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  • Shelley Dark

#6 northern Tehran

We visited the Sa'dabad Complex today. The Pahlavis moved here in preference to the Golestan Palace because here there's room to move, space for privacy and many other houses for extended family. Their own huge family compound. The buildings, although called palaces, are really only villas, simpler and less fancy than I had imagined, but each one different, with its own style and personality. We had time to visit only two of them.

It's situated on 180 hectares in the north of Tehran at the foot of the Alborz Mountains. The illustration above gives you some idea, but the buildings are much further apart than they look here.

It's a parkland with huge plane trees and bitumen roads with many museums, from calligraphy to military memorabilia to royal children’s toys. The land was first built on by the Qajars in the 19th century. The Pahlavis built, extended and renovated in the twentieth century and it's been a museum since the 1979 revolution.

We walked a kilometre or so uphill from the front gates of the complex to the Green Palace which was used as a summer villa. A couple of our group took a taxi up. A cavalcade of military cars zoomed past us too, carrying VIP's..

Image Iranian Historical Photographic Gallery

Rezah Shah Pahlavi was eight years old when his soldier father died, and his mother moved to Tehran and remarried. He was taken into the care of an uncle who then handed him on to a friend in the army. He joined the Persian Cossack Brigade when he was 16. Following the Russian Revolution he staged a coup, backed by the British, and in 1921 was made Prime Minister. In 1925 the last Qajar shah was deposed and replaced by Reza Shah.

Sadly for Rezah though, after World War II the British made him an offer he could not refuse: 'Would His Highness kindly abdicate in favour of his son, the heir to the throne? We have a high opinion of him and will ensure his position. ....His Highness should not think there is any other solution.'

He built this house between 1922 and 1928. He had it faced with a rare green striped marble, and then it's said he had the quarry destroyed. It's said he preferred to sleep on the floor and lived here for only a year. It was then used as a guest quarters, and fell into neglect until his son Mohammed Reza Shah and Farah Diba renovated it as a summer residence during the seventies.

Perched at the end of a long narrow rectangle of land which juts out from the hill, it's approached along one of two walkways divided by a long parterre. A fairly modest two-storey house with one storey being half below ground for coolness, it's built in a grand architectural style with very high ceilings.

Windows were covered by ugly modern security screens, a pity because the windows underneath were rather grand. The rooms inside are quite small and suitable for intimate family living. But the mirror mosaics were almost as beautiful as the Golestan Palace although on a smaller scale.

No photography was allowed inside, but the home shows Empress Farah Diba's fondness for extravagant French furnishings and swagged velvet curtains. Her bedroom above (I know, I shouldn't disobey, but it's the challenge!) is in full mirror mosaic with silver curtains, and there's a superb mirrored reception room. The bathroom was small, convenient and almost suburban.

Then we strolled down to the large squarish modern White Palace. This was built by Reza Shah in the 1930's, with 54 rooms and huge specially-made carpets and new chandeliers. I saw Hoda taking a video of a chandelier to give a twinkling effect. I spent a while playing with the idea too.

Upstairs I ran into a big group of women in black taking photos of each other. I asked if I may take one too, they all giggled, agreed, and then asked if I'd be in one with them. The noise of laughter brought John over to take this one. We had a long string of selfies and photos with each other. See how they keep their chādor pulled together with their hands? I saw other women on the trip who had it in their teeth while they were performing a task.

These two murals at the White Palace depicted Iranian myths.

These two enormous bronze boots are all that remain of a statue of Rezah Shah which was destroyed after the revolution. The intention is to rebuild some, reflecting changing attitudes.

From Sa'dabad we drove up to Darvan in the mountains, a favourite eating and picnicking area for locals wishing to escape the heat. The bus was only able to travel to a certain point, and then we went by dedicated taxi - a fleet of dinted and crashed cars which whizzed up and down the hill at great speed. I was thankful to be safely dropped up at the ‘top’. We walked up the narrow road for a way, past restaurants on either side of the road.

The restaurant touters were out on the footpath. This young man posed James Bond-ishly. It takes an hour and a half to walk right to the top.

I stopped to look at a small grocery shop and chat to its elderly owner. She was very amused that I should want a photo of her and was laughing with her neighbours as I took it.

We stopped after about ten minutes to eat at a large restaurant chosen randomly, where waiters put an Australian flag on each of our tables to celebrate our arrival. It had a festive air with red checked tablecloths and welcome leafy shade.

Our lamb kebabs almost identical in presentation to John's kebabs at the Golestan Palace yesterday. I think I'm starting to look like a kebab.

The loo at this restaurant which opened in 1923 was the most modern and the cleanest we've struck since we've left home. The news spread like wildfire and soon nearly everyone in our group had gone to visit it. The toilets so far have run the full gamut of clean to not so great. Most are squat toilets, but there is usually at least one western style.

On our walk back down the hill, the elderly lady's shop looked unattended. No, just siesta time. Can you see her dozing? I envied her that!

It was a maniacal taxi ride back down the hill with the passenger in the front encouraging the driver who overtook another taxi at breakneck speed. I was relieved to arrive at the bottom.

Our next stop was Milad Tower with its 360 degree views of the city from an open deck enclosed by an outwardly sloping wire enclosure.

It's part of an International Trade and Convention Centre and has a five-star hotel, convention centre, trade centre and retail shops. The internal fitout is ultra modern, as in the lift entrance in the photo above.

It is 435m from base to the tip of the antenna, and the round bulb has twelve floors. Six elevators transfer visitors to the head of the tower.

The mountain backdrop is very impressive. I'd like to see it in winter when the peaks are capped with snow.

The views are spectacular. Guards caution against leaning against the wire. Not necessary for me!

Now we are back at the hotel. John and some of the group have gone back to Shahr Park to photograph the locals at play. We'll have dinner later.

Until tomorrow when we fly to Shiraz in the south-west, I bid you goodnight travelling mates. We've an early start in the morning, so sleep well.

shelley dark, writer 

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