Recently, I was taking a stroll around central Tehran, when I found out by accident, that the former US embassy site, which was the focus of the world for 444 days during a hostage crisis, has been turned into a public museum!
This is the first time since the embassy was stormed by students 38 years ago in November 1979. I heard rumours before that allegedly the embassy was supposed to be open a single day of the year for visitors. The staff inside the museum told me otherwise, though. They said that the gates have never been open to the public before, and that the museum just opened not even three months ago in November 2016.
The ticket price is 100.000 rials for foreigners, and it is free for Iranians. The embassy was always known as the “US den of espionage”, although now the name for the museum is “13 Aban museum-garden of anti-arrogance”.
13 Aban refers to the day in the Persian calendar when the embassy was seized.
Outside the actual embassy buildings is political art, mocking former US president Barack Obama as a Salafi muslim, or several pieces of art against the state of Israel and generally how the USA and the United Kingdom are supporting it. There is also photography showing police brutality against peaceful demonstrators in the US, or the remains of an US army helicopter that was sent to Iran in April 1980 to ex-filtrate the hostages from the embassy. The mission was cancelled by president Ronald Reagan because of its bad planning and several accidents, one leading to the loss of said helicopter in a sand storm.
The visit inside the building itself doesn’t take more than an hour. You’ll get access to the first floor via a staircase that is painted with a political mural depicting the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, or Theodor Herzl, the very man that made Zionism a popular idea.
Onwards, there is a room that was used for interrogations, and several exhibits showcasing the hidden purpose of the embassy: Eavesdropping on Iranian citizens from US soil. Several more rooms show encryption and decryption technology provided by the NSA, computer terminals, cabinets, and machinery that was used to destroy classified information when the embassy was stormed. After the seizure of the embassy, these shredded documents were put back together by the Iranian government and published in several books which are available to purchase at the embassy.
Generally, even as a foreign visitor one is able to grasp the information provided in the museum, although the English is sometimes poor. The end of the tour concludes with a screening room showing a small documentary and spotting a re-enacted scene of the moment of the embassy storming in the background.