Azadi Tower, the sentry to the capital city, that welcome all visitors. A silent witness to Iran’s major historical events, this tower remains Tehran’s most iconic landmark.
In 1966, 24-year-old architecture student Hossein Amanat won a competition to design a building paying tribute to the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire.
The monument, formerly known as the Shahyad Tower, was completed in 1971. Combining elements of both pre- and post-Islamic architecture, the 165ft (50-meter) tall skeleton is clad in 8,000 blocks of white marble from Esfahan that are cut into various geometric patterns.
It marks the west entrance to the capital city and stands on a 540,000sq ft (50,000sq meter) cultural complex known as Azadi Square, which integrates principles of the traditional Persian Garden through its immaculately landscaped lawn, pristine flowerbeds, and streaming fountains.
All of these elements make Azadi Tower, or Freedom Tower as it’s also known, a favorite spot for foreign travellers.
Amanat was long gone by then. A member of the persecuted Baha’i faith, he fled Iran not long after the Shah, moving to Canada and re-establishing his practice in Vancouver. After 50 years in business, he is still building around the world. His portfolio includes the World Administrative Centre of the Baha’i Faith in Haifa, Israel, and – interestingly – the Iranian embassy in Beijing.
Historically, political demonstrations have taken place against the backdrop of Azadi Tower, a solemn onlooker. These days, however, one of the only politically inspired events to take place at this site is the annual celebration of the 22nd of Bahman (February 10th), which commemorates the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
On this day, Iranians march from all parts of Tehran, eventually convening at this square..
Visitors who fly domestically will catch a bird’s-eye view of this gatekeeper before landing at Tehran Mehrabad International Airport and being swept up by the maelstrom of traffic around the massive square. By taking the stairs or elevator to the top, you can behold buzzing, modern-day Tehran.
The crypt museum, on the other hand, displays various ancient cuneiform tablets, ceramics, and pottery, as well as a replica of the Cyrus Cylinder (the original of which is housed in the British Museum).
The entrance of the tower is directly underneath the main vault and leads into the Azadi Museum on the basement floor. The black walls, the pure, sober lines, and the proportions of the whole building create an intentionally austere atmosphere. Heavy doors open onto a kind of crypt where lighting is subdued.
The shock is immediate. The lighting there seems to issue from the showcases placed here and there, each containing a unique object.
Gold and enamel pieces, painted pottery, marble, the warm shades of the miniatures and of the varnished paintings glitter like stars among the black marble walls and in the semi-darkness of the concrete mesh which forms the ceiling of this cave of marvels.
There are about fifty pieces selected from among the finest and most precious in Iran. They are in excellent condition and each represents a particular period in the country’s history.
It is also a concert venue during the Fajr International Music Festival, held every year. In 2015, Tehranis flocked to see German artist Philipp Geist’s Gate of Words, in which Azadi Tower was used as the canvas for a light installation, with words of peace, love, and freedom poetically shone in Persian, English, and German to live music.
This has the tower playing less of a political role nowadays and acting more like a cultural ambassador.