History of Tabriz, the capital of the Iranian Caucasus

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Tabriz is one of the few cities in Iran to have always been a point of reference for the country, so much so that it has long been its capital

The words of Ibn Battuta

“The next day, as we entered the city through the so-called Baghdad gate, we reached the immense Qazan market, one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in the world, where each trade has its own neighborhood, separate from the others.”

At the origins of Tabriz

Even if the first citizen finds date back to the 1st millennium BC, the sources concerning the birth of Tabriz are rare and fragmentary, thus not allowing to trace with certainty the role it occupied. Certainly, however, even if the center was already mentioned by the Assyrian king Sargon II in a text of 714 BC, it was under the control of Atropatene who began to be increasingly present on the maps; this domain was generated by Atropates, a Persian noble and general who, on the death of Darius III, swore allegiance to Alexander the Great, becoming its satrap. With the death of the great Macedonian, he managed to give life to his own dynasty which for centuries was a vassal of the major lineages of Persia.


However, the greatness of Tabriz will begin to manifest itself only with the arrival of the Arabs, and in particular of the Yemeni Azd, who placed their base here, so much so that the geographer Yaqut al Hamawi states that, before their arrival, it was nothing. other than a village. The city will then be destroyed by an earthquake and its reconstruction will be taken over by Zubaidah bint Ja’far, wife of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al Rashid, and it is said that she became so beautiful that many believed her to be the true founder of the city. In 1208 it passed for a short time under Georgian rule, then ending up in the hands of the Ilkhanids, under which it will become the capital starting from 1265.

From the Safavids to the Qajars

Under the new Mongol lords it will become one of the main centers for the Silk Road; not surprisingly, countless travelers went here, including the Venetian Marco Polo, who had only words of admiration and respect for her. With the fall of the Ilkhanids, Tabriz will pass first to the Turkish confederation of the Kara Koyunlu, then to the Ak Koyunlu and finally to the Safavids of Shah Ismail I, founder of the dynasty, who in 1501 made it his capital. The city, however, became a real curse for the new shah as, in 1534, it suffered a decisive defeat against the Ottomans of Selim I, allowing the latter to plunder it and bringing Ismail I to the most total depression, so much so that he spent the rest of his life getting drunk on his own vizier. His successor Tahmasp I moved the capital to Qazvin, but Tabriz will continue to be invaded several times throughout the Safavid domination; only with the arrival of the Qajar and the clashes with Russia will the Sublime Porte stop “visiting” its neighbors.


Unfortunately for the Qajar, during the Russian-Persian Wars the new enemies will invade this place in turn, withdrawing only following the Treaty of Turkmenchay, with which Persia definitively lost its dominions over the Caucasus in favor of Moscow. The importance of Tabriz will increase considerably towards the sunset of this dynasty as, right here, the Persian Constitutional Revolution will see the dawn.

The Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906

The Qajar were in fact for a long time succubus to Russia and Great Britain, which, with the passage of time, exponentially fueled the contempt felt by the people towards the absolute monarchy, leading them to rise more and more frequently. The first revolt was in 1890 and linked to the concessions on tobacco made by Nasir ad-Din Shah to the British, but the most interesting is certainly that of 1905, which the following year led to the writing of the first Iranian constitution ever. Mozaffar ad-Din Shah, third last ruler of the dynasty, will give his support in 1906 to the creation of the Iranian parliament, the Majlis; the sovereign will die however a few days after having ratified everything and his place will be taken by his son, Mohammed Ali Shah, decidedly opposed to this great novelty. In August 1907, however, an unforeseen event will happen which, at least for a few years, will give the shah the possibility of obtaining the future he had always dreamed of: the Anglo-Russian Entente. The two countries had in fact continuously challenged each other for domination over Asia, but with this agreement they decided to divide up their areas of influence, including those relating to Iran: the British would have the easternmost area of the country, while the Russians would have obtained the north-western area, leaving the areas to the Persians more central; obviously this idea clashed more than ever with the idea of a constitution and for this reason it had to be blocked by any means.


For this reason in 1908 Mohammed Ali Shah organized, with the support of the two new allies, a real attack on the new parliament, even having some of the constituent fathers executed. The revolutionaries, however, did not allow themselves to be disheartened, refusing to lose the treasure conquered with so much effort and thus returning to fight, with Tabriz in the very first line. This, made London and Moscow very nervous, they agreed to occupy the city with Russian troops, who remained here almost continuously until 1918, when the Romanov family was definitively eliminated.

Pahlavi and Revolution

Starting from 1920 the situation in Iran became really unmanageable, with many forces encircling the country, making it de facto ungovernable and subject even more than before to foreign influence and control; it will be Reza Khan, a brigadier general of the Persian Cossacks to change the fate of the country. He will arrive with his army in Tehran in 1921, dissolving the government and appointing Zia’eddin Tabataba’i prime minister and himself minister of war. The coup was partially assisted by the British and for Reza Khan it will be the beginning of an ever greater power over the country, which will lead him in 1925 to assume the office of Shah of Persia, thus putting an end to the Qajar dynasty and giving life to that Pahlavi. The new power will start from the early years a process of Persianization of the country, which will greatly limit the language and culture of Tabriz, which has always been linked to the Turkish-Azerbaijani world, causing strong discontent destined to explode with the Second World War. Shortly before that conflict, the new shah had tried to balance the role of foreign powers in the country, also establishing several treaties with Germany, which, combined with the withdrawal of some oil concessions, blew up London and Moscow, which in 1941 authorized the invasion of the country, bringing the two forces to Tehran and forcing Reza Pahlavi to abdicate in favor of his 22-year-old son, Reza Mohammad.


Although it has always remained neutral, Iran was attacked in the South by the British and in the North by the Soviets, who, exploiting the tensions between the Persians and Azeris, at the end of the conflict gave birth to the People’s Government of Azerbaijan, with Tabriz as its capital. This political entity lasted just a year, being destroyed in 1946 following some agreements between Iran and the Soviet Union, seen by many as a prelude to the Cold War for the role played by Washington and London against their old ally. For the next 30 years, Tabriz enjoyed a period of relative tranquility, although he lost much of his political power to Tehran. During the 1979 Revolution, the city participated in the front line in the fight against the Pahlavi, but was disappointed with the final result, not quite what was initially hoped for. In fact, a large part of the population supported the Great Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, a native of Tabriz and with very different ideas from Khomeini, so much so that he was soon placed under house arrest, dying in this condition in 1986. In recent years Tabriz has succeeded, despite the sanctions against Iran, to develop more and more, to the point of being the 6th most populous city in the country.

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