Tehran ( pronunciation (help·info)) (Persian: تهران Tehrān; pronounced [tehˈɾɒn]), is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With a population of around 8.3 million and surpassing 14 million in the wider metropolitan area, Tehran is Iran’s largest city and urban area, and the largest city in Western Asia.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, Tehran has been the subject of mass migration of people from all around Iran. The city is home to many historic mosques, churches, synagogues and Zoroastrian fire temples. However, modern structures, notably Azadi (Freedom) Tower and the Milad Tower, have come to symbolise the city. Tehran is ranked 29th in the world by the population of its metropolitan area. Throughout Iran’s history, the capital has been moved many times, and Tehran is the 32nd national capital of Iran although it has been Iran’s capital for about 220 years. Although a variety of unofficial languages are spoken, roughly 99% of the population understand and speak Persian. The majority of people in Tehran identify themselves as Persians. In pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Tehran was an unimportant village and part of the area of present-day Tehran was occupied by Ray (which in the Avesta occurs in the form of Ragha), now a part of the city of Tehran, which took over its role after the destruction of Ray by the Mongols in the early 13th century.
An important historical city in the area of modern-day Tehran, now absorbed by it, is known as Ray, which is etymologically connected to the Old Persian and Avestan Ragha. The city was a major area of the Iranian speaking Medes and Achaemenids.
In the Zoroastrian Avesta, Videvdad, i, 15, Ragha is mentioned as the twelfth sacred place created by Ahura-Mazda. In the Old Persian inscriptions (Behistun 2, 10–18), Ragha appears as a province. From Ragha, Darius the Great sent reinforcements to his father Hystaspes (Vishtaspa), who was putting down the rebellion in Parthia (Behistun 3, 1–10).
The Damavand mountain located near the city also appears in the Shahnameh as the place where Freydun bounds the dragon-fiend Zahhak. Damavand is important in Persian mythological and legendary events. Kayūmarṯ, the Zoroastrian prototype of human beings and the first king in the Shahnameh, was said to have resided in Damāvand. In these legends, the foundation of the city of Damavand was attributed to him. Arash, the archer who sacrificed his body by giving all his strength to the arrow that demarcated Iran and Turan, shot his arrow from Mount Damāvand. This Persian legend was celebrated every year in the Tiregan festival. A popular feast is reported to have been held in the city of Damavand on 7 Šawwāl 1230, or in Gregorian calendar, 31 August 1815. During the alleged feast the people celebrated the anniversary of Zahhak’s death. In the Zoroastrian legends, the tyrant Zahhak is to finally be killed by the Iranian hero Garšāsp before the final days.
In some Middle Persian texts, Ray (Ragha) is given as the birthplace of Zoroaster although modern historians generally place the birth of Zoraster in Khorasan. In one Persian tradition, the legendary king Manūčehr was born in Damavand.
During the Sassanid era, Yazdegerd III in 641 issued from Ray his last appeal to the nation before fleeing to Khorasan. The sanctuary of Bibi Shahr-Banu situated in modern Tehran spur and accessible only to women is associated with the memory of the daughter of Yazdegerd who, according to tradition, became the wife of al-Husayn b. Ali, the third Shi’ite Imam. Ray was the fief of the Parthian Mihran family and Siyavakhsh the son of Mihran the son of Bahram Chobin resisted the Arab invasion. Because of this resistance, when the Arabs captured Ray, they ordered the town to be destroyed and ordered Farrukhzad to rebuild the town.
In the 10th century, Ray is described in detail in the work of Islamic geographers. Despite the interest of Baghdad displayed in Ray, the number of Arabs there was insignificant, and the population consisted of Persians of all classes. The Ghuzz Turks laid Ray to waste in 1035 and in 1042, but the city recovered during the Saljuqid and Khwarazmian era. The Mongols laid Ray to complete waste and according to Islamic historians of the era, virtually all of its inhabitants were massacared. The city is mentioned in later Safavid chronicles as an unimportant city.
The origin of the name Tehran is unknown. Tehran was well known as a village in the 9th century, but was less well-known than the city of Rhages (Ray) which was flourishing nearby in the early era. Najm al-Din Razi known as Dayya gives the population of Ray as 500,000 before the Mongol invasion. In the 13th century, following the destruction of Ray by Mongols, many of its inhabitants escaped to Tehran. In some sources of the early era, the city is mentioned as “Rhages’s Tehran”. The city is later mentioned in Hamdollah Mostowfi’s Nuz’hat al-Qulub (written in 1340) as a famous village.