Tehrān or Teheran is the capital and largest city of Iran, located in the northern part of the country. Tehrān is Iran’s administrative, economic, and cultural centre as well as the major industrial and transportation centre of the region. The city sits on the slopes of the Alborz Mountains at an elevation of about 1210 m (about 3960 ft), on the northwestern fringes of the Dāsht-e Kavir, a desert in central Iran. The climate has marked seasonal contrasts, with short springs and autumns separating cold winters and hot, dry summers. In July, the average temperature in the southern part of the city is 30° C (86° F), compared with 23° C (73° F) in the higher, northernmost suburbs. In the winter, temperature in the city’s southern areas average 5° C (41° F), and in the northern suburbs, 1° C (34° F). Average annual precipitation is 230 mm (9 in), again with notable differences between the northern suburbs (393 mm/16 in) and the lower southern areas (93 mm/4 in).

Tehrān and its metropolitan area

Aerial View of Tehran Aerial View of Tehran Photo by Hansueli Krapf (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

The city of Tehrān covers about 600 sq km (about 240 sq mi) and lies within Tehrān Province, of which it is the capital. Tehrān Province has an area of about 28,000 sq km (about 11,000 sq mi) and consists of seven counties that include the capital and its more than 20 rapidly growing satellite communities. Most of the growth is channeled along an east-west axis and toward the south; to the north, the city is constrained by the steep Elburz Mountains.

Most commercial and government buildings are located in the center of the city.

Residential structures predominate elsewhere. Many older houses were built for a single family, mostly from wood and brick, and were one or two stories tall. As the city grew, a few high-rise apartment complexes were built to house government employees and lower- and middle-class families. Eventually, the government allowed people to build multistory houses on smaller lots and in areas where such houses were not previously allowed. As a consequence, many owners of one-story homes have added extra stories to their homes or have replaced their homes with multistory buildings. Construction in already dense sections of the city is common, and the city’s skyline is chaotic.

Within the city, nearly all of the houses have electricity and piped water, while only about a third have access to a telephone. These percentages are typically much lower in the suburbs, and services, both inside and beyond the city, are often erratic. Water is particularly scarce in Tehrān. Nearby sources of water, including four rivers that have been dammed or diverted, are estimated to be sufficient for the needs of 5 million people, less than half the total metropolitan area population. During summer, households are encouraged to conserve water, and the flow of water is often shut off for several hours in parts of the city. The water shortage, combined with the conversion of rural land to urban uses, has hurt the surrounding farming sector.

Tehrān also lacks an integrated sewage-disposal system. Every building has its own well, or septic tank, that discharges untreated water and human waste into the ground. Because the land is porous and generally slopes southward, water and waste can permeate the ground; however, the unsanitary process threatens the homes and health of residents in the southern districts and slums, especially when the water table rises.


At the time of the 1991 census, Tehrān had a population of 6,475,527, and Tehrān Province had a population of 9,982,309. The estimated city population for 1996 was 6,758,845, while the province had 11.5 million inhabitants in 1996. The city has a population density of 12,000 persons per sq km (31,000 per sq mi), though population density varies widely among Tehrān’s 20 municipal districts. The wealthier districts of the northern highlands have as few as 3000 persons per sq km (7700 people per sq mi), while the poorer southern districts have as many as 67,000 persons per sq km (170,000 people per sq mi).

In the 1980s the metropolitan region grew rapidly, although the already dense city did not grow as quickly. In part, the growth was due to surging birthrates following the 1979 Islamic Revolution as well as increased migration from rural to urban areas. However, refugees also played a large part in Tehrān’s growth. Many Iranians who were driven out of their homes during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) came to the area, as did tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who fled fighting in Afghanistan. The density of the inner city forced many of these migrants to settle in outlying areas.

More than 97 percent of Tehrān’s population is Muslim. The remainder are religious minorities such as Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews, who have lived in Tehrān for centuries. Persian, the national language, is the most commonly spoken language in Tehrān. Minority languages and dialects include Azeri (Azari), Kurdish, and Gilaki.

A highway in Tehran A highway in Tehran Photo by Mehrshad Rajabi on Unsplash
A highway in Tehran Shahyad Tower (currently known as Azadi Tower) Photo by Amirhossein Mahmoodi on Unsplash
Grand Bazaar of Tehran Grand Bazaar of Tehran Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash
A boulevard in Tehran A boulevard in Tehran Photo by Roozbeh Eslami on Unsplash

Education and culture

With 40 institutions of higher education, Tehrān has more colleges and universities than any other city in Iran. The most prominent are the University of Tehrān, Shahid Beheshti University, Sharif University of Technology, and Iran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services. About 40 percent of Iran’s university students and nearly half of its university faculty live in Tehrān. Libraries that serve the public with a large collection of historical, hand-written manuscripts as well as printed books include National Library of Iran, the two branches of the Parliament Library, and the Library of the National Treasures. Roudaki and Vahdat concert halls are the capital’s leading centers for performing arts.

Tehrān’s museums include the Iran Bastan Museum, (Museum of Ancient Iran), which houses one of the world’s best collections of archaeological artifacts, dating to 4000 bc; the Golestan Palace Museum, which holds a collection of exquisite jewelry, including the Peacock Throne, the Globe of Jewels with more than 51,000 stones, the Imperial State Crown, and the great uncut diamond Darya-e Noor; the National Arts Museum, a treasure house of works from Persian artists; the Persian Museum, housing Persian rugs; the Abgineh va Sofalineh Museum (Glass and Ceramics Museum); and several museums established by Iran’s Islamic government in the palaces once belonging to the shah, the former ruler of Iran. The capital’s most conspicuous architectural landmark is the large marble Shahyad Tower, constructed in 1971 as a gateway to the city.



The city has several public parks, including the popular Eram, Mellat, and Laleh parks. Tehrān’s largest sports facilities are Amjadieh Stadium and the 100,000-seat Azadi Sports Arena, which was built for the 1974 Asian Games. The city also has several athletic clubs known as zurkhanehs (houses of strength), where men go to practice an ancient form of Iranian athletics involving weight-lifting and gymnastics. Ski resorts lie on the slopes of Elburz ranges about 60 km (38 mi) from central Tehrān.

Tochal Peak Tochal ski resot Photo by Hosein Amiri on Unsplash


More than 25 percent of Iran’s public-sector workforce and 40 percent of large industrial firms are located in Tehrān. Almost half of all workers in Tehrān work for the government. Most of the remainder work as shopkeepers, peddlers, factory workers, construction laborers, and transportation workers. Modern industries include several plants that make automobiles, electrical products, household appliances, plastics, cement, textiles, and processed foods. Private enterprise and investments are limited, despite recent promotional efforts by the government. Few foreign companies operate in Tehrān. Before the 1979 revolution many United States and other Western companies were active in the city. However, the revolution, subsequent nationalization of industries, and the Iran-Iraq War has driven both foreign and domestic investment from the city.

Tehrān is the hub of transportation in Iran. Several major highways converge on the city, and expressways link Tehrān with its suburbs. Rail lines radiate from Tehrān to all parts of the country. Three of these lines connect Tehrān with Europe (via Turkey), Russia (via Azerbaijan), and the ports of the Persian Gulf. The city has two airports, including Mehrabad International Airport, but both are inadequate for the amount of air traffic to and from Tehrān. A third airport is under construction in nearby Alīābād.

Tehrān relies heavily on private cars, taxis, transit buses, and motorcycles, and is one of the most car-dependent cities in the world. Air pollution from vehicle emissions is a serious problem in Tehrān, and since 1979 the government has restricted private cars from entering the city center during peak traffic hours. It has also encouraged taxis and buses to convert from engines that use gasoline to engines that use compressed natural gas. Congestion is also an issue, despite the addition of new expressways and overpasses. Tehrān is currently building a metro-rail system, which will likely open after the year 2000.


Tehrān is the latest and the largest capital city in the 5000-year history of Persia, as Iran was called by many people in the West before 1935. The original settlement of Tehrān, north of the ancient city of Ray, may have been founded as early as the 4th century. By the early 13th century it was a small village. In 1221 invading Mongols led by Genghis Khan destroyed Ray, but Tehrān survived and grew slowly in the following centuries. During the reign of the Safavid Shah Tahmasp (1524-1576) a wall and four watchtowers were built around the city, and by the early 17th century Tehrān had about 3000 houses. In the 1720s Afghan invaders attacked Tehrān. The town defeated the initial Afghan force but fell to the main Afghan army and suffered tremendously under their occupation from 1723 to 1729. Nadir Shah freed Tehrān in 1729.

In 1788 Agha Mohammad Khan, founder of the Qajar dynasty, made Tehrān his capital, inaugurating the modern history of Tehrān. At this time Tehrān’s population was estimated to be 15,000. Under the Qajar dynasty (1786-1925), Tehrān grew in population and size, and new administrative buildings, palaces, mosques, and garrisons were constructed.

Aerial view of Tehran back in 1925 Aerial view of Tehran back in 1925 Photo by Walter Mittelholzer (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In 1925, Reza Shah Pahlavi seized control of Iran and accelerated the gradual concentration of government functions and commerce in Tehrān. The city walls were torn down, wide streets were cut through the old districts, and commercial strips grew along the new streets, challenging Tehrān’s once-dominant bazaar. A newer, wealthier section of the city developed on the north, and a distinct rift was created between modern, northern Tehrān and traditional, southern Tehrān. This trend continued through the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979.

In 1979 Tehrān was at the center of the uprisings that toppled the shah (see Islamic Revolution of Iran), and the city suffered minor physical damage from the unrest. Revolutionaries held more than 50 U.S. citizens hostage in the U.S. embassy in Tehrān from November 1979 until January 1981. The capital was also the target of numerous Iraqi strikes during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).


This is an article by Mohammad Hemmasi on Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004 © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation with slight modifications and updates.

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