Iran : Tehran Grand Bazaar, Largest Mall on the Planet, Age Unknown

Grand Bazaar Tehran
Vintage Persian carpets. Hand made by nomads, sometimes taking years to complete. Glorious objects to behold. But, they don’t fit inside 40 litre backpacks.

Iran : Tehran Grand Bazaar, Largest Mall on the Planet, Age Unknown.

I’d been given that same style of shrug before. By an Indian man, in Kuala Lumpur. Every time I ordered from his restaurant, no matter what I chose, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say “Is that it? Well, I guess that’s OK. If you must. Whatever.” Tonight in Iran, I got the shrug again. I know it’s a cultural barrier – my interpretation is almost certainly wrong. People indicating “whatever” don’t follow up with a genuine smile.

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The evenings are cool in Tehran, the climate here reminds me of the Mediterranean climate back home in Perth. Hot days, cooler nights. I was wandering around my new ‘hood around Ferdowsi Steet, looking for coffee. Easier said than done in a nation of tea drinkers.

Truth be told, what I stumbled across appeared like the sort of place intelligentsia would meet and discuss matters of philosophy, politics, and the ills of the world. A mysterious basement entrance, with dim red neon sign-writing spelling out Persian words that meant something to the locals, but not to me. I had to check it out.

tehran grand bazaar
Tehran Grand Bazaar – the architecture of the many roof domes is stunningly intricate. Dappled light flows through, creating a beautiful mood throughout the maze of vendors.

 
The scene was dark, relaxed, with a chilled-out vibe. In screened-off areas, people were just hanging out smoking large water pipes and drinking tea. I guessed this was an Iranian tea house, but every question I had was fruitless – the language barrier was too great to overcome.

Phillipa and I kicked our shoes off, sat down on our own screened off day bed replete with vintage Persian rugs and cushions, and made like locals – as best we could. They didn’t serve coffee, but it didn’t matter. We were given a pot of tea on a silver tray, with a plate of candy, some biscuits, and a couple of lolly-pops. Then I received a shrug, followed by a welcoming smile.

It was perfect. My feet desperately needed the rest. Earlier today, I had spent hours walking through the Tehran Grand Bazaar. At twenty square kilometers in size, with two hundred thousand vendors, and I was told up to two million visitors in a single day, the Grand Bazaar is the largest market of it’s type anywhere on Earth.

A local provided an impromptu guided tour, as he went about his business. As he pointed down one alley inside the immense complex I stared as it snaked off into the distance, and heard him say “this alley alone goes for 2 or 3 kilometres, with 20,000 shops”.

Tehran Bazaar
There is a lot of commerce going on here. People move goods constantly. Normally using old trolleys, although I did see a large truck, and a few motorbikes, moving products deep within the Grand Bazaar
Tehran Grand Bazaar - Ceiling Detail
Seeing my amazement at the ceiling details Tehran Bazaar, locals were keen to direct me to various domes within the area I had chosen to explore. Each dome was unique.
Tehran Grand Bazaar, Iran
Older sections of the Grand Bazaar were stunning. This area is hundreds of years old, and was once used for Camel stables, as traders rested overnight along the journey of the Silk Road.

 

Described best as a city within a city, the location of the Tehran Grand Bazaar is known to have been an area of trade for more than a thousand years, although the oldest walls and buildings are only around 400 years of age. Nobody seems to know exactly when the Grand Bazaar first opened. Considering the area around Tehran has been settled for around eight thousand years, the Grand Bazaar, as it appears today, is a relative new-kid-on-the-block.

 

Apart from commerce, the Bazaar has a history of being a focal point for the support of political movements in Iran – including the revolutionary Imam Khomeini. With protests taking place here just a few days ago, today I witnessed armed (and armoured) riot squad police outside one of the entrances, with groups of government security guards sporadically appearing in the immense labyrinth of corridors within. Clearly, the power-base was not in the mood for another protest.

Tehran Bazaar, Iran
Vendors were extremely curious to see a foreign couple wandering the alleys of the Grand Bazaar. I only saw one other tourist all day – a young man from Poland. We exchanged pleasantries, I tipped my hat, and bid him good day sir. It seemed appropriate.
Tehran Grand Bazaar - security looks on
Nobody minded me taking this shot, they were all too busy buying foods. The green shirt is one of the security guys. This man looks friendly enough, but when you turn a corner and see ten of them together, it’s a little different.
Maze-like Tehran Grand Bazaar
Layers of differing architectural styles, often built haphazardly, over many hundreds of years. It really was like being in a maze. The Grand Bazaar of Tehran.
Streets Outside Tehran Grand Bazaar
And then, there’s this guy. Jesus built his hot rod. On the streets outside the Grand Bazaar of Tehran.

 
In any case, the show of force was at least slightly intimidating – especially as an independent camera-toting foreign tourist. I was definitely clicking the shutter with somewhat less than reckless abandon. But today in Tehran, all was well. It was business as usual at the Grand Bazaar, and no signs of anything other than what appeared to be perfectly normal, if somewhat chaotic, capital city human activities.

It’s incredible being in a country with such an amazingly rich history. For thousands of years, people in this area have been doing pretty much the same things. Buying, selling, eating, drinking, working, and socialising.

Today, it was my turn to contribute to life in the Tehran Grand Bazaar.

Now, I’ll let some photos fill in the blanks.

The Grand Bazaar is a must-see part of Tehran.

I may even head back for a second visit.

If anyone has suggestions on how to fit an antique hand made nomadic Persian carpet into a 40 litre backpack, I’m all ears.

Nate.

PS, yes, sharing is caring. Since most social networks are off limits within Iran, your good deed for today is to share this post. Thanks!

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36 thoughts on “Iran : Tehran Grand Bazaar, Largest Mall on the Planet, Age Unknown

    1. Hey Audrey, I did have a couple of strange looks from the locals, as I spent an unusual amount of time looking up. How stylin’ is that Jesus bike dude? Certainly not a sight I was expecting to see in Tehran!

          1. I am Iranian-American. I live in California. Maybe in a year. We will see. Busy with university etc.

            Beautiful pictures BTW. Thank you for sharing them. Be sure to go to “darband” and smoke some hooka. :) Ask people about “darband”. It is relaxing and beautiful. You will love it. “Darband” is still considered part of Tehran.

            BTW, do you love history? If you love history you should visit the “National Museum” of Tehran. There is one building dedicated to the ancient artifacts of ancient Persia and it is absolutely remarkable. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Museum_of_Iran

    1. You have a very good memory ;) I’m still debating it, I haven’t picked up a single thing on this trip so far (well, one new shirt so I can look “nice” in Tehran)…but hmmm a new Persian rug would go nicely with the Turkish carpet…

  1. I was so excited to see your photos of the Grand Bazaar. It is one of the sights I remember so well from my visit many, many years ago just before the Shah was deposed (now I’m aging myself!!) I still have some beautiful glasses and silver I bought from the market but unfortunately I didn’t buy a turkish rug!! Life in Tehran fascinated me then and I was sad to see the fate of some of the sights under the Ayatollah. I’m looking forward to following your travels. One day I’ll visit again.

    1. Hey Jenny… You may have convinced me to buy a rug, I don’t what to regret it! I hope you get to visit Iran again, I’m sure the changes since your last visit would be fascinating.

  2. I forgot to mention! Some of the Shah’s old palaces have now become museums (the palaces that they haven’t converted for their own) including the famous Niavaran. You might want to go visit for history’s sake! Also the beautiful Golestan Palace of the Qajar dynasty is now indeed a museum! You can easily spend a day there on the latter! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golestan_Palace

  3. my jaw just dropped at the site of Jesus on that motorcycle. In Iran. Just WOW. That’s the last thing I expected to see on a photo from Iran, I assure you! Nice surprise though :)

    Stunning market, too. Most of the Middle Eastern bazaars I have visited are not covered by such gorgeous domes. Love all these shots

    – Maria Alexandra

    1. I know, pretty crazy right? The bazaars here are just stunning. Tourist attractions for foreigners, and working palaces of commerce for the locals. So authentically beautiful.

    1. Thanks for sharing Rebecca, I really appreciate it. And yes, there are distinct similarities between Tehran and Istanbul, but each city also has many differences. Both are incredible travel destinations.

      1. It is well here, thanks for asking! Going to a “Meet, Plan, Go” event next week about planning round the world/career break travel. Very much looking forward to it. :)

  4. Thanks for the amazing blog Nate. I thoroughly enjoy the articles and pictures of your visit to Iran. I can’t wait for more!

  5. love the photos! i’ve been there but didn’t able to go inside the bazaar instead i just went to a nearby place called naser khosro. it’s i think tehran camera haven for old/film cameras and such! you should check it out! try to check http://www.iranphotomusuem.com if you like to know the history of photography in iran. it’s very rich!

    i think i should check this bazaar next time i visit tehran to atleast take some photos. actually we will be there before shiraz but i believe i don’t have plenty of time to go.

    atleast you have the guts to take photos there. i’m a chicken! hahah your images of iran made me want to go out and have the guts to shoot! thank you nate! good thing i found out your site.

    1. Thanks Jef – kind words. Soon I’ll have a post on street photography of Iran. As far as “guts” goes, I’m not too modest to say – it really took some guts to point the camera at people on the streets of Iran. Phew!

  6. Thanks for the wonderful post. Twenty square kilometers…. Incredible! And settled for 8 thousand years. It’s surprising how many of these amazing places people here in the west have never heard of but at least we can see a little through the lens of your camera.

  7. Hi .
    My name is Naser . I’m living in Qom,Iran . I am very love living in Tehran . But I fail to see tourist attraction in Tehran . But I will try to see that all over Tehran. Not only in Tehran but also everywhere in Iran . Perhaps the Iranians we love a couple of months or so live in European countries, but Iran does not change ourselves elsewhere. We all love our country Iran.

    ساسان جون داداش من انگلیسیم زیاد خوب نیس… اگه میتونی حرفای منو درست برای همه ترجمه کن نوکرتم .

    And finally … The Iranian people have loved the all peole of world … I repeat, everyone in the world

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