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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

As the seat of the Kajar dynasty by Agha Mohammed


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER IX

Teheran--The seat of the Kajar family--The square of the gun--Sanctuaries--The Top Meidan--Tramways--A railway--Opposition of the Mullahs and population--Destruction of a train--Mosques--Habitations--Extortion and blackmail--Persian philosophy.

A description of Teheran is hardly necessary here, the city being so well-known, but for the help of people unfamiliar with its character a rough sketch of the place may be given.

Teheran, it must be remembered, has only been the capital of Persia for the last hundred years, when the capital was removed from Isfahan. Previous to that it was merely a royal resort and nothing more. In shape it was formerly almost circular--or, to be strictly accurate, polygonal, the periphery of the polygon measuring a _farsakh_, four miles. Like all Persian cities it was enclosed in a mud wall and a moat. Since then the city has so increased that an extension has been made to an outer boundary some ten miles in circumference, and marked by an uneven ditch, the excavated sand of which is thrown up to form a sort of battlement. Twelve gates, opened at sunrise and closed at night, give access to the town. The citadel, the ancient part of the city, contains the principal public buildings, the private residences of high officials, and the Shah's Palace. To the south of this are found the extensive

domed bazaars and the commercial portion of Teheran. To the north lies the European quarter with the Legations, Banks and European shops.

We will not go as far back as the Afghan invasion in 1728 when, according to history, Teheran was looted and razed to the ground by the Afghans, but we will only mention the fact, which is more interesting to us, that it was not till about 1788 that the city was selected on account of its geographical position and of political necessities, as the seat of the Kajar dynasty by Agha Mohammed, who in 1796 became the first King of his family. The Kajar, as everybody knows, has remained the reigning dynasty of Persia to this day.

The most interesting point of Teheran, in the very centre of the city, is the old "Place du Canon," where on a high platform is a gigantic piece of ordnance enclosed by a railing. In the same square is a large reservoir of more or less limpid water, in which at all hours of the day dozens of people are to be seen bathing. But the big gun attracts one's attention principally. A curious custom, which is slowly being done away with, has made this spot a sanctuary. Whoever remains within touch or even within the shadow of the gun--whether an assassin, a thief, a bankrupt, an incendiary, a traitor or a highwayman,--in fact, a criminal of any kind cannot be touched by the police nor by persons seeking a personal revenge--the usual way of settling differences in Persia. A number of distinctly criminal types can always be observed near the gun and are fed by relations, friends, or by charitable people. Persians of all classes are extremely charitable, not so much for the sake of helping their neighbours in distress, as for increasing their claims to a seat in Paradise, according to the Mussulman religion.

These sanctuaries are common in Persia. The mosques, the principal shrines, such as Meshed, Kum, the houses of Mullahs, and in many cases the bazaars which are generally to be found adjoining places of pilgrimage, afford most convenient shelter to outlaws. The Mullahs are greatly responsible for the protection of miscreants. By exercising it they are able to show their power over the authorities of the country--a fact which impresses the masses. That is why in the neighbourhood of many mosques one sees a great number of ruffianly faces, unmistakable cut-throats, men and boys whose villainy is plainly stamped on their countenances. As long as they remain inside the sacred precincts--which they can do if they like till they die of old age--they can laugh at the law and at the world at large. But let them come out, and they are done for.


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