construction has been destroyed in the past 50 years, it’s an exceptional architectural space.
Many of the buildings have been turned into museums, while others still serve government purposes. We are hoping to link out to more detailed articles on the places below in the future. For now, in short, we recommend you definitely visit the Malek Museum (probably the best place to appreciate Persian art in Iran), the Islamic Museum and the gruesome Ebrat Museum.
- Gate to the National Garden
- Post and Communications Museum (formerly the Post Office)
- National Museum
- The Islamic museum
- Museum of Ancient Iran
- Building No. 9 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (formerly Tehran Town Hall)
- Ebrat Museum (former SAVAK prison)
- Sepah Bank Coin Museum
- University of Art (formerly Cossacks Quarters)
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Building No. 3 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (former HQ of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company)
- Officers Club (Building No. 7 of the State Department)
- National Library and Malek Museum
- Iran Science and Technology Museum
- Building No. 2 of the Organization for the Registration of Documents and Real Estate of Iran
Other historic buildings, such as the National Jewelry Museum and Tehran’s Court of Justice are also located near the square. Yarjani street, bordering the square from the east, was the former location of a lot of photo studios, including that of Antoin Sevruguin.
Imam Khomeini Square
After your exploration of Mashq Square, return back to the main street. Right before Imam Khomeini Street reaches Imam Khomeini Square, it splits off to the right into Khayyam street. Here you can find the old headquarters of the Ettela’at publishing company.
Ettela’at (information in Farsi) is Iran’s oldest still appearing newspaper. It’s most momentous editions include the 1978 article Iran and Red and Black Colonization, which sparked protests that would ignite the Islamic Revolution, and the 1980 Pulitzer Prize-winning picture “Firing Squad in Iran”, showing the execution of Kurds at Sanandaj airport by Islamic revolutionaries.
It isn’t a glorious building; a bit forlorn, a certain wistfulness. But isn’t that true for many newspaper buildings nowadays?
Imam Khomeini Square
Announced by noxious gases and revving engines for some time, we finally come to the traffic mayhem of Imam Khomeini Square. It used to be called Toop Khaneh, or Artillery Barracks. The square was remodelled under Naser al-Din to become the financial heart of Tehran. Since that time, its classic elegance has gotten the modern-Tehran treatment (in other words, got bulldozed).
Imperial Bank of Persia
One building that remains is that of the old Bank of Persia, nowadays called the Tejarat Bank. The Imperial Bank of Persia was founded in 1887 by serial entrepreneur Paul Reuter, 35 years after he already founded the Reuters Press Agency.
Given the monopoly on banking services in the country by the shah, the bank, legally subject only to British law and headquartered in London, became an important instrument for British imperialism to control Iran’s economy.
The Tejarat Bank is located dead ahead if you follow the walk, on the eastern edge of the square.
The main building gracefully fuses classic Persian architecture with turn-of-the-century British bank interiors. It is still a bank today, and as such it is open to customers during working hours. Yet the guards don’t seem to like tourists very much. If you want to see the inside of the beautiful brick front building, try your luck! Don’t let the guard catch you!
Continue the walk
If you are done walking, you can take the metro here. If you feel you can go on, there are 2 more amazingly interesting streets connected to Imam Khomeini Square that we would like to introduce to you: Laleh Zar Street and Naser Khosrow Street.