I saw Kashan pass tantalisingly by at 4 and then at 6.30am one of the boys with me unexpectedly piped up in English that the train had stopped for prayers, half the folk got off and piled into a doubtless specially constructed rail-side mosque. No wonder they were 30 years behind. And so Tehran. A notoriously polluted and congested urban sprawl devoid of any degree of planning, it materialised out of the gloom looking suitably slum-like. Many would have fled here during the Iran-Iraq war and more still in search of work since. The makeshift breeze block boxes with rooftop water tanks they had slapped together were not easy on the eye. Further in, every block was a hotchpotch of unappealing units of mismatched shapes and sizes slapped together, what a mess. I even saw mosques with inappropriate gantry ladders and rooftop air-con units not encountered anywhere else. Reckoning Tehran would be hard enough without making it harder, I opted for a room as opposed to a dorm bed and the mini splurge of still under 4 quid a night got me the nicest, cleanest room I had had in ages. A few hours kip and I was back out taking advantage of the quieter Friday streets. I checked out the Metro straight away, at 4p a trip a revelation not fully explained by my out of date guidebook and I realised too late that I had needlessly succumbed to the taxi sharks earlier at the station. I changed money and came across the German embassy, outside of which a small memorial of sorts had been erected which was very in your face. It read "To Iranian people the name of the German government is associated with the horrible catastrophe of chemical massacre perpetrated by the Iraqi Ba'ath regime during the war which was imposed on Iran. The German government, then, generously supplied Saddam's regime with chemical weapons and the technology for production of such weapons to slaughter Muslims in Iran and Iraq (Halabcheh). Iranian people who have been continuously witnessing the martyrdom of their beloved sons who have been the victims of such lethal weapons shall never forget the German governments complicity and undeniable role in this atrocious crime". Ever the diplomats!
Speaking of which I was now headed for the former US embassy, now deliciously dubbed the US Den of Espionage. Scene of a massive stand-off just after the revolution, 400 troops had seized it and held 52 embassy staff hostage for a whopping 500 days. It wrecked the re-election hopes of Jimmy Carter. With a history like that it could only ever become a military zone and I was careful when taking pictures of the excellent wall murals around it not to include anything more incriminating. I still managed to get myself arrested however, fortunately this time only for about 2 minutes. I heard the guy shout and he was miles away so I elected just to cross the busy road and walk away, I hoped he would just give up once I disappeared round the corner. In hindsight I should have just legged it, he would never have caught me, but eventually I felt my arm being grabbed and the suitably grizzly faced beardie in combats wielded a rubber truncheon at me, he'd really worked himself up into a lather. A little taken aback by the melodrama, I gestured for him to calm down which slowly he did, it was a long walk back to the guardroom and he eventually let me walk unmolested. I was only in the place about 10 seconds when a commander and interpreter appeared. We checked through my photos in another 10 seconds and then assuring them I knew it was a military zone and yes, I had seen the cameras too, it was all handshakes and apologies. It struck me that being there just for the sake of it in all likelihood, they probably had little else to do except round up errant tourists, people came here every day to take snaps and I could not have been the first. I even chanced my arm by asking if I could take a few more snaps of the remaining murals, to which they acquiesced spontaneously, farcical. Not done with that I then walked out in search of the National Museum of Iran and came across some fantastic buildings which turned out to be the National Library and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs instead. The excellent and elaborate picture tiled gate bizzarley depicted cannons being fired and heavy machine guns, and walking the enormous promenade between them I was shouted at again, incredulous. At least I knew why this time and allayed the guard but I could not believe that there was a moratorium on taking photos of a museum, it brought home just how much democracy is worth when you dont have it. Actually, it had really begun to be just one of those days, another earlier incident served to prove it. With my shoelaces frayed to breaking point I found a street stall selling them and proceeded to remove one of the old ones in order to compare lengths. The guy proferred ones which were obviously too thick and fully twice the length and so I gestured at others, he had all different kinds. For once I pretty much lost the rag momentarily when he made it plain that I could take it or leave it with the ones he had given. I had all but destroyed one of the old ones taking it out and so it took me a while just to storm off in the huff. I couldnt be sure of the rationale behind it but it was probably just racism, just too much bother and too distasteful dealing with a foreigner. His loss. I eventually got my laces off a tramp-like shoeshine guy who looked like he needed the money more anyway.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IRAN
The usual predictable display of pottery, bronze fixtures and seals from sites all over Iran. Of particular note though was a pristine urn sat upon a complimenting pottery tripod, recovered from Hasanlu, West Azerbayjan from the 1st century BC. It had an ibex like raised motif and another 3D animal form incorporated into the handle. Beyond that though was a replica of the famed Hammurabi Stele (the original is in the Louvre). Found in Susa in 1901, it had originated in Babylon, a kind of Rosetta stone with an Akadic Cuneiform inscription below King Hammurabi worshipping Shamash the sun god. Trully a world treasure of polished black stone. Many bronze animal figurines, the usual bull, stag and also dog specimens of the late 2nd, early 1st millenium BC, and also Rhytons, animal shaped vessels serving as jugs which were prolifically produced. There was another stele in not such good condition, again with a king relief and inscription detailing Sargan II's 6th campaign, against whom it did not say. Next came what I took to be famous Lorestan bronzes, a round plaque with a Gilgamesh motif was good, and another of the treasury "handbags' I had seen in Tabriz.
Moving into the Historical Period, friezes from Persepolis upped the tone. The familiar images of the wiseman's head with eagle wings and lions body, still surviving in their painted state from the 5th century BC, excellent. Of note were also a large jar and plates made entirely of Lapis Lazuli. Perversely pictures replaced some of the top exhibits, they were on loan to the British Museum! Along with friezes perhaps the top exhibit was the double ended bull heads set upon a high column, all in beautifully polished black stone, it was in excellent condition. To be honest though for a national museum it was a disappointment. Considering the heritage of this country I had expected to be blown away but left almost thankful it had been mediocre, I was so tired. The neighbouring Museum of Islamic Art was sadly closed for renovation.
Seleucid Era 312BC-250BC
Parthian Era 250BC-224AD