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IRAN | Monday, 29 March 2010 | Views [603]

Tehran is a sprawling, muscular city of concrete and wide boulevards, manicured parks, palaces, mosques, ruined cinemas and expressway flyovers. It is home to 15 million people, and rising. Apartment buildings stretch from the southern slums to luxury penthouses that mark the city's northern boundary on the lower slopes of the Alborz Mountains.

The rate of growth, like that of the entire country, has been prodigious. In A__'s childhood in the 1970s the city was a fifth the size, his parent's house surrounded by fruit orchards. Even their summer villa, 35 km outside the city, is now linked to town by a thin sprawl of construction. Nothing has kept pace. Traffic regularly grinds to a halt in hour long jams. The recently completed metro struggles to accommodate the million odd daily passengers. Air pollution kills 10,000 a year, and on its worse days in winter closes schools and keeps the elderly indoors.

But because of No Ruz the city is empty. Our hotel, on the edge of the auto parts district, has few guests. The air is clean and metro uncrowded. The few people that have not escaped to the Caspian, to Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz or the Persian Gulf are in holiday mode. The museums are full of local sightseers.

On Thursday we travel north to visit the palaces of the former Shah. While the gardens have grown the buildings are preserved as they were 30 years ago. Enormous carpets and gilded doors. The head of a tiger, its pelt stretched across the floor at the foot of a bed. Billiard tables and furniture with turned legs. Malachite vases and Japanese screens. A television on coasters. All the luxury of the day.

Strangely enough there is no sense of a moral lesson here. The objects, and the time they represent, are as remote to those born since the Revolution as the displaced royalty of Europe. Iranians crowd around the glass fronted doorways. Hold children aloft. Sneak photos with the cameras of their mobile phones.




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