Iran’s city gears up for biggest Islamic tourism event

Tabriz in northwest Iran seeks to step out of the twilight with a spectacular gala which is set to attract heads of state, business leaders and gurus of the hospitality industry to the biggest tourism event of Muslims states in 2018.

6 February 2018
ID : 1536
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Tabriz in northwest Iran seeks to step out of the twilight with a spectacular gala which is set to attract heads of state, business leaders and gurus of the hospitality industry to the biggest tourism event of Muslims states in 2018.

The city, a key location on the Silk Road and a gateway to Europe and East Asia, has been named by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as the 2018 tourism capital of Islamic countries.  

The recognition has induced the city - once the center of culture and Islamic civilization and the seat of many diplomatic, political and international missions – to reinvent itself.

Tabriz is fabled to have been the historical site of the Garden of Eden. The city is one of the most ancient and largest in Iran, with a history of some 4,000 years.

According to the 13th century travelogue of Venetian merchant and adventurer Marco Polo, Tabriz attracted merchandise from India and Iraq, the Persian Gulf and many other places. At the time, it was the capital of the Persian empire which stretched from Egypt to Central Asia and from the Indian Ocean to Armenia.  

When Persia opened up to the West at the end of the nineteenth century, Tabriz became a European foothold as industry grew, making it Iran’s economic capital. The carpet, textile, footwear, cement and food processing industries that are still the key components of the city’s economy have roots in this period.

The city was also one of the first to embrace modernization and many of the new developments in Iran’s history used to happen in Tabriz, such as the print shop, public cinema, theater, municipality, kindergarten, school for the deaf and the dumb, modern school, newspaper and firefighting service.

Resurrecting image

Modern Tabriz has lost its position as Iran’s second city and economic hub, but it is still the largest metropolitan area in the northwest. The city is also a major heavy industry center for automobiles, machine tools, refineries, petrochemicals, pharmaceutical products, leather goods and carpets.

This pivot to industry has had its downsides, where tourism has been neglected overall. Tabriz gets very little limelight which it deserves in Iran’s promotion of the country’s splendid ancient heritage in places such as Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd and Mashhad.

The Azeri-speaking city has also a few image issues mostly rooted in the stereotypes which some Iranians bear toward it, one being the rumor that a Tabrizi would not answer you if you asked him for an address in Persian.

“… I experienced the city and its inhabitants as extremely friendly, sympathetic and helpful,” German author Christoph Werner writes in his book An Iranian Town in Transition: A Social and Economic History of the Elites of Tabriz.

Like many other Iranian Azeris, Tabrizis are “renowned for their business sense and seriousness” as put by Reuters reporter Jon Hemming.

Over the past few years, the ancient trading hub of labyrinthine bazaars has hurtled ahead on a remarkable course of expansion and development in spite of US-led sanctions which have impacted Iran’s economy in general.

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