History Under Threat of Development in Iran

Isfahan is one of Iran's fastest growing cities. But it also has a distinct history -- one that is being threatened by the rapid pace of growth. Now, locals are trying to preserve the city's heritage.
April 5, 2009, 7am PDT | Nate Berg
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"After a brutal siege shattered that golden age in the early 18th century, new rulers eventually moved the capital to Tehran, leaving Isfahan to languish as a provincial backwater, which not incidentally left many of the old city's monuments intact. "One could explore for months without coming to an end of them," marveled British traveler Robert Byron on his 1933-34 journey across Asia."

"Today, however, the city is mainly known abroad as the site of Iran's premier nuclear research facility. What once was a sleepy town has emerged as the country's third largest metropolis, surrounded by expanding suburbs, belching factories and the choking traffic of more than three million people. Nothing symbolizes Iran's disconcerting modernity more than its launch, in February, of a satellite named Omid (Hope). In Isfahan, however, hope is a commodity in sharp decline. The elegant urban landscape that survived invasions by Afghan tribesmen and Mongol raiders is now threatened by negligence and reckless urban development."

"Mazaheri and Moslemzadeh are members of a new generation of Isfahanis who want to restore not just buildings but their city's reputation as a Persian Florence, one they hope will one day enthrall Westerners with its wonders once again."

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Published on Wednesday, April 1, 2009 in Smithsonian
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