More than any other single building in Iran, the former US embassy in Tehran and the events emanating from it have had a dramatic and profound influence on the recent history of the country. From a bunker beneath the embassy building, CIA operatives orchestrated a coup d’état in 1953 that brought down the government of Mohammad Mossadegh.
For the next 25 years, US support for and influence over Mohammad Reza Shah was implemented largely from this building. When the shah was finally pushed out, students who feared a repeat of the 1953 coup stormed the embassy and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. The rest – the birth of the Islamic Republic and the rise of fundamentalism throughout the region – is history.
Today, the former embassy is known as the US Den of Espionage and is used by the Sepah militia, a hardline group dedicated to defending the revolution. The interior of the chancery is preserved as a museum, with exhibits including incriminating documents that were painstakingly pieced back together after being shredded as the embassy was being taken over. Unfortunately, it’s rarely open to the public – usually only from 1 to 10 February.
Despite this, the embassy’s colourful history and more colourful murals along the front wall mean most travellers come for a look. The murals pronounce the evil of the ‘Great Satan’ (the USA) and Israel, including one in which the face of the Statue of Liberty is rendered as a skull. There’s no sign saying you can’t take pictures of these highly photogenic walls but be discreet. We’ve photographed the wall several times without trouble, but on one occasion we were briefly apprehended before persuading our half-hearted captors that we were just dumb tourists.
The Shohada Museum , diagonally opposite the US Den of Espionage, exhibits memorabilia and accompanying stories of martyrs from the Iran-Iraq War.