Monday, July 10, 2017

I’ll never forget my first encounter with District 12. I was sitting in a taxi, and unfamiliar with the layout of Tehran, I suddenly found myself in the midst of the steady buzzing of swarms of motorcycles coming from every which way, near stand-still traffic, heat a few degrees hotter than where I had started, and older, dingier buildings, some of which looked abandoned. It was sheer chaos. And I loved it.  

Tehran is divided into 22 municipal districts. District 1 starts in the north, and this number increases as you move roughly south and west. District 12 lands us in the Grand Bazaar area in the south of the city. If Valiasr Avenue is the spine of Tehran, then District 12 is its beating heart. In fact, if you start on the south side of Valiasr and work your way north (or vice versa), you’ll notice a drastic change in buildings, fashion, people, culture, and even slang and vocabulary. Sure northern Tehran is posh and ritzy, but District 12 is in color. It’s the real Tehran in my opinion. I used to feel intimidated by it at first because it's such a different culture. But now it's the part of town where I feel most comfortable, where I find the people to be most down-to-earth. It’s a place that exhausts most Tehranis but gives me energy. It’s the place I go to when I need a reminder of why I love this city. And I feel a little bit more alive when I do.

I’m always looking for an excuse to go to District 12, but I’m just as happy to go for no reason at all. On this particular Thursday morning in January, I was on a mission. I had heard about a unique feature of 30 Tir Street, so I booked a half day tour to explore it.

30 Tir Street

30 Tir, pronounced See-ye Teer, corresponds with July 21 and is named after the date of the massive pro-Mossadegh uprising against the Shah in 1952 in which dozens of people were killed. If you’ve been to Tehran, you’ve seen this cobblestone street just next to the National Museum. More recently it’s become a popular place for food and coffee trucks known as sayyâr

Aside from it just being a nice change from the usual asphalt, though, as you navigate 30 Tir from south to north, you’ll find a synagogue, church, and Zoroastrian fire temple sitting together harmoniously. These particular places of worship are still used today. They are not mere tourist attractions, and because of that, it’s ideal to go with a tour agency who will already have all the proper paperwork necessary to enter. 

Haim Synagogue

First is Haim Synagogue, which is best known for hosting Polish Jewish refugees during the Second World War. As the number increased, a second Ashkenazi synagogue was built adjacent to it. It’s also considered the first synagogue to have been built in an urban area away from others. Further up the street, you’ll find Holy Mary Church and directly across the street from it is Adrian Fire Temple whose flame was brought from the temple in Yazd.

Holy Mary Church

Adrian Fire Temple

I had visited churches and fire temples in Iran before. That was nothing new, but Haim was my first synagogue, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning a brief history of Judaism in Iran. It made me curious as to why these three were built on the same street. Was it on purpose, or was it pure coincidence? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer, but I will tell you that we’ve only scratched the surface of District 12. This post was just an introduction to one small corner of it. There are so many gems and so much charm here that I feel each neighborhood deserves its own shoutout and dedicated letter on my Iran A-Z.



  1. Dorood, Pontia jaan! Just wanted to let you know that I spotted a typo in your post: you typed "Holy March Church" instead of "Holy Mary Church". Khodahafez! :)

    1. Hahaha, THANK YOU! Corrected now... I have no idea how I managed to mix the two! ;D

  2. Anytime. Happens to the best. ;)


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