TEHRAN | 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. I’d suggest that the saying “everything but the kitchen sink” would be apt were it not for the fact that you can buy kitchen sinks here.
Hungry? There’s food here. Lots of it, and it’s good. The line you see below is for Moslem restaurant, which serves between 4000-5000 people a day and is famous for its delicious 4,000 – 5,000 tahchin, an Iranian rice cake made from rice, yoghurt, saffron, egg, and chicken fillets.
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.
These hand pulled carts are by far the most common method of transporting good within the bazaar.
However who needs a cart when you have a… back?
These teenage workers may or may not be illegal Afghani immigrants, and they may or may not hang out in one of the bazaar’s many hidden spots that only they know about.
Want cheap copper? Yeah, this might just be the place you’re looking for. The Turkish coffee pots were a fraction of the price we saw them selling for in Istanbul. Unlike Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, Tehran’s Grand Bazaar is still focused on locals, not tourists.
This guy ran a tea and spice shop and spoke excellent English. We discussed, amongst other things, the finer points of saffron.
We bumped into this guy quite early on during our visit to the Grand Bazaar and he took it upon himself to be our guide in the market. Thankkfully one of our group was Iranian and was able to act as a translator. This guy knew every part of the market like the back of his hand. If we asked where we could find somewhere, he knew just the spot. There’s not a chance I would have found the leather maker who made my camera strap were it not for this man. In true Iranian fashion, he wanted nothing in return for his services and was simply happy to have met and helped us.
Speaking of leather makers, this guy custom made a camera strap for me for the grand sum of around USD$5.00. When our self appointed guide heard that I was looking for a leather maker, he took us down some corridors, around a few corners, up a flight of stairs, around a few more passageways, and up another flight of stairs to this place. Nothing beats local knowledge. Next door was an artisan making buttons, one by one. In the West people are making a shift towards hand crafted, artisan pieces but in Iran, hand-crafted pieces have always been appreciated.
It’s hard to go anywhere in Iran without finding someone selling tea or offering you tea. If you didn’t know that it was the national drink of Iran before you arrived you will by the time you leave.
Tehran’s Grand Bazaar is a truly fascinating place to explore, and is where you can see old and new both clash and harmonise. If you find yourself in Tehran, a visit is a must.