Why Is Tehran the Capital of Iran?

Why Is Tehran the Capital of Iran?

Many of us only hear about the country of Iran in relation to today’s turbulent and tense international conflicts. However, there is so much more to this diverse country worth knowing. 

Located in southwestern Asia, Iran consists primarily of a central desert plateau that is surrounded on all sides by towering mountain ranges. Today, Iran is an important player on the international scene as a result of both its petroleum and natural gas industries. Iran’s natural gas industry makes up for more than one-tenth of the world’s total supply. 

The country has a long and storied history that could fill many books so we’ll zoom in a bit and look at how Tehran became the capital of Iran! 

Quiz yourself: Test your knowledge of Iran with this fun quiz!

Early History

Tehran is first mentioned in historical accounts in an 11th-century chronicle. Here, it is referred to as a small village north of a city called Rayy. Rayy is often considered Tehran’s predecessor. However, the city declined during the Mongol invasion of 1220. Today, it is a suburb of Tehran. While Rayy was in decline during the 13th century, Tehran grew and became known as a prosperous market town. 


In the 1500s, Tehran attracted a visit from the Ṣafavid shah Ṭahmāsp I. He was very taken by the city’s beautiful gardens and strategic location. So much so, that he put efforts into developing a bazaar and square town wall. Other Ṣafavid kings later continued this development of the city by adding more buildings to the city center, one of which included a citadel. This development spurred the growth of the city and put it on the map as a regional capital as well as an important center for trade.

The Capital of Iran

While Tehran had already started to establish its position as an important Iranian city in the 15th century, it became an even more pivotal location in 1786. This is when Tehran was selected as the seat of the founder of the Qājār dynasty, Āghā Moḥammad Khān. This is also when Tehran was first named as the capital city. Khān selected Tehran because it was close to his tribal territories. It was also close to former capitals that housed many of his supporters. 

After Āghā Moḥammad Khān’s selection of Tehran for his seat, the city experienced a massive amount of population growth. First, soldiers and courtiers began to populate the city and this population boom drew in others from surrounding areas. Neighborhoods outside the core city center were also established. Following the population boom, the city began to experience incredible trade and industry growth. 

The 18th and 19th centuries brought turbulent times and a great deal of social conflict to Tehran. At one point, the city was even separated from Iran as a result of the Russo-Iranian War. In the 1920s, the rebuilding of the city began and, since then, there has been a mass migration from other areas of Iran into Tehran. 

Tehran Today 

Today, Tehran is one of the largest and most populous cities in the world with a current population of around 14 million. Unfortunately, the city is presently facing a number of pressing issues. Firstly, the air quality in Tehran is quite poor and has begun to impact the overall health of the population. 

In addition, due to the proximity of the city to a number of fault lines, Tehran is at a very high risk for large magnitude earthquakes. The risk is so disconcerting that plans have begun to discuss moving the capital of Iran to a different area in an attempt to encourage the massive population in Tehran to move elsewhere. 

Despite the difficulties facing the city today, the people of Tehran celebrate their proud history every year.  October 6th is Tehran Day in Iran and it marks the day the city was officially chosen as the capital by the Qājār dynasty. The city is also taking strides to combat air pollution and overpopulation with various different strategies that include leveraging natural gas in order to protect the health and safety of the city’s massive population. 

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