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.


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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