Imam Khomeini subway station allows an easy access to Toopkhaneh, a square built midway between the Royal Arg and Laleh-zar garden. At the time of its establishment, nobody would even dream that someday it will become the kernel of politico historical developments of the capital. The placement of cannons and artillery soldiers in Toopkhaneh goes back to the time of Fath-Ali Shah, the second king in Qajar dynasty. But the actual construction of the square began in the time of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar and his famous minister Amir Kabir under Mohammad Ebrahim Khan Azarbaijani who supervised the building of two-floor warehouses and hojrehs (chamber-like places used as shops or homes) in the north, south and west of the square imitating the unique design of Naghsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan. The construction took ten years and it wasn’t before 1873 that the people of the capital were first introduced to the city’s most prominent square. Artillery soldiers took the upper floors and the ground floor turned into an ammunition depot. Today six main streets lead up to Toopkhaneh as they first did at the time of its establishment.
Alaodoleh Gate at the entrance of Amin-ol-Sultan Street (now Ferdowsi) was to the northwest of Toopkhaneh. In the northeast of the square, the parade of shops would lead to the famous Lalehzar street. Later Ehtesabieh Office (an organization having the same role of today’s municipality) opened in the place of the hojrehs only to be replaced itself by the building of Tehran’s Baladieh (municipality) during the upcoming years. The Royal Bank was established on the site of an old edifice known as Mirza Ghahreman Amin Lashkar east of the square and the portal of Cheragh Gaz street was also built here. In the southeast, there stood the Gate of Naseri opening to Naserieh street (today Naser Khosro) flanked by the first telegraph building of the country. Going up east one would face Golestan Palace, the residence of the royal family.
To the south, there was a gate known as Almasiyeh at the opening of Babe Homayun street, that served as the entrance to the royal palace. The Shrine of Emamzadeh Ruhollah, a consecrated place for the people of Tehran was located behind Almaasiyeh Gate. The Gate of Marizkhaneh (literally, infirmary), built on the western side of Toopkhaneh, faced Marizkhaneh street (now Imam Khomeini). Toopkhaneh was a dirt square and had a fountain pool and a garden in its center. Four cannons positioned at each corner of the garden faced towards the pool filled with the subterranean streams flowing from the north of Tehran.
Another major development during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar and his wise minister Amir Kabir, was the appearance of horsecars, the great predecessor of Tehran subway, that took passengers from Toopkhaneh to Cheragh Gaz street.
The old tradition of camel sacrifice was also held annually in the square on the occasion of Sacrifice Feast in a special ceremony and continued until the coup of Reza Shah put an end to it and many other such traditions. Toopkhaneh hosted another daily custom during the time of Qajar kings. Every evening a military march was played in the square and entertained the people and the residents of the Arg. The long reign of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar finally came to an end when his body entered Toopkhaneh from Bab-e Homayun Gate and departed towards Shah-Abdol-Azim shrine.
One of the key events in the history of Qajar kings was “The Riot of Toopkhaneh Square”. This gruesome event took place by the deployment of two thousand soldiers in Toopkhaneh for crushing the Constitutional revolutionaries with the order of Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar. Not long after 1908 bombardment of the Majlis, Tehran was conquered by the revolutionaries and Sheikh Fazlollah Noori who was the most prominent figure among anti-revolutionaries, was hanged in Toopkhaneh Square.
The victory of Constitutional Revolution led to a new phase in the reign of Qajar kings. Ahmad Shah, the last of Qajar kings, passed through Toopkhaneh during his coronation. His successor Reza Shah, the founder of Pahlavi dynasty and his son did the same thing at the time of their coronation. In the wake of his coup and the establishment of Pahlavi rule in Iran, Reza Shah ordered Karim Buzarjomehri, the mayor of Tehran at the time, to destroy the gates surrounding the square. The new municipality was erected at the site of the northern hojrehs. A new building inspired by the Russian architecture of the buildings around Palace Square in Saint Petersburg was constructed as the new Telegraph Office in place of the old one. The same thing happened in the eastern side by the destruction of the old Royal Bank and the establishment of the new Bank of Commerce. Another development in the radical transformation of the square was the foundation of Nazmieh (police headquarters) on the ground of the former Ghurkhaneh (Arms Factory). Nazmieh grabbed the attention of the public when Mohammad-Taqi Bahar, one of the greatest names in Iranian modern literature, was incarcerated in it for a short time. It was during the same time that Toopkhaneh came to be known as Sepah Square. The square became immensely popular with its grand fireworks on national holidays and nighttime decorative lightings. Later Nazmieh gave place to Iranian Traffic Police headquarters and kept its function until it turned into ashes in the riots leading up to the Iranian Islamic Revolution.
After his death, the body of Reza Shah was transferred to Ray through Toopkhaneh Square. After his fall, the square became the place of political gatherings and demonstrations. Reza Shah’s statue installed in the middle of the square during his reign was pulled down and crushed on 17 August 1953 during the rule of his son Mohammad Reza by the supporters of Mohammad Mosaddegh, the prime minister at the time. Two days later Iranian coup d'état of 1953 took place and the followers of Mosaddegh were quelled violently by the army and pro-Shah mobs. The statute was restored but saw a similar fate twenty-six years later during the Islamic revolution of 1979 which abolished the monarchy altogether.
Toopkhaneh square was regrettably transformed during the sovereignty of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who ordered the destruction of the municipality and telegraphy buildings, replacing them with a tall and graceless building now known as the Building of Telecommunication and a set of parking spaces and bus stations thus disfiguring the former finesse of the square.
Nowadays, the only remnants from the old design of Toopkhaneh are the shrine of Emamzadeh Ruhollah located behind the Building of Telecommunication on the southern side, the Museum of Ostad Sanaati on the northwest and the building of the Bank of Commerce on the eastern flank. The civic management of Tehran intends to restore the building of municipality in its former location but the plan is still in abeyance. However people still call the shops around it as “shops behind the municipality”.
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