Tehran’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world, and easily one of the largest. Spread out over 20 square kilometres, the Grand Bazaar’s winding maze of corridors, alleyways, stairwells and hidden passages run for over 10 kilometres in length. Everything, and I mean everything you could possibly want to buy can be found here.
The area around Tehran has been settled since at least 6,000 BC, and while bazaar-like construction in Iran as a whole has been dated as far back as 4,000 BC, Tehran’s bazaar is not this old. It is hard to say exactly when the “bazaar” first appeared, but in the centuries following the introduction of Islam, travelers reported the growth of commerce in the area now occupied by the current bazaar. The Grand bazaar is a continuation of this legacy. Research indicates that a portion of today’s bazaar predated the growth of the village of Tehran under the Safavids’ dynasty; although it was during and after this period that the bazaar began to grow gradually.
There are a wide variety of architectural styles on display at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, owing to that fact that it’s not just one building that was built at the one time. Nobody knows just how old the bazaar is however there is evidence to suggest that there has been commerce and trade occurring in this part of Tehran since at least 1660BCE. The oldest physical structure standing today however, is a relatively young 400 years old. One moment you’ll be walking through a passageway that dates back to the 1700s then you’ll turn a corner and be walking through a corridor that was built in the 1970s.
Many have described Tehran’s Grand Bazaar as a “city within a city”and it’s easy to see why. You could easily spend several days exploring in here. In fact, there’s even a hotel inside. It’s a fascinating place to walk through and watch life go by, in some cases unchanged from the way it’s been for centuries. Traditionally, each section of the bazaar specialised in different types of goods – a section for copper, a section for spices, a section for carpets etc. Many of the traditional traders still run stores in the traditional manner but it’s not uncommon to see more modern stores like computer shops and electronics stores too.
The Grand Bazaar of Tehran is a place where national trade is discussed along with it’s politics, and not surprising where past revolutions have started. Proud families have passed down their stores here for generations. You will also find every category of product and commodity has it’s own street, but what usually interests tourists the most is the old Bazaar Architecture, peeping into the Khomeini Mosque, tracing the old City Walls. And if navigating deep enough into the bazaar you might find the remains of an Armenian Church. Just try not to get lost!
Try and visit in the morning, when business is brisk but not yet frantic, as it becomes at lunchtime when the chance of being run over by a piece of fast-moving haulage equipment is high.