Have you ever felt that you needed some alone time with a book in an open area with greenery all around? Tehran’s readers now have that. Despite being notorious for its cultural censorship policy, on Wednesday, Iran’s capital unveiled its long-awaited “Book Garden.” The largest reading center in the region, the garden is spread over around 65,000 square meters (700,000 square feet) and aims to encourage Tehran’s children to read and engage in cultural discourses and events.
“The opening of the Book Garden is a big cultural event in the country, so that our children can make better use of this cultural and academic opportunity,” says Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. At its center, Book Garden is home to movie theaters, science halls, classrooms, a restaurant, and a prayer room; on its roof is a green park for reading.
The Book Garden was first brought up in 2004 as a complimentary public space for the country’s International Book Fair. Although the garden’s construction was completed last spring, it was still not ready to receive readers, with organizers stocking up books for the past few months, creating a library of over 400,000 titles of children’s literature alone. The Book Garden has short shelves tailored specifically to young children, so they can reach books without asking for an adult’s help.
The launch of the library is somewhat ironic given Iran’s reputation of censoring words and banning books. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once used the words “poisonous, dangerous and addictive drugs” as synonyms for literature, and he has notoriously censored words like kiss, wine, drunk, dog, and dance, as well as banning whole books like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, James Joyce’s Ulysses and Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With a Pearl Earring. The Book Garden could either be a weapon to gradually neutralize Khamenei’s war on liberal literature or become the leader’s weapon to enforce his favored ideologies and imprint the country’s ultra-conservative values and convictions on young Iranians just learning to read.