Historical Heritage and Gentrifying Actors in Contested Site of the Kaboud Mosque in Tabriz

Kaboud Mosque, a prominent historical heritage from 15th century is subject to dramatic changes in the immediate surrounding neighborhood since 1990. In 1997, new excavations found an ancient cemetery adjacent to the Mosque. This is the time of booming construction in the central neighborhoods of the city, after two decades of decentralized urbanism and peripheral residential constructions in Tabriz. While the Mosque itself is protected and restorated as a national icon, now the entrance to the ancient cemetery opens up to a commercial mall recently built in the city.

My paper examines the transformation of the Kaboud Mosque site in the last two decades. The site’s modern planning history starts fifty-five years ago, when the first Master Plan for Tabriz was drafted in 1961. Proposing the area to be the host to a large complex of greenery and leisure amenities surrounding the historical icon, the 1961 Master Plan recognizes the cultural and economic significance of the site. However, the touristic amenities proposed by the plan require large investments, which never materialized. The neighborhood surrounding the Kaboud Mosque remains deteriorated, where most of the lots are abandoned, left to land use change from residential to storehouses

The focus of this paper is on the transformation of the site since 1990, when the efforts to create a more disciplined urbanity through the incorporation of an economic logic into urban planning marked all local proposals for urban projects. Fixing the commercial and administrative zoning for the area, Tabriz Second Master Plan triggers the intensification of the commercial and residential land uses and encourages a boom in the real estate market in the area at times of limited access to undeveloped land in the city.
This paper draws from my fieldwork in 2014, including the study of all official planning documents, and interviewing some of the main actors who shaped the governance on the ground. I focus on how different social actors, including the local director of the Cultural Heritage Organization, the members of Master Plan team, the households living in the area, and owners and investors in the new commercial units have interacted in this site and how they perceive and conceive the site and its changes.