Tehran's Azadi Tower, witness to history, victim of neglect

Wed Feb 20, 2013 10:42am EST
 
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By Yeganeh Torbati

DUBAI (Reuters) - Within days of the 2009 election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office, demonstrations engulfed Tehran and other Iranian cities, centered on the capital's sprawling Azadi Square.

The unrest's defining moment took place on June 15 around the square's white marble monument, where photographer Hasan Sarbakhshian found himself in the early evening after walking street by street through western Tehran feeling a heady mix of hope, excitement and worry.

His press card revoked by authorities weeks earlier, Sarbakhshian used a simple digital camera to record the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in silence below the monument, accessory and observer to four decades of tumultuous political history.

"As a photographer I saw Azadi Tower as a character in my pictures," said Sarbakhshian, who also photographed pro-government rallies there and now lives in the United States. "It's a witness, a third eye."

But the tower, having stood through Iran's explosive revolution in 1979 and an eight-year-long war with Iraq in the 1980s, is now falling victim to neglect and shoddy repairs, and suffers from extensive internal water damage.

"Azadi Tower is exposed to humidity, and still no one has paid any attention," Seyyed Mohammad Beheshti, an architect and former cultural heritage official, told the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) recently. "The past disregard of this valuable building must be rectified."

Completed in 1971, the tower is shaped in the form of an inverted letter Y and features a design influenced by both pre- and post-Islamic architecture.

Iranian news organizations have published pictures of cracked stones, water dripping from ceilings and peeling walls. ISNA quoted an unnamed expert as saying repairs in 2010 to the tower and the museum complex below were to blame.   Continued...

 
Demonstrators head towards Azadi (freedom) square during a rally in support of defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi in western Tehran in this June 15, 2009 file photo. Within days of the 2009 election that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office, demonstrations engulfed Tehran and other Iranian cities, centred on the capital's sprawling Azadi Square. The unrest's defining moment took place on June 15 around the square's white marble monument. To match IRAN-AZADI/ REUTERS/Caren Firouz/Files