Shahr-e Rey or simply Rey is located south of Tehran, in Tehran province. Formerly a distinct city, it has now been absorbed into the metropolitan area of Greater Tehran as the 20th district of municipal Tehran, the capital city of the country.
Historically known as Rhages, Rhagae and Arsacia, Rey is the oldest existing city in Tehran Province. In the classical era, it was a prominent city belonging to Media, the political and cultural base of the Medes. Ancient Persian inscriptions and the Avesta (Zoroastrian scriptures), among other sources, attest to the importance of ancient Rey.
The city was subject to severe destruction during the medieval invasions by the Arabs, Turks, and Mongols. Its position as a capital city was revived during the reigns of the Buyid Daylamites and the Seljuk Turks. Rey is richer than many other ancient cities in the number of its historical monuments. The Neolithic site of Cheshme-Ali, the reconstructed Median-era Rey Castle, the Parthian-era Rashkan Castle, the Sasanian-era Zoroastrian Fire Temple of Bahram, and the once Zoroastrian and now Islamic Shrine of Bibi Shahrbanu are among the many archaeological sites in Rey.
Rey has been home to many historical figures, including royalty, merchants, scholars and poets. Medieval Persian scholar Rhazes, one of the most important figures in medical science, was from Rey.
Agricultural settlements were long established as part of the Central Plateau Culture on local foothills such as that of Cheshme-Ali in northern Rey, which dates back to around 6,000 BC. The establishment of Rey has been attributed to ancient mythological monarchs, and it is also believed that Rey was the seat of a dynasty of Zoroastrian leadership.
The Achaemenid Behistun Inscription mentions Rey as a part of Media, which was the political and cultural base of the ancient Medes, one of the ancient Iranian peoples.
Rey was one of the main strongholds of the Seleucid Empire. During the Seleucid period, Alexander the Great’s general Seleucus I Nicator renamed the city as Europos, honouring his home city in Macedonia. Rey was used as one of the shifting capitals of the Parthian Empire.
The Bahram Fire Temple (Teppe Mill) is a Zoroastrian fire temple from the time of the Sasanian Empire in Rey, Iran.
Under the Sasanian Empire, Rey was located near the centre of the empire. It was the base of the powerful House of Mehran and the House of Spandiyad, two of the Seven Great Houses of Iran during the Sasanian period.
Siyavash, the son of Mehran and the last King of Rey in the Sasanian Empire, was defeated fighting the Arab invasion in 643. Rey was then used as a campsite under Arab military occupation. By the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, Rey was considerably restored and expanded into a new city named Mohammadiya.
The Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine, a shrine containing the tomb of Abd al-Aziz al-Hasani, a fifth-generation descendant of Hasan ibn Ali and a companion of Muhammad al-Taqi, was built in the 9th century. It remains the main Islamic sanctuary of the city to date.
A Tower of Silence, where Zoroastrians of after the Muslim conquest had come to put the bodies of the dead in the open, was built by a wealthy inhabitant of Rey on a hill in the 10th century. The tower, today in ruins and designated as Gabri (a term denoting “Zoroastrian”, adopted after the Muslim conquest), was reportedly soon taken by the Muslims.
Also dating to the 10th century is the Bibi Shahrbanu Shrine, which is the site of a former Zoroastrian temple dedicated to Anahita, the ancient Iranian goddess of the waters. The temple has been converted into a Muslim shrine claimed to be the burial of Shahrbanu, a legendary Sasanian princess who was captured by the Muslims and married Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is likely that the name Shahrbanu, meaning “lady of the land”, is in fact an attribution to Anahita, who bore the title banu (“lady”).
Rey was one of the capital cities of the Buyid dynasty. It was one of the cities that were equipped with rapid postal service, which was predominantly used for transferring official mails.
Rey was also the capital city of the Seljuk Empire in the 11th century. During this time, the city of Rey was at its greatest expanse. It had developed a great urban market that also benefited its neighbouring regions, including the once small town of Tehran, and had become a remarkable centre for silk weaving. Commercial goods imported by traders via the Silk Road were brought into the bazaar of Rey. One of the monuments that survive this period is the 12th-century Tughrul Tower, a brick tower built in 1140 that is attributed to Tughrul I, the founder of the Seljuk Empire.
Rey was home to a Shia Muslim community and some of the earliest Shia madrasas in Iran already in the 12th century, at least one established by Shia scholar Qazvini Razi, prior to the later Safavid official adoption of Shiism as the state religion.
Naghare-khane, a structure identified as a tomb from before the Mongol invasion, located outside the old city walls of Rey.
In the early 13th century, following the Mongol invasion of Iran, Rey was severely destructed. It was abandoned and eventually lost its importance in the presence of the nearby growing town of Tehran. Rey remained abandoned throughout the time of the Timurid Empire.
Amin Razi, a Persian geographer from Rey who lived by the time of the Safavid dynasty, attests to the “incomparable abundance” of the gardens and canals of his hometown. In 1618, Italian author Pietro Della Valle described Rey as a large city with large gardens that was administrated by a provincial governor but was not urbanized and didn’t seem to be inhabited.
The shrines of Shah Abdol-Azim and Bibi Shahrbanu, among other religious shrines throughout Iran, were notably reconstructed during the early modern period, using architectural techniques that were developed from the time of the Safavid dynasty to the time of the Qajar dynasty.
There is a relief located at Cheshme-Ali from the time of Fath-Ali Shah of the Qajar dynasty, who often used to explore the city, which shows the Qajar ruler in a hunting scene, replacing a former Sasanian relief that depicted an ancient Persian emperor in the same manner. It was engraved in 1831, and its surrounding was decorated with tablets covered with poetry.
In the middle of the 19th century, Rey was described as a place of ruins, the only settlement being around the Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine. Being the only important pilgrimage site in the vicinity to the royal court in the new capital Tehran brought more people to visit the shrine and a major restoration was sponsored by the court. Thus, between the years 1886 and 1888, under the reign of Qajar ruler Naser al-Din Shah, Rey became the first place in Iran to be connected to the capital by a railway. The railway had a short single line and transported a few steam locomotives that were colloquially called māshin dudi (“smoky machine”), between terminals that were called gār (from French gare).