Tabriz is the most populous city in northwestern Iran, one of the historical capitals of Iran and the present capital of East Azerbaijan Province. It’s located In the Quru River valley in Iran’s historic Azerbaijan region between long ridges of volcanic cones in the Sahand and Eynali mountains,
Tabriz contains many historical monuments, representing Iran’s architectural transition throughout its deep history. Most of Tabriz’s preserved historical sites belong to Ilkhanid, Safavid and Qajar. Among these sites is the grand Bazaar of Tabriz, which is designated a World Heritage Site. From the early modern era, Tabriz was pivotal in the development, movement and economy of its three neighbouring regions; namely the Caucasus, Eastern Anatolia and Central Iran. In the modern era, the city played a vital role in the history of Iran. As the country’s closest hub to Europe, many aspects of early modernisation in Iran began in Tabriz. Prior to the forced ceding of the Qajar dynasty’s Caucasian territories to Imperial Russia, following two Russo-Persian Wars in the first half of the 19th century, Tabriz was at the forefront of Iranian rule over its Caucasian territories. Until 1925, the city was the traditional residence of the Qajar crown princes.
According to some sources, the name Tabriz derives from tap-riz, from the many thermal springs in the area. Other sources claim that in AD 246, to avenge his brother’s death, king Tiridates II of Armenia repelled Ardashir I of the Sassanid Empire and changed the name of the city from Shahistan to Tauris, deriving from “ta-vrezh” (“this revenge” in Grabar). In AD 297, it became the capital of Tiridates III, king of Armenia.
The early history of Tabriz is not well-documented. The earliest civilization signs in the city belong to an Iron Age graveyard of 1st millennium B.C. which were unearthed in the late 1990s on the northern side of Blue Mosque. The city also inscribed as old as 714 B.C. as Tarui or Tauris, on the Assyrian King Sargon II’s epigraph in 714 BC.
Since the earliest documented history of Tabriz, it has been chosen as the capital for several rulers commencing from Atropates era and his dynasty. It is likely the city has been destroyed multiple times either by natural disasters or by the invading armies. The earliest elements of the present Tabriz are claimed to be built either at the time of the early Sassanids in the 3rd or 4th century AD or later in the 7th century. The city used to be called T’awrēš in Middle Persian.
After the Muslim conquest of Iran, the Arabian Azd tribe from Yemen resided in Tabriz. The development of post-Islamic Tabriz began as of this time. The Islamic geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi says that Tabriz was a village before Rawwad from the tribe of Azd arrives at Tabriz. In 791 AD, Zubaidah, the wife of Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, rebuilt Tabriz after a devastating earthquake and beautified the city so much as to obtain the credit for having been its founder.
In 1208, Tabriz, as well as its adjacent cities and territories were conquered by the Kingdom of Georgia under Tamar the Great, as a response to the massacre of 12,000 Christians in the Georgian-controlled city of Ani on Easter day by Muslims. In nearby Ardebil, conquered by the Georgians as well, as many as 12,000 Muslims were killed. The Georgians then pushed further, taking Khoy and Qazvin along the way.
After the Mongol invasion, Tabriz came to eclipse Maragheh as the later Ilkhanid Mongol capital of Azerbaijan until it was sacked by Timur in 1392.
Chosen as a capital by Abaqa Khan, fourth ruler of the Ilkhanate, for its favoured location in the northwestern grasslands, in 1295, his successor Ghazan Khan made it the chief administrative centre of an empire stretching from Anatolia to the Oxus River and from the Caucasus to the Indian Ocean. Under his rule, new walls were built around the city, and numerous public buildings, educational facilities, and caravansarais were erected to serve traders travelling on the ancient Silk Road. The Byzantine Gregory Chioniades is said to have served as the city’s Orthodox bishop during this time.
In the 13th century, many western expediters who visited Tabriz on their way to the east were amazed by the richness of the city, its magnificent buildings and its institutions.
Marco Polo, who travelled through the Silk Road and passed Tabriz about 1275, described it as: “a great city surrounded by beautiful and pleasant gardens. It is excellently situated so the goods brought to here coming from many regions. Latin merchants specially Genevis go there to buy the goods that come from foreign lands.”
From 1375 to 1468, Tabriz was the capital of Qara Qoyunlu state in Azerbaijan, until the defeat of Qara Qoyunlu ruler, Jahan Shah by Ag Qoyunlu warriors. Ag Qoyunlus selected Tabriz as their capital from 1469 to 1501. Some of the existing historical monuments including the Blue Mosque belong to the Qara Qoyunlu period.
In 1501, Ismail I entered Tabriz and proclaimed it the capital of his Safavid state. In 1514, after the Battle of Chaldiran, Tabriz was sacked by Selim I. On 16 July 1534, prior to the Ottoman conquest of Baghdad, Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha occupied Tabriz. In 1555, Tahmasp I transferred its capital to Qazvin to avoid the growing threat of the Ottoman army to its capital.
Between 1585 and 1603, Tabriz was under occupation by the Ottomans. After it was retaken by the Safavids under Abbas I of Persia, the city grew as a major commerce centre, conducting trade with the Ottoman Empire, Russia, and the Caucasus. Tabriz was occupied and sacked by Ottoman Murad IV in 1635, during the Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39), before being returned to Persia in the Treaty of Zohab in 1639.
In the summer of 1721, a large earthquake shocked Tabriz, killing about eighty thousand of its residents. The devastation continued in 1724–1725 when the city was invaded by an Ottoman army. During this round of invasion, the Ottomans imprisoned many in Tabriz and killed about two hundred thousand residents. The city was subsequently retaken by the Iranian army, after which a widespread famine, combined with the spread of fatal diseases, killed more of those who still remained. In 1780, a major earthquake hit near Tabriz and killed as many as two hundred thousand people, leaving only about thirty thousand survivors.
At the end of the 18th century, the city was divided into several districts, each of which was ruled by a family, until 1799, when the Qajar Prince Abbas Mirza was appointed as the governor of the city.
During the Qajar dynasty, the city was the residence of the Crown Prince. The crown prince normally served as governor of Azerbaijan province as well. Some of the most important events in this period were the wars between Qajar Iran and neighbouring Imperial Russia. Prior to the forced cession of Iran’s Caucasian territories—comprising what is now Georgia, southern Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia—to Imperial Russia following the two Russo-Persian Wars of the first half of the 19th century, Tabriz, being strategically located, was instrumental to the implementation of Iranian rule in its Caucasian territories. During the last Russo-Persian War, the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828, the city was captured for Russia in 182 by General Prince Eristov, who marched into the city with 3,000 soldiers. After Abbas Mirza and Ivan Paskevich signed the peace treaty, which granted for the irrevocable cession of the last remaining Caucasian territories, the Russian army retreated from the city. Nevertheless, Russian political and military influence remained a major force in Tabriz and north-northwestern Iran even until the fall of the Russian empire in the early 20th century. After the retreat of the Russian army, Abbas Mirza, the Qajar Crown Prince, launched a modernization scheme from Tabriz, during which he introduced Western-style institutions, imported industrial machinery, installed the first regular postal service, and undertook military reforms in the city. He also began a rebuilding campaign and established a modern taxation system.
Thanks to the geographical closeness to the West and to communications with nearby countries’ enlightenment movements, Tabriz became the centre of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution movements between 1905 and 1911, which led to the establishment of a parliament in Iran and the formation of a constitution. Sattar Khan and Bagher Khan, two Tabrizi reformists who led the Tabriz people’s solidarity against the absolute monarchy, had a great role in the achievement of the goals of Iran’s constitutional revolution. In 1909, Tabriz was occupied by the Russian forces. Four months after the constitutional revolution’s success, in December 1911, the Russians reinvaded Tabriz. After crushing the local resistance by invading Russian troops, they started suppressing the constitutional revolutionaries and residents of the city. Following the invasion, Russian troops executed about 1,200 Tabriz residents. As a result of the campaign, Tabriz was occupied by the Russian forces between 1911 and 1917.
From the very start of World War I, Iran declared neutrality. When the war erupted on a full scale, Tabriz and much of northwestern-northern Iran had already been de facto occupied by Russia for several years. In later years of World War I, the Ottoman troops intervened and took control of the city by defeating the Russian troops stationed there. By this time, the Ottoman army led by Enver Pasha threatened the whole Russian army in the Caucasus region. Russian troops recaptured the city from the Ottomans at a later stage of the war. By escalation of the revolution in Russia, the Russian armies in Iranian Azerbaijan were evacuated, and the actual power passed into the hands of the local committee of the democrat party, with Ismail Nawbari at its head. Following Russia’s retreat, the Ottomans captured the city once again for a few months until the decisive end of the war and retreated thereafter.
After World War I, a new era in the county’s history began. Reza Shah, brigadier-general of the Persian Cossack Brigade, declared himself the king of the country following a coup d’état. He started with promises of modernization programs in Iran which was concentrated on the unification of the country, under the idea of one country, one nation. This included centralization of the power and imposing restrictions on the local culture, heritage, and language in Iranian Azerbaijan, and the city of Tabriz. The modernization and nationalization plan of Reza Shah continued until the surge of World War II.
In the final year of World War II despite the declaration of neutrality by the Iranian government, the country was occupied by the allied forces. The allied forces then urged Reza Shah to abdicate and installed his son Mohammad Reza as the new king of the country. The postwar situation was further complicated by Soviet aid to set up a local government called Azerbaijan People’s Government in Northwest Iran, having Tabriz as its capital. The new Soviet-backed local government was run by Ja’far Pishevari and held power for one year starting from 1946. Pishevari’s government gave more freedom to speech and education in the Azerbaijani language and promoted local cultural heritage and gained some popularity among the residents. However, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces, Pishevari’s limited armed forces were crushed by the Imperial Iranian Army and the Iranian government retook control of the city. One of the major establishments in the period of Pishevari’s government was the opening of the University of Tabriz which played a major role in the later political movements and protests in the region.