Cartography and Surveying in Iran in the Twentieth Century

In the twentieth century, cartography developed in Iran in three sectors – private cartographic and surveying companies, the army, and governmental civil institutions. The first private cartographic company, Sahab Geographic & Drafting Company, was founded in 1315 h sh/1936 by 'Abdolghasem Sahab (1265–1335 h sh/1886–1956) and led for most of the century by his son 'Abbas Sahab (1300–79 h sh/1921–2000), who was trained as an engineer. It began with publishing maps of Iranian history and physical geography. After 1945, it also produced road maps, maps for tourism, globes, maps of Iran's neighbors, atlases, posters, and school books. Ebadolahe Bakhtiar? (1306–62 h sh/1927–83), the husband of a sister of 'Abbas Sahab, founded in 1351 h sh/1972 the second private cartographic publishing house in Iran, Gitashenasi Geographical and Cartographic Institute. Being today the more active of the two, it has a similar range of products, including political, physical, historical, and topographical maps of Iran, its provinces and cities, road and street maps, maps for tourism and outdoor activities, maps of Asian countries, globes, books, and postcards. Since some time, the company produces its maps with computer technologies.

In the field of geophysics and surveying, two men shaped the face of modern practices and products in Iran – Mahmud Hisab? (1282–71 h sh/1903–92) and Taq? Riyahi (d. after 1989). Hisabi, a student of Albert Einstein, was educated as a civil engineer in Beirut and Paris and did his PhD in physics at the Sorbonne. Starting in 1928, he surveyed Iranian coastal roads and was a founder or cofounder of a number of institutions important for Iranian cartography, among them the country's first weather station (1931), Tehran University (1934), the Institute of Standards of Iran (1954), and the Geophysical Institute of Tehran University (1961). Hisabi worked for Mossadegh's government as the first general manager of the Iranian National Oil Company. Riyahi was a civil engineer who had studied at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. In 1952, he became Mossadegh's chief of staff. After the CIA coup in 1953, Riyahi was sentenced to 2 years of prison. In 1979, he worked for the head of the interim government after the fall of the Shah, Mahd? Bazargan (d. 1995), but left the country soon after to live until his death in France. In 1956, Riyahi founded with a partner the first private surveying company of Iran, Cherkate e Nesbi Naghsheh Bardari. The company began with land surveying in the year of its foundation, but quickly expanded into other fields, among them photogrammetry (1959) and terrestrial photogrammetry. It cooperated closely with the French company La Foncie`re registered in the French protectorate of Morocco. About 20 French engineers and technicians came to Iran providing expertise and bringing with them needed instruments for surveying and mapmaking. The company sent c. 25 of its employees for education to France, among them Nas.r Ghazal?, today's head of the company, who had to leave Tehran University due to political difficulties under the Shah; five or six to the Netherlands; and three to Switzerland. Renamed in 1967 as Rassad Surveying Company, it moved into hydrography, microgeodesy, orthophoto mapping, digital mapping, GIS design and implementation, tunnel drilling control, and industrial control surveying. Twice, it mapped half of Iran, the first time using photogrammetric methods, the second working with satellite material. Its main clients are oil and road companies, the municipalities of Tehran, Yazd, and Kish, and various ministries.

In 1921, the army founded its first group for cartography. The first tasks the engineers of this department carried out consisted in translating, correcting, and completing Russian and English maps of Iran and adjacent countries. Fourteen years later, the first books on Iranian geography illustrated with military maps were produced for educational purposes. Subsequently, the cartographic organization of the army began creating its own military maps. As in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, a major focus of military mapmaking was the exploration of the borderlands. As the National Geographic Organization, it is now the most powerful cartographic body in Iran and possesses the most advanced technology, for instance, for area photography. In 1953, Iran founded its first governmental institution for civil cartography, the National Cartographic Center (NCC). It started in 1948 as an engineering department of the Plan and Budget Organization. Working with foreign consultants and army officers, it carried out surveying work and planned the structure for the new governmental institution for mapping Iran. It focused its activities on three major domains. The first domain embraces the creation of terrestrial maps of various provinces, regions, and cities of Iran and works for producing a comprehensive map of the entire Iranian territory. NCC brought foreign engineers and technicians, mainly from France and the Netherlands, for surveying the country and trained students of mathematics and physics in cartographic methods and techniques. The second domain covers the charting of Iranian coastal and maritime areas, in particular in the Persian Gulf. The third major domain lies in creating the intellectual infrastructure for cartography in Iran. NCC created a research journal, organized conferences, published textbooks and the series National Atlas of Iran, and sponsored the translation of foreign publications. It has two special responsibilities – the supervision of all government contracts and area photography.

From 1941 onward, state bodies such as the Mining Administration, the Ministry of Agriculture, or the Ministry of the Roads ordered engineers to map the entities under their responsibility. Other governmental organizations, in particular institutes of Tehran University, the Geological Survey of Iran, and the Meteorological Survey of Iran, founded mostly in the second half of the twentieth century, produce specialized thematic maps on geology, geomorphology, geophysics, geochemistry, meteorology and soil or land use.