The unclear fate of Ferdowsi square and its statue

14 years have passed since Bahman 1387 (January 2008), when the hype of the construction of a twenty-one-story tower called Shahnameh Tower was raised in newspapers and magazines. Media, in those days, quoted the experts who wanted this project to be stopped, as saying “The Shahnameh Tower that is being built around the square will cause this valuable work to remain off the world record.”

Years after that, on 9th Tir 1401 (June 22nd, 2022) ISNA news agency reported another mishandling: washing of the statue by the City was done improperly, and the statue became 2-colored. On 21st Shahrivar this year ISNA wrote: “Now, after two months have passed since this incident was reported, Tehran’s beautification organization has announced that it will restore Ferdowsi’s statue after 63 years of its construction by using all the specialized academic capacities needed. And will repair its 2-color state.”  To find out whether the statue has been renovated after 4 months since the City’s news about renovation, and whether the Shahnameh Tower are going to be built, after all the tricks the experts have played to prevent its construction, I went to this square.

Most of the time, I commute from Tehran Pars towards Enghelab Square without paying attention to the places on the way. This time however, with the intention of preparing a report on the Ferdowsi Square, I boarded the BRT bus in Tehran Pars for the destination of Ferdowsi square. In the bus, I was wondering whether the city had fulfilled its promise and like Ferdowsi statue in Rome’s Piazzale Square (both statues built by an Iranian sculpture and both in bad condition due to bad weather) was renovated and saved, had done the needed repair. I was in my thoughts when the bus loudspeaker announced that it had reached Ferdowsi Square. I got off the bus and as I started leaving the bus stop and go towards the south wing of the Square I caught sight of an Arabic text on the glass pane and to my surprise, it was Ferdowsi’s famous verse, right in front of his statue:

I worked on this book for 30 years

to bring the Persian language to life again

On the south wing of the Square I so Ramin pharmacy. I had seen this pharmacy before in the old pictures of Tehran and was glad that they didn’t destroy this one at least. This pharmacy is renovated and has a fresh new look. It occupies part of a 2-story building which also has in it currency exchange shops, and a street food vendor, on the ground floor of this building. This building has a semi-circular shape and built of narrow yellow bricks. some stores selling dollars and also peddlers can be seen everywhere on this side of the Square, where customers are lined up in front of the exchange shops to buy dollars and gold coins against their ID (or without it). I have passed by this square on foot and sometimes by bus, for several years. However, this time I stopped and observed this Square through scrutinizing eyes. I suddenly found myself a newcomer in this Square, and felt like a stranger there. This was not the same Square that I had walked through with my father and would watch the white statue of Ferdowsi standing proudly on top of a stone slab.

Today is the 8th of Bahman 1401, and the weather is slightly cleaner than the previous days. But still it isn’t easy to see the statue. The statue, which was black from soot, only a few parts of the clothing had been washed, which had turned white and created an ugly sight, and the boy At Ferdowsi’s feet was covered in soot, and difficult to see what it was.

Now it is the statue itself that is facing destruction. When air pollution is at its peak, it can be no longer seen, as though the figure has been stolen.  Ferdowsi sadly thinks about his fate: “Shahnameh no longer has a happy end; instead there is destruction in the end. I remembered a statement from the sculptor’s son – Fereydoun Sediqi (son of Abul Hasan Khan Sediqi) – that I had read before; He said that the second statue, placed in the middle of the square before this one, was very ugly in terms of its anatomy and structure. But this statue is no less ugly. Maybe if someone doesn’t know this statue’s background, he will ask himself: Why doesn’t the municipality remove it from here, replace it, or paint it? Of course, I will try to tell the history of this statue on this square for our readers in another article. If you look closely at the figure, behind the figure, there is a mast installed with a traffic control camera and several small speakers pointing to the four sides of the square, which itself causes visual damage to the statue.

At the foot of the statue, you can see strings with small colored flags attached to them hanging there to decorate the square. Wouldn’t it be much better and more beautiful if they rebuilt the statue instead of these strings? The ground at the foot of the figure is in no better shape than this famous statue. The lawn of this ground around the statue is dry with a water fountain with no water in it, and some wires with color lights that are lit only on Nowruz nights to show the water in the water fountain. But, the interesting thing that caught my attention were two boulder-like rocks; one attached to the statue’s base, and the other a little bit farther away, and both have engraved marks like a frame. Inside the square at the bottom of the figure, a tube in the form of a white cane is sticking out of the ground. I wanted to go inside the square, but the density of cars there stopped me from doing so. A metal fence has been stretched around the court, which prevents the crowd from entering the foot of the statue. When I looked closely at the statue, the figure was placed facing the south, its face was facing the west, and its gaze was forward. Perhaps Ferdowsi was disappointed that these eastern people would rush to his aid, and now his eyes and hope are on the western people. Maybe they will think to free him from this suffering, but Zal has not lost hope and always looks ahead.

Shahnameh Tower

A group of lovers of cultural heritage said: The fact that this statue has not been registered as a part of the world-historical monuments and the agents have not shown any attention to the meetings and the expression of the views of cultural heritage experts became an incentive for the builders of the Shahnameh Tower to use this incident. And this tower is like the demon of Shahnameh and spreads its ominous shadow over Ferdowsi’s head.

The interesting point is that when I asked the people who lived there, where is Shahnameh Tower? No one knew; either they shook their heads and said no, or they said they didn’t know. Even the old pharmacist inside Ramin Pharmacy needed to find out where this tower was. Someone guided me and said it might be inside Ferdowsi Passage, which is on Ferdowsi Street. Of course, Shahnameh Tower is a tall building, so how can this tall tower be placed inside a passage? To find this tower, I decided to walk round the square’s north side after crossing the street. When I wanted to enter the sidewalk I saw fences erected to prevent entry of motorcycles to the sidewalk, at the same time barring the use by mothers with baby carriages, and also people with disabilities. Finally, I went to the northern corner of the square, where I saw peddlers who had spread their sales by the subway entrance. One has a tent right next to the glass wall of the subway entrance and sells books. I went forward. A young boy with hair tied back was sorting books. First, I took a look at his books. There is no mention of the Shahnameh book or the love stories of Bijan and Manizheh and Khosrow and Shirin in his spread out table, and most of his books are foreign novels such as Le Père Goriot and One Hundred Years of Solitude, etc.

I said, “Excuse me, sir, do you know where the Shahnameh tower is?” At first, he said, “I don’t know, but then he looked around and showed me a wall of a six-story building, on the east side of which was a painting of a shahnameh battle, and there were inscriptions all over it, and he said: “I think this is it.”  Maybe it was because of the painting and poems written around it that he thought this was the Shahnameh tower. I thanked him and went to the wall and looked at the painting. It was a depiction of a shahnameh story teller (naqal). I tried to read the poems on it but couldn’t. It could be because I wasn’t familiar with this type of handwriting. As soon as I turned my head, I saw myself right before a tall tower on the south-west of the square, with an inscription saying “Bank shahr”. I said, “Maybe it is the Shahnameh Tower, which they say is the same tower, but this structure has no resemblance to the Shahnameh, and they named it Bank Shahr.” I said to myself that it is better to search on the Internet. I googled with my mobile Internet and found an interesting answer for the Shahnameh tower. I made a complete circle on this side of the square. My guess was correct. That same tower had been named “Bank Shahr”.

Abbassi Carpet Museum

On the eastern corner of Sepahbod Qarani St. (Fisher Abad) is a building with the name Abbasi Carpet Museum written on its plaque, which is a four-story building. When I arrived in front of it, I saw an all-glass door right in front of Ferdowsi Square. Above the entrance gate and its entrance wall (like the entrance of old mosques), it is decorated with turquoise tiles with the pattern of flowers and nightingales. Though this tile work looks good and eye-catching, it looks out-of-place in this square; instead they could have used scenes from the Shahnameh.

I looked at the statue for the last time, and this time the figure turned its back towards me as it had lost its hopes in me too; maybe he had hoped that I am the Rostam Dastan who has come to relieve him from the pollution and filth, or as though Zahak had thrown Ferdowsi into the same prison that he had been put in. I decided to go once more towards the square and bid farewell to Ferdowsi; because the way things looked the next time I would be in this place there would be no sign of him and even the name of the square would have been changed.  I crossed and walked to the other side of the square and when I was in front of the statue I started speaking with it: “Why is your back towards the north? You could watch the Alborz range better from that side.” But when I took a look at the back of the statue I couldn’t see any mountain: just a tall and grey building. That is when I realized why Ferdowsi is looking on the other side.  Of course I know he doesn’t have the heart to look even in front of him so he is looking towards the west, maybe he wants to watch the sun set and ask the sun to put a stop to all this injustice of our time.

With great sadness, I was thinking what all we are doing to our famous squares and our famous men of history, and is there a way to change the face of these squares. I went to the bus station on the west side of the square to get on one of those buses and return home. On the way back Ferdowsi’s statue, its loneliness and the suffering we are imposing on this statue was occupying my thoughts.


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September 26, 2023