In a bustling corner of Tehran, a secure compound remains untouched – a time capsule from 1979.

Inside the former US embassy in Iran original posters line the walls and desks sit preserved. Only graffiti dubbing it a "den of espionage" and proclaiming "death to America" provide clues as to what happened here.

Forty years ago, the retro scene provided the backdrop to a hostage crisis that became a defining event in Iran's Islamic Revolution and set the US and Iran on a collision course that threatens global security to this day, reports News.com.au.

For those who were there, memories of the protest that sparked the international hostage crisis that lasted more than one year and led the US to break off diplomatic ties to Iran, are fresh.

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At the time, militant Iranian students stormed the gates of the embassy and took 99 people hostage, including 66 Americans.

An anti-US placard in the former US Embassy which is now partly a museum in Tehran. Photo / AP
An anti-US placard in the former US Embassy which is now partly a museum in Tehran. Photo / AP

Nearly two weeks later, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered female and African-American hostages released, reducing the number held to 53.

They were held for 444 days, throughout a botched rescue attempt, with one more released due to illness. It was not until 20 January 1981 that the remaining 52 hostages got out.

Veteran Iranian photographer Kaveh Kazemi recalled snapping away with his camera as he stood behind the gate where the Iranian militant students ushered blindfolded American hostages to those gathered outside waving anti-American banners and calling for the extradition of the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

"Sometimes they would bring a US flag and burn it, put it in flames and then throw it among the crowd," said Kazemi, now 67, pointing to the spot.

"They would come and chant 'death to America,' 'death to the shah' … it changed the world as I knew it."

One of the former rooms in the embassy is frozen in time. Photo / AP
One of the former rooms in the embassy is frozen in time. Photo / AP

At the time, anger toward America had been growing throughout 1979 as Iran's revolutionary government took hold, but it boiled over in October when the United States took in the ailing shah for medical treatment.

After several protests, the Islamist students raided the embassy on November 4 and seized the hostages.

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It prompted President Jimmy Carter to expel Iranian diplomats and launch a failed rescue mission before the Americans were eventually released on the last day of his presidency.

The incident led the US to break off diplomatic relations with Iran and set the scene for decades of hostility amid an Islamic takeover that turned the country from a former US ally into perhaps its greatest adversary.

Many of those sentiments remain today amid the escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington, following the disintegration of Iran's 2015 nuclear deal and the subsequent US sanctions that have sent the Iranian economy into free fall.

'WE HAVE A BAD FATE'

Anti-US grafittie outside the former US embassy in 2018. Photo / Getty Images
Anti-US grafittie outside the former US embassy in 2018. Photo / Getty Images

Outside the former embassy's shaded red brick walls, which were in the process of being painted with anti-US murals for the upcoming anniversary, former protester Hossein Kouhi said he turned out in 1979 to denounce what he called US intervention in Iran's internal affairs, something he says continues today.

"I had a good feeling then, but we have had a bad fate," said Kouhi, now 76, as he blamed the US for shortages of medicines in Iran because of the sanctions.

"Even today, if we allow, it (the US) will come here to plunder Iran, just like it's doing to other countries in the region. No foreigner is a friend of Iran. They all lie."

Zahra Tashakori, a 41-year-old schoolteacher, agreed, saying she was glad the American presence was long gone.

"Look at their movies. They promote violence and other bad things in the societies," she said. "They ruined wherever they intervened in the region. Just look at Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria."

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, like his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, repeatedly hails the militants who took over the embassy as being "ahead of their time."

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order to increase sanctions on Iran. Photo / AP
U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a signed executive order to increase sanctions on Iran. Photo / AP

Others on the street, though, had a more nuanced view in hindsight.

"I believed the US Embassy should have been closed down officially, but not through takeover," said Ghasem Rabiei, 49.

"The US was opposing the Islamic Republic in many ways, so they should have been deported from our country, but peacefully and legally."

Reza Ghorbani, a 19-year-old engineering student at Tehran's Azad University, asked: "What is the result of this super long hostility? I do not say the US government is good, but these lengthy bitter relations have damaged Iran, too."

The US blames Iran for a series of mysterious oil tanker attacks this year and alleges it carried out last month's attack on the world's largest oil processor in Saudi Arabia, which caused oil prices to spike by the biggest percentage since the 1991 Gulf War.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a ceremony marking the beginning of the academic year at University of Tehran. Photo / Getty Images
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a ceremony marking the beginning of the academic year at University of Tehran. Photo / Getty Images

Iran denies the accusations and has warned that any retaliatory attack targeting it will result in an "all-out war," as it has begun enriching uranium beyond the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

Iran also shot down a US military surveillance drone and seized oil tankers, as the Trump administration insists upon continuing its "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.

As it does every anniversary, Iran plans to pack the streets outside the former embassy – rebranded as the "den of Espionage" – for another massive demonstration looking to fuel more anti-American sentiment for at least another year. For those who witnessed how it all began, it mostly serves as a reminder of all that it's cost them.

"People should not suffer because of the hostilities among the two countries," said Kazemi, the photographer.

"If countries want to kill each other, kill each other. But ordinary people should not suffer. The inflation, the sanctions, everything is affecting all the people every day."

Heller reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Mohammad Nasiri contributed reporting from Tehran.