Is it even remotely possible to walk around the labyrinthine alleys, arcades and 5500 traditional shops and come out empty handed?
The Bazaar of Tabriz was inscribed as a national heritage site in 1974. The massive area of one million and four hundred eighty-three thousand square meter of the Bazaar of Tabriz was announced a World Heritage Site in 2009. But the most significant aspect of this nomination was the unparalleled cooperation of the shopkeepers of the Bazaar in the restoration of this old center of commerce. According to the officials, more than 80 per cent of the restoration project of the Bazaar was executed by the wholesalers and retailers working under the arches of grand Bazaar under the supervision of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization of Iran. This act of local collaboration for the renovation of a World Heritage Site provided a shining example for the other people around the world whose national heritage sites are in a dilapidated state. These admirable efforts were internationally recognized and praised when the restoration project of the Bazaar of Tabriz was awarded the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2013.
This wasn’t though the first time that Tabriz marketeers (or Bazaari as they are widely called) played a major role in their country’s development. They were the biggest supporters of the Constitution movement (a movement against the absolute rule of monarchs) to the extent that the movement’s continuation after the bombing of the parliament was largely due to the financial support of Tabriz Bazaaris.
If you decide to roam about the Bazaar of Tabriz make sure to carry a camera since the array of architectural wonders in the forms of alleys, vestibules, wooden gates and windows, two and three- story old shops and brick vaults and arches with tiny openings at the top create rare sights in the vastness of the Bazaar.
But the gem of the Grand Bazaar is definitely Mozaffarieh Alley, one of the main centers for the handwoven carpets in Iran. This stunning work of Iranian architecture has two floors each consisted of 26 shops all exclusively dedicated to the trade of rugs and pictorial silk carpets. The history of its construction is also very interesting. Mozaffareh was built by “Haj Sheikh Mohammad Javad Amini Qazvini” who was an illustrious tycoon at the time. It is said that one day, Mozaffar ad-Din Mirza who was the crown prince then visited Mozaffarieh right after its completion. Upon catching the sight of this palatial edifice, he said: “fine work”. It was the custom at the time that the addressee of the words above must immediately retort: “it is a tribute to the Crown”. These words (clearly spoken out of flattery) were enough to annex the object in question to the property of the prince. However, Haj Sheikh Mohammad, reluctant to let go of this fortune, was wily enough to think of another solution so that he would keep the place without offending the king (that would lead to dire consequences!). He suggested that the alley would be named after the crown prince; hence the name Mozaffarieh.
The exact date of the building of the Bazaar of Tabriz is subjected to controversy. However, based on the written documents of 11th century penned by luminaries such as Yaqut al-Hamawi (Arab biographer 1179-1229) and Nasir Khusraw (Iranian traveler and poet 1004-1088) Tabriz had been known as the biggest and most prosperous city of Azerbaijan. Another major factor in the city’s prominence was its status as one of the main destinations in the world-famous Silk Road. As a consequence, the Bazaar of Tabriz which was the center of commerce in the region, flourished in the Islamic period specially during the rule of Seljuk dynasty as attested by many accounts and drawings of the explorers. Tabriz garnered further popularity in the wake of its designation as the capital of Persia during Ilkhanate Empire to the degree that some cultural heritage experts believe that at the peak of the city’s prosperity, it was one of the three main world trade centers on the Silk Road together with China and Rome.
The Bazaar of Tabriz have been plundered and damaged multiple times during its long history but the most lethal blow was without a doubt the horrendous earthquake of 1641 that razed the Bazaar to the ground together with other ancient monuments of the city. The Bazaar however was immediately reconstructed by the order of Najafqulu Khan, the mayor of Tabriz at the time using better and more resilient materials such as bricks.
During the princehood of Abbas Mirza (1789-1833), Tabriz became the seat of the crown prince and until the fall of Qajar dynasty was considered as the second capital of Iran. Meanwhile, the Bazaar of Tabriz was the beating heart of Iran’s commerce. When Trans-European railways were established, most of the goods from Jolfa and Russia were exported to Europe via Tabriz. The Bazaar lost some of its past glory in the 20th century partially as a result of October Revolution of 1917 in Russia that caused many of Tabriz businessmen to open their commercial branches in Germany, England and France. This trend continued until the outbreak of the second world war in 1939.
After Russian invasion of the north of Iran done under the pretext of World War II, most of the marketeers of the Bazaar moved to Tehran and established their trade centers in the capital and since then Tehran replaced Tabriz as the economical center of Iran. Although today Tabriz is no longer the heart of Iranian commerce, its Grand Bazaar is undoubtedly one of the main economical kernels of the country specially in its northwest.
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