Sunday, April 9, 2023

Toop Khaneh

Toop Khaneh (توپ‌خانه), literally meaning Artillery Barracks, is a major town square and a neighborhood in the south of the central district of the city of Tehran. It was built in 1867 by an order of Amir Kabir and Commissioned in 1867.

After the Iranian Revolution, it was renamed Imam Khomeini Square. Toopkhaneh Square was a large quadrangle enclosed with two-storey arches, which housed the cannons on the ground floor and the artillery staff on the upper floor. When the square was originally constructed, the cannons that Shah Abbas had taken as a trophy from the Portuguese in Hormoz Island, and also the cannon named Toop’e Morvarid (Pearl Cannon), dating to the time of Fath Ali Shah, were transferred there. 

Buildings like Telegraph Khaneh, Municipality Palace and the Imperial Bank building surrounded the square. The Telegraph Khaneh and the Municipality Palace were demolished in 1970 and 1969 respectively.

The initial pattern of Toop Khaneh Square was inspired by traditional Iranian squares in the Safavid era, but its proportions were based on the Western Baroque architecture style. It is claimed that the focal point of the traditional Iranian square was an empty point, which contributes to natural holy elements. As such the focal element in Toop Khaneh Square is a water pond; however, the installation of statue in the middle of the square was a modern and Western element. The statue of Reza Shah, once erected in the middle of this square (guarded by four Achaemenid soldiers and elevated by Persepolis-styled columns and bas-relief decorations), was pulled down two times; first in 1953, by the supporters of Mohammad Mosaddegh, and the other time during the 1979 revolution which marked the end of the Pahlavi era.

Taking 10 years to be completed, the construction of this square was contemporaneous with the first urban developments of Tehran in late 18th century. It stretches 110 meters wide and 220 meters long. Originally, the square was surrounded from the north, south, and west by two rows of arcades. Some believe that the original design of the square has been inspired by that of Naghsh’e Jahan Square in Isfahan. Later on, the chambers around the square gave their place to constructions which in turn were destroyed or replaced by other buildings. By the end of the Ghajar era, the old layout of the square was changed. These changes happened in line with the globally spread modernization as a result of which the ‘square,’ as an urban entity, was losing its previous functions and identity.

There used to be six gateways in the north, south, west, and east of the square joining the square to the main streets of Tehran. The gates were destroyed in order to facilitate the entry of transportation vehicles such as carriages, wagons, railroads, and smoking cars. 

The same streets still find their way to the square but the gates are no longer there. To the north of the Square were the new quarters which were the houses of the aristocracy and the embassies, delegations, as well as the residences of Europeans. On the eastern flank, originally the location of the Imperial Bank, sits the building of Bank’e Tejarat which has been recorded as a national heritage. 

The huge 14-storey Telecommunication Building is located on the south of the square. It replaced the former Telegraphy Building which mirrored the structures around Palace Square in Saint Petersburg. Behind this building, is the shrine of Imamzadeh Ruhollah Hassani, and to the northwest of the square, Ostad Sanati Museum is located.

Throughout Iranian history, public squares have been important places for promoting social interactions between citizens and enhancing the quality of urban lives. Back in the day, Toop Khaneh square was the top spot for fireworks on national holidays, for protests, high profile executions, parades, demonstrations, political, and social gatherings in general. It has witnessed some most crucial phases in the history of Iran since the Qajar period. Ahmad Shah, and the two Pahlavi monarchs, Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah, passed through this square when they were crowned. In comparison with traditional squares, Toop Khaneh Square is distinct in two ways. The first is that traditional Iranian squares formed gradually without any predetermined map or special order; however, Toop Khaneh Square was designed based on a predetermined map and function. The second is that, for the first time, governmental space was represented as the manifestation of political ideology in Tehran.

A project in Toop Khaneh Square was initiated in 2014. The plan called for building a cultural center the exterior of which would resemble the old municipality building (called baladiyeh) that was knocked down in the 1960s. The project was discussed several times in the council but never approved. Nonetheless, for hitherto unknown reasons, excavation started and was later abandoned. As it currently stands, the project is incomplete.


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