Tehran is an incredibly vibrant, modern city with L.A-esq elevated highways, an impeccably clean and advert free metro system and a whole host of well-maintained parks and gardens. Throughout the city you can’t help but be astounded at the amount of gigantic murals, mosaics and sculptures all strategically placed and implemented with precision.
Mural painting has long been part of Tehran’s urban background. Prior to the revolution of 1979 the government would emblazon blank walls with their messages. During the revolution both the Shah and the revolutionaries that would eventually topple him used blank walls to propagate their ideas and messages. During the Iran-Iraq war, under the direction of the new prime minister, murals began to appear depicting heroic battle scenes. In post-war Tehran memorial murals of soldiers killed in the war dominate the skyline often looming down over highways from surrounding tower blocks, the faces of the martyrs ascending to heaven!
Thankfully the city’s now colourful image is in part thanks to Tehran Municipality’s Beautification Organization. Since 2004 this non-governmental body has commissioned over 800 murals with the idea of ‘beautifying’ the city. Many of the paintings are colourful, abstract and overtly non-political.
The remaining paintings, most of which have been completed by one prolific artist, are more surreal. With over 100 paintings under his belt Mehdi Ghadyanloo’s huge optically confusing dreamlike masterpieces have come to worldwide attention. His paintings are so popular in Tehran that he has fallen victim to imitators who try and mimic his style.
Ghadyanloo’s mastery of trompe l’oeil is hard to emulate; his paintings, often reminiscent of the dream sequences in Vanilla Sky or Inception, have a wry lucid wit about them. Buildings fold in on themselves; a painted sky merges with reality as flying cars offer a glimpse at a utopian future while gravity-defying humans walk in circles. If an imitator comes close to replicating his style he is certainly not likely to be able to duplicate Ghadyanloo’s wit.
Large grey facades are intersected with glimpses of clear blue skies leaving the unbroken concrete city skyline feeling airier and open. This expression of light and space can be seen as an optimistic glimpse of the future or a visual manifestation of a new attitude embraced by many Tehranis, either way these paintings dominate space that was previously only claimed by the government.
The account of the Iranian Royal Family prior, during and after the revolution of 1979 is an interesting one.
My interest in the story comes through my love of architecture. I’d previously learnt that Queen Farah Diba Pahlavi had studied architecture and after visiting her personal library at the Royal Palace of Niavaran I was curious to find out more. Unexpectedly I discovered that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation had three buildings registered in Iran; two of which were commissioned by Princess Shams Pahlavi, the deposed Shah's sister and her husband, Mehrdad Pahlbod - the then minister of culture and art.
The remaining building, The Damavand Higher Educational Institute, also has an inspirational story attached to it, one that will have to wait for another blog!
Of the two properties commissioned by the Princess, the summer residence known as Mehrafarin Palace in Chalous, is incredibly difficult to find any information on. My understanding is that it was never completed due to the revolution and I’m uncertain of its location or if it is actually still standing.
The most prestigious and spectacular of the two palaces, the Morvarid Palace, also known as ‘Pearl Palace’ in Mehrshahr, Karaj was completed in the early 1970’s and then promptly abandoned shortly before the revolution of 1979.
After the revolution the majority of the complex was occupied by a local Baseej Militia chapter who neglected its upkeep. For a very brief period of time the palace was open to the public but has been closed for many years and the uncertainty of it’s future has been greatly debated on the internet as photographs of its disrepair circulated.
Through a few carefully orchestrated enquiries by our film crew we were privileged enough to organise a visit to this truly remarkable building.
Frank Lloyd Wright is considered by many to be one of the most influential architects of the 20th Century. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation was set-up after his death in 1959 to manage his estate. As part of the foundation the Taliesin Associated Architectural practice was founded by Wright’s protégé and son-in-law William Wesley Peters to continue Wright’s architectural vision.
The Pearl Palace was designed primarily by William Wesley Peters, but undoubtedly Charles Montooth, Frances Nemtim and Cornelia Brierly contributed to the design. Associated senior fellow at Taliesin, Thomas Casey served as chief engineer and spent a considerable amount of time in Iran.
It is my understanding that when the Princess was presented with the original drawings she was so emotionally moved, because they had envisioned the Palace that she dreamed of, that she burst into tears and had to leave the room to collect herself.
Nestled into a large site over low-sloping hills adjacent to a small artificial lake, the palace is not what you’d typically expect a Princess’ palace to look like! The building is a study and exploration of the circular form. As we explored the space I struggled to spot a straight line or a room consisting of four walls.
The large central space was once covered by a huge tetra-dome Plexiglass matrix, the framework of which still exists, creating a huge greenhouse-like area filled with fountains, pools, gardens and communal spaces. Unfortunately now exposed to the elements many of the concrete steels have started to corrode and water damage is prevalent throughout the building.
Off this central space, satellite rooms are accessible by an internal incline, which gently ascends in a spiral, reminiscent of the ramp in Wright’s most famous building, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
The building clearly fits into Wright’s ‘organic’ architecture ethos, “form and function are one”. Offices, reception rooms, family living room, dining room and bedrooms are often joined in a very natural and fluid way through a series of ramps. The integrated spaces produce a coherent whole that feels incredibly natural to navigate. The large shell-like forms clearly echo nature and mimic the Fibonacci spiral, also poignantly named ‘The Golden Spiral’.
The building features uniformly placed diamond shaped wall lights throughout, on the interior and exterior, in its full illuminated glory the building must have looked somewhat UFO-like. Some interior spaces are lit through natural daylight bounced through small Perspex domed skylights in the ceiling.
The interior decorations are not overly typical of other Wright buildings, although the spirit of some of the decorative elements and the applied proportions are greatly reminiscent. Unlike other palaces of the Pahlavi era, traditional Iranian carpets and decoration are missing in Morvarid Palace. Instead contemporary 1970’s design is prevalent throughout, including an incredible Plexiglass staircase. The fixtures and fittings were selected to suit Iranian taste, moving around the building we are constantly dazzled by golden chainmail curtains, glittering geometric crystal chandeliers and perfectly proportioned golden coffee tables; one ‘entertainment’ room even features a Perspex billiards table!
In typical Iranian style nothing is left undecorated with the exception of the frequent application of Plexiglass and the occasional raw concrete surface, unlike characteristic Iranian pattern and tile work, the surfaces are generally covered in flat colour, predominantly gold! Lots and lots of gold!
The lavish interior, including numerous bars, hot tubs, saunas and a full size cinema, reeks of 1970’s hedonism. It’s easy to imagine a ‘Boogie Nights’ style party going on in the space or a Xanadu-esq roller disco. The Princess’ private bathroom with a matching golden toilet and hot-tub, rumoured to be filled with milk, are extravagances that feel more Hollywood than Iran.
The Princess demanded everything should be specially designed. Much of the furniture is integrated into the spaces including the Princess’ circular bed. Sham’s even commissioned John Hill who designed a golden silk bedspread that reportedly cost $25,000.
What is astounding about the building is that after nearly 36 years much of it has not been touched, looted or vandalised. The bed is still made and the golden silk bedspread is still in place, the original 1970’s Finnish Ball Chairs by Eero Aarnio are exactly as they were left, various wardrobe doors have been left open giving you the feeling that whoever left, left in a hurry. This may or may not be the case but the occasional knocked over sofa cushion certainly leaves you with this impression.
Unfortunately our visit was cut short due to a thunderstorm that shorted out the temporary lights that have been installed. We managed to look around a large majority of the building including the cinema of which I’d never seen any photographs. We didn’t however have a chance to look around the kitchen or the rooms towards the back of the building.
The gaudy ostentatious interior is considered by many of Wright’s fans to be an abomination whilst others consider it a masterpiece of 1970’s interior design.
It is this uniqueness, the diversity in the forms, decoration and materials that make the palace quite distinct from other Wright Foundation buildings. For this reason alone the building is not only an important part of Iranian heritage it is an important building architecturally.
In 2002, the building was recognized as important and registered by the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran. Walking around the building is mildly depressing; it is currently in need of massive repairs. Large areas of the reinforced concrete have been penetrated by water and will take a huge amount of work to repair. Thankfully we learnt that the building is now under new management. Redevelopment plans for high-rise apartment blocks on the estate have been scrapped and plans are being made to restore the building to its original state. Hopefully the new owners, who seemingly are intent on doing the right thing, can find the cash to restore this incredible building to its former glory.
American Steel in Iran
During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s Iran and the U.S.A. were chummy bedfellows but in the fickle world of politics, international relationships can turn sour very quickly. Iran’s pre-revolution links with the U.S.A. are, for me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the country’s recent history.
Throughout my lifetime the media has been telling us that the Islamic Iranian government has held fairly staunch anti western sentiments since the revolution of 1979. A claim backed up by Anti U.S. paintings in central Tehran where the side of a building is painted with a downwards facing ‘Stars and Stripes’ made of dropping bombs and skulls, the words “DOWN WITH THE U.S.A.” emblazoned across it in 2m tall letters.
From a western perspective what is interesting about post-revolutionary Iran are the remnants of America’s influence that have been absorbed into everyday Iranian popular culture.
On the surface there doesn’t seem to be any internal conflict between the acceptance of western symbols of consumerism and the Islamic government’s defiant standpoint on outside influence, this was after all one of the many reasons the revolution happened.
The irony is somewhat lost that cans of Coke and Pepsi are being sipped on every street corner by Levi wearing Muslims who are happy to embrace the west. Now the process of the removal of the sanctions has begun I suspect it won’t be long before Tehran sees its first McDonalds, unless the Islamic Republic stand strong!
For me though nothing says ‘The American Dream’ like a hulking great big lump of American steel, sculpted into a 1950’s futuristic vision of what a car should look like, with aerodynamic chrome tipped fins and bullet shaped chrome bumpers; a car so huge it should probably have two licence plates! In 1959 President Eisenhower drove through the streets of Tehran to cheering crowds in just this, a silver coloured Cadillac Eldorado gifted to the Shah.
Prior to 1979 Buicks, Chevys, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Plymouths and Jeeps were a common sight in Iran. Due to it’s relatively warm climate many of these vehicles have survived in pretty good condition. For some the American cars are just a car, they just happen to still own one because it still works after all these years. For others Iran’s vintage and classic car scene is hugely popular, especially with owners of American muscle cars (Camaros, Pontiacs, Monte Carlos, Mustangs and Chargers) with many groups organising gatherings and ‘spins’.
We’ve spotted many fine original examples as well as a few stunning restored vehicles (unfortunately we've seen very few parked up to photograph). The popularity and appeal of restoration doesn’t come easy though, restoring American vehicles and keeping them running is costly. Searching for parts outside of Iran is near impossible due to internet restrictions. If you manage to find the appropriate parts it is impossible to purchase anything online as all bank dealings with Iran are sanctioned.
The classic cars are not just beautiful, powerful, well built, luxury machines, but symbols of a different time, the embodiment of freedom with bench front seats, conducive for drive-in cuddles. The vehicles themselves, full of romanticism and nostalgia represent a era in Iran that many people would probably like to see return!
The foggy 1000-year old town of Masuleh in the north west of Iran near the Caspian Sea is nestled into a steep mountainside of the Alborz range. Masuleh’s draw is not its clean crisp mountain air but its unique architecture and grey weather. The village climbs steeply over 100-metre incline, it is this elevation that necessitates the buildings to be interconnected. The step-like structure climbs abruptly with the roof of the building below acting as the courtyard of the building above. The resulting roofs and courtyards function as pedestrian areas and streets. Due to its unique layout it is the only city in Iran where vehicular traffic is completely prohibited.
Typically the exterior of the buildings are coated with a yellow clay, apparently this allows for better visibility in the fog. Traditionally the buildings were constructed from adobe mud-bricks, timber rods and clay, a dense layer of dried fern is applied between the mud and wood timbers in the ceiling to insulate against the cold and wet.
Masuleh’s moisture heavy weather is created by a constant supply of warm air blowing across the Caspian from the expansive steppe of Kazakhstan, the temperate air hits the Alborz mountains creating heavy precipitation. The locals kept reminding us that the slightly depressing damp cold weather was just like England! Strangely, for many Persians this area is the most desired part of the country due to its ‘great’ weather! Thousands of Iranians flock here from the nearby cities of Tehran, Rasht and Qazvin to experience ‘the damp’.
The Tehran Derby
The Tehran Derby, FC Persepolis vs. FC Esteghlal, is one of the most infamous in football history. Also known as the Red-Blue Derby it’s certainly something an English supporter can relate to. Being a Manchester City supporter I was slightly pained to attend the Derby with a red shirt wearing Persepolis supporter. Due to its notorious history I opted to wear a nice neutral grey colour and play it safe, not that my pasty complexion and English accent was fooling anybody.
Unusually, considering the teams are competitive rivals, they share the 90,000 capacity, Azadi Stadium in the western outskirts of the city. Arriving at the stadium we are promptly separated from the blue flag waving Esteghlal fans who are directed to the other end of the pitch. The stadium looks like it is over capacity with thousands of people standing in the walkways around the top of the arena; from here the red/blue split is glaringly obvious.
Traditionally Persepolis was seen as a working class club whilst Esteghlal had close ties to the ruling establishment and was supported by the upper class of Iranian society. During the 70’s Persepolis was much more popular, now the fan base for each team is split fairly equally, although on derby day the percentage looks slightly in favour of Persepolis.
One Persepolis fan, to the jubilation of the crowd around us, takes a blue Esteghlal flag and with some derogatory chanting (probably about Esteghlal’s 6-0 defeat in 1973) promptly rips it up and stamps on it. Thankfully a fairly large buffer zone and riot police are keeping the two factions apart.
The fixtures reputation comes from it’s tarnished past; in 1995 angry Persepolis fans stormed the pitch after Esteghlal scored 2 goals in quick succession, one as a result of an apparently biased referee decision. Many fights broke out between fans and players. From this game onwards international referees were used.
In 2000, Esteghlal’s goalkeeper punched a Persepolis player in the face; a massive fight broke out on the pitch and after the game match hooligans rampaged through the streets completely destroying 250 city buses.
During the mid 2000’s the game was plagued with match-fixing accusations. The speculations climaxed after a very deliberate looking handball in stoppage time in 2009 resulted in one of six 1-1 draws in a row. The allegations were not helped by the fact that the same person owned both teams. Due to previous violence many believed match fixing was being used by the authorities to keep the peace between the fans. From this game onwards Iranian referees were used again, implying international refs couldn’t be trusted.
When the Persepolis players took to the pitch they immediately started to work the already feverish fans into a frenzy by throwing their tracksuits into the crowd. Sat amongst the 45,000 charged-up, tea-drinking, sunflower seed eating, hooter-blowing Persepolis fans it’s easy to get caught up in the passion.
Before the game a huge Number 24 shirt was held aloft by the fans, the name ‘NOROUZI’ emblazoned across the shoulders. Just a month earlier, Hadi Norouzi (#24), the Persepolis captain died of a heart attack in his sleep. As a sign of respect for the duration of the 24th minute of the game all the Persepolis, and some Esteghlal, fans chanted his name.
The first half was fairly uneventful and finished 0-0. During the interval the supporters around me discovered I’m English and started shouting the names of English players at me, interspersed with the odd cry of “Englistan I love you” and numerous ‘thumbs-up’. Annoyingly and much to my amusement being a City supporter, the name-calling culminated in a chanting of a chorus of “David Beckham, David Beckham, David Beckham” by about 20 Iranians.
Four minutes into the second half and Esteghlal score the first goal and the blue end of the stadium erupts into chanting and cheering that lasts for about 10 minutes whilst the red supporters at our end of the arena sink quietly back into their seats.
10 minutes later the heavens open and the second half of this damp Red-Blue Derby is all too familiar. This match could easily be Man City vs. Man United or Liverpool vs. Everton, the only difference being there are absolutely no women in this stadium, if there were, they probably would have bought umbrellas.
Towards the end of the second half someone from the Persepolis crowd throws what I can only describe as a stick of dynamite onto the side of the pitch, the resulting explosion shook the concrete stands and reverberated through the stadium whilst the massive cloud of smoke gently floated up. The large detonation marks the introduction of more riot police around the base of the stands.
In the 95th minute after a relentless, but futile attempt by Persepolis to equalise we start making our way to the gates to beat the crowds. In some kind of Manchester United-esq stroke of luck the ball ends up in the back of the net in the 96th minute and Persepolis equalise. The stadium goes mental and for once I’m happy the reds have managed to sneak in a cheeky goal in extra time!
The Paykan, which means "arrow" in Farsi, might not be a car model most people in the UK would have heard of, but in Iran where two million of the five million cars on the road are Paykans it is truly deep-seated into popular culture.
When we first arrived in Iran I kept on spotting the classic design that had a startling familiarity, but for the life of me couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. The rear end looked like a MK II Ford Cortina whilst the front end had a hint of Triumph Toledo to it. When I dug a little deeper it all fell into place…
The Paykan is essentially a 1967 Hillman Hunter. A classic British built car from an era of vinyl seats, mock wooden dashboards and steel sports wheels.
One year after production began in the UK the Iran National Motor Group which later became Iran Khodro started producing their own version of the Hunter. What is remarkable about this is that the 40-year old design was in production until 2005.
Originally in 1967 two models were available, the Deluxe and the Standard. Later, six models of Paykan were being manufactured: Deluxe, Pickup, Standard, GT, Taxi, and Automatic. In the mid 1980’s the Hillman engines were replaced with Peugeot units.
The Pickup also known as the “Bardo” is still in production although it does not achieve the required safety standards like having ABS and an Airbag.
Due to its prevalence, price, parts availability and simple mechanics it has been adopted by Iranian customised car enthusiasts as the ‘go to’ car for modifying, the Pickup model being equally as desirable to aficionados as the saloon model.
The classic styling lends itself to the American ‘Lowrider’ look, with the suspension slammed to the floor, whitewall tyres and chrome spoked wheels. On a daily basis we spot at least 3 or 4 modified examples of the classic “Arrow”. The Pickup model offers not only street cred but is still a useful functional vehicle for taking your sheep to the market.
After an astoundingly long production run the manufacturing rights for the Paykan have now been acquired by the government of Sudan, production of the Paykan is expected to restart in the next year. We can’t wait to visit Sudan in a few years and see how they modify this British classic!
The Omidvar Brothers
Travelling overland in Iran and working on a documentary it seems incredibly apt to write a blog about two of the most inspirational adventurers we’ve come across, Issa and Abdullah Omidvar.
During the mid 1950’s two valiant brothers from Iran, with $180 between them, decided to go on an adventure that would take them around the world. A daring journey that would carry them through some of the most challenging terrain. Initially setting off on two British 500cc Matchless motorcycles armed with photography and film making equipment the brothers headed east through Pakistan, India, South-East Asia and Australia. They crossed the Pacific from Japan to Alaska, headed to the Arctic and then south through Canada and the Americas, travelling the entire length of the Andes, to finish with a trip to the Antarctic. Their homeward stretch took them through Europe back to Iran after a 7-year adventure of a lifetime. A brief stint at home saw the two young brothers catch a bad dose of ‘itchy feet’. Refuelled and raring to go in their newly donated Citroen 2CV van the brothers headed across the gulf to Mecca and then on to complete a 3-year anti-clockwise lap of Africa including the arduous task of getting through the Ituri rainforest in the Congo.
Their eagerness to immerse themselves into other cultures as they travelled led to the pair shooting incredibly perceptive anthropological short documentaries about the tribes people they set out to encounter.
It is this defiant attitude towards the unknown that leads to remarkable encounters. For us the most memorable stories have come from diving headfirst into the unknown!
Throughout their 10-year expedition they had the opportunity to make films about Congo Pygmies (the short ones), Nilotic peoples (the tall ones), Amazonian cannibals, Polynesian islanders, Aborigines and the Eskimos living in the frozen lands of the Arctic.
The films document a time before globalization and outside influence where countries of pure beauty existed before being tainted by the industrial invasion from the west; countries where the people seem less jaded and weary of foreigners, happier and more comfortable & self-assured.
British Pathé newsreels and other documentaries of the time were produced from a belittling western perspective with an air of colonial conceited arrogance. The Omidvar brother’s films offer a unique counterpoint where respect and a willingness to learn are the basis of kinship. This simple value is epitomised beautifully by their motto hand painted across the front mudguards of their bikes "All different, all relative". This affinity with the people they met often put them in a unique position, not of an outsider, but of an accepted member of the tribe.
Issa and Abdullah produced and edited the films on the road. As they travelled from town to town they would deliver lectures and screenings in any establishment that would take them from small village halls to big universities. As a result various newspapers wrote about their explorations leading to a certain degree of fame. To quote Issa “We had the opportunity of visiting, and holding talks with most presidents, prime ministers, kings and cultural personalities of the world”. Their autograph book is testament to this.
In the late 1960’s their adventures were broadcast as a weekly TV show gaining them near celebrity status in Iran. In 2002 a prominent museum dedicated to their travels opened in the Gate House to the Green Palace in the Sa’d abad Cultural complex. The museum is a fascinating insight into the lives of the two brothers and features their camera equipment as well as many of the artefacts and photographs, collected and taken from 1954-1964.
One of the most interesting and macabre items is a human shrunken head that was gifted to the brothers by the Jivaro Tribe in the heart of the Amazon.
Visiting the museum and marvelling at the amazing photographs made us realise one thing in particular, it is the photographs that convey the passing of time that are really interesting! Culture, lifestyle, fashion and ‘the everyday’ change faster than a timeless landscape!
As we travel around Iran it is clear that the Omidvar’s ethos of friendship through mutual respect and understanding is a value that is still fully ingrained into Iranian culture.
Unfortunately the inclination to ignore preconceived typecasts and a willingness of openness, acceptance and understanding towards strangers is not practiced to the same degree in western culture; it is a lesson that many of us could learn from.
It is this simple characteristic that opened many doors for the Omidvar brothers and the wisdom of their learnings as intrepid adventurers is summed up simply by one word painted on the rear of one of the motorcycles “Peace”.
Farah Diba Pahlavi – The Last Empress
The inspirational story of the Queen Farah Diba Pahlavi’s life is a complex one of fairy tales, politics and tragedy.
A commoner and young architecture student, she was chosen to replace the King Shah Mohammed Reza’s second wife, Soraya Esfandiari Bakhtiari, after she failed to produce an heir to the throne. Their engagement in November 1959 was announced to the world via the cover of Life Magazine where the glamorous ‘soon-to-be’ Queen was pictured wearing a stunning dress by Dior.
One month later, aged just 21, and 19 years the Shah’s junior, Farah Diba married Shah Mohammed Reza garnering worldwide press attention. Dressed in a gown designed by Yves Saint Laurent and wearing a newly commissioned Diamond Tiara designed by Harry Winston their marriage announced the arrival of possibly one of the most loved, stylish, forward thinking and inspirational royals to have ever reigned.
Just 10 months after the wedding she gave birth to a son solidifying her position; the occasion was marked by dancing in the streets. A succession of children followed; another son and two daughters.
After the birth of the Crown Prince the Queen was free to dedicate more time to activities that interested her. As time progressed the she became much more involved in government affairs. Using her husband’s influence and proximity she drew attention to causes that concerned and interested her, particularly in the areas of women's rights and cultural development.
Over time she became one of the most vocal and highly visible figures in the Imperial Government and became the patron of 24 educational, health and cultural organizations. Her significant contributions to social reforms and her influence in the emancipation of women played a vital part in bringing Iran into the modern era. During her reign women played an increasingly important role in public life and occupied important positions in all areas of administration; parliament deputies, senators, ministers, ambassador, lawyers, judges etc.
During the early 1970’s, her humanitarian role earned her immense popularity. She travelled a great deal within Iran, visiting some of the more remote parts of the country. Wherever she went, people cheered her and struggled to touch her. She would meet with local citizens earning her the title ‘The Empress of Hearts’.
Her popularity was not just confined to Iran, it was told that Charles de Gaulle liked her more than any other first lady, even more than Jacqueline Kennedy!
The Imperial Government in Tehran was aware of her popularity this was exemplified when she was crowned as the first Shahbanou, or Empress, of modern Iran. The naming of a woman as Regent was highly unusual for a Middle Eastern or Muslim Monarchy.
Visiting the former Royal Palace of Niavaran the Queens love of architecture becomes blatantly apparent. Designed by Mohsen Foroughi and finished in 1968 the building mixes traditional Iranian architecture with 1960’s contemporary design. The huge eccentric electric retractable roof has a hint of James Bond baddie lair about it whilst traditional Iranian furnishings bring the design back down to earth.
Located nearby, in a beautiful piece of 1970’s contemporary architecture, is the Queen’s personal library. The interior is designed by Aziz Farmanfarmayan and consists of three levels: the main reading room, a balcony and an underground basement for storing artefacts and paintings. Untouched for over 35 years the library is a fascinating time capsule, the collection of over 22,000 books reveals and typifies the Queens interests.
Mainly comprising of books about art, philosophy and religion, a quick glance across the shelves reveals a sneaky peak at how Iran’s future could have turned out radically different had the royal family not been ousted. Books about Islam share shelf space with titles like ‘Eastern Religion and Western Thought’ and ‘Western Modern Art’.
The library also houses a fascinating collection of autographed books, including a Walt Disney signed book presented to the young Prince, that highlight the relationship Iran had with the U.S. at that time.
Amongst her many patronages she supported the often controversial Shiraz Arts Festival which ran from 1967 until 1977. The festival featured live performances from Iranian and Western artists including avant-garde performances by John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
The Queen’s interest in Contemporary art is also expressed throughout the entirety of the palace although the majority of the collection is now housed in a designated gallery. Impressive works by Warhol, Dali and Picasso share wall space with a fine collection of Iranian contemporary art from the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Her love of contemporary art was exemplified in 1976 when Empress Farah commissioned Andy Warhol to do her portrait after they met at a White House dinner hosted by President Ford. In the summer of 1976 Andy Warhol spent a week in Tehran to photograph the Empress with his Polaroid camera.
The Empress’ most enduring accomplishment was the founding of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. In the early 1970’s the Queen began assembling an absolute collection of modern and contemporary art, from the Impressionists (Monet, Pissarro, Renoir) right through to the cutting edge minimalists of the 1970’s (Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin). The Empress took advantage of a depressed art market and led a panel of experts who toured European and American auction houses in order to build the prestigious collection. More than 300 significant works were purchased, reportedly for less that $100 million. The collection was seen as a gift to the people of Iran. The museum opened in 1977. Two years later Ayatollah Khomeini deemed the collection to be unfit for Islamic eyes and the newly formed anti-western Islamic Republic promptly put the collection into storage where it remained mostly unseen for 25 years.
The collection which includes prominent works by Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Braque, Miró, Magritte, Dali, Pollock, Johns, Bacon, Warhol, Hockney, Lichtenstein, Stella and Richard Smith, who I had the pleasure of working with in 2002, is estimated to be worth as much as $5 billion. It is considered the most comprehensive collection of modern art outside of Europe and the U.S.
The Queen was not only interested in contemporary art she took an active interest in promoting traditional Iranian art and culture to the world. Under her direction and through her patronage numerous organizations were formed to promote Iranian heritage inside and outside Iran. She oversaw the return of hundreds of historic Persian artefacts from foreign institutions and private collections and built national museums to house the recovered antiquities.
During her reign Queen Farah Diba Pahlavi was the epitome of style, the essence of sophistication and an embodiment of how far women had come under her husband's reign. Her significant contributions to social reforms and the emancipation of women continue to be associated with her name. She was an intellectual and stood up for the things she believed in, the quintessential Queen.
The Last Empress of Persia is now in her 70’s and has lived in exile since the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Robbed in Tehran
Bad times for Bee-bee. Parked in the wrong street at the wrong time in Tehran. On the night of Saturday 31st October/Sunday morning between 11pm - 6:30am in the Qeitariyeh area thieves smashed our window and stole most of our possessions from inside.
We are devastated and heartbroken. Bee-bee is our home and our stuff enables us to travel the way we do. We worked so hard for years to save and buy our equipment, plus many things were personal, sentimental and simply irreplaceable.
We are working with the police to help them find who did this, with the possibility of tracing our stolen items. We have made some incredible friends here who are helping and supporting us. We want to continue with our ‘View to Iran’ film project- despite this upsetting experience we have loved travelling in Iran and the people here are some of the most welcoming and friendly we have ever met. We owe it to these good people to finish our documentary.
For now we are stuck in Tehran, needing to replace essential items before we can realistically and safely move again- spare car parts, tools, camping equipment, medicines and clothing. For a full list of the items taken please check our Facebook page.
THANK YOU for all the support we have received from within Iran and around the world- every single share, comment, message and gesture has lifted our spirits that little bit more.
We will keep this page updated with any news or developments…
این روزها، اوقات غمگینی برای اتومبیل ما، بی بی است. بی بی در زمان نامناسب در مکان نامناسبی در تهران پارک شده بود. شنبه شب گذشته، نهم آبان 94، بین ساعت 11 شب و 6:30 صبح در منطقه قیطریه، سارقان شیشه اتومبیل ما را شکستند و بیشتر اموالمان را از داخل اتومبیل دزدیدند.
در حال حاضر ما درمانده و دل شکسته ایم. بی بی خونه ماست و وسایلمان به ما امکان سفر به این شکل که سفر می کنیم رو میدن. سال های متمادی ما به سختی کار کردیم و پس انداز کردیم تا تجهیزاتمان رو برای سفر کامل کنیم. به اضافه این که خیلی از این وسایل شخصی بودن و ارزش معنوی زیادی برای ما داشتند و غیرقابل جایگزین کردن هستن.
ما مشغول همکاری با پلیس برای پیدا کردن دزدها و امکان ردیابی وسایلمون هستیم. اینجا دوستان فوق العاده ای داریم که به ما کمک می کنند و از ما حمایت می کنند. قصدمون اینه که پروژه نگاه به ایران رو ادامه بدیم. علی رغم این اتفاق ناراحت کننده، ما عاشق سفر در ایران هستیم و مردم اینجا از گرمترین و مهمان نوازترین آدم هایی هستند که تا بحال دیدیم. بنابراین، ما به پایان رساندن ساخت این مستند رو به این مردم بدهکاریم.
فعلا در تهران گیر کردیم. لازمه وسایل ضروری (مثل لوازم یدکی خودرو، ابزارها، تجهیزات کمپینگ، داروها و لباس ها) را دوباره تهیه و جایگزین کنیم تا بتونیم با امنیت به سفرمون ادامه بدیم. برای دیدن لیست کامل اقلام سرقت شده، لطفا به صفحه فیسبوک ما مراجعه کنید.
به خاطر حمایت های همه شما از داخل ایران و اطراف جهان بی نهایت سپاسگزاریم، تک تک پست ها و کامنت ها و پیام های شما به ما روحیه داد و حالمون رو بهتر کرد.
اخبار جدید را از طریق همین صفحه به اشتراک خواهیم گذاشت.
View To Iran
We are finally in the Islamic Republic of Iran and embarking on an amazing and unique documentary film project in collaboration with Director Farhad Soleymani and an Iranian TV channel. ‘View to Iran’ will follow our adventures here, aiming to dispel common misconceptions about the country and showing the real Iran. When Iranian TV heard about the project they wanted to interview us.