Palatial Pleasures of Every Shade in Tehran


JUNE 29, 2014

The sky above my head was cloudless and the sun was intense, however the high humidity reduced me to sweat. It was the end of spring time in Tehran, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And my afternoon trip to Shemiran, an area in the north of Tehran, soothed me.

Shemiran is situated on the slope of mount Alborz, where its high altitude results in milder temperatures. The buildings scattered throughout the area tells me it’s one of Tehran’s more elite neighborhoods. 

“This is an expensive area where the rich people of Tehran live,” said Mr. Sadeghi, my tour guide.

I stopped by the gate of the famous Saad Abad Palace Complex. After paying the 150,000-rial entrance ticket, I felt I had escaped from the metropolitan Tehran and its 15 million inhabitants. There, I could see mount Alborz in the north, whose peak is topped with snow. The Complex is situated in the 110-hectare garden that is mostly shaded by tall green trees, which play a large part in cooling the air. 

A pair of Reza Shah Pahlavi's bronze boots guard the White Palace stairs. (JG Photo/Wahyuni Kamah)

The Saad Abad Palace Complex is a legacy of the Qajar Dynasty(1785 to-1925) as well as the Pahlavi Dynasty (1925-1979) of Iran, formerly known as Persia. Once used as a holiday resort by the country’s royal families, the complex houses 18 palaces, seven of which have been converted into museums and are now open to members of the public. 

“We are going to the White Palace Museum. It is another name for Palace of the Nation,” said Mr. Sadeghi as we followed the undulating trail. More visitors entered the complex, traveling in groups of various sizes. During the holiday season of June-July, the massive historical site becomes a busy tourist attraction, popular to both domestic and foreign tourists.

The White Palace is the biggest palace in the complex. It was constructed from 1931 to 1936 during the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi and was designed by Iranian architect Khorsandi. Occupying 2,164 square meters of land, the Palace was dedicated to  administrative affairs and formal receptions of royal guests, while summer saw it turning into the summer residence of the royal family.

The White Palace can be seen as a reflection of Iran’s modern history. The entrance to the structure was once guarded by a giant bronze statue of Reza Shah Pahlavi. However, in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when Iran became a republic, the statue was sawn off, leaving only a pair faded bronze boots. 

“The Palace was taken over by the revolutionary forces in the late 70s,” Mr. Sadeghi explained. Three years later, however, it was handed back to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guide.

The interior of this neoclassical two-story palace reflected the taste of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the son of Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had moved into the Palace in the 1970s.

Visitors are not allowed to enter the rooms, but the foyer alone was enough to give a glimpse of the luxurious life of the royal family. The interior of the palace is decorated with only the best furniture and artwork the world had to offer.

The first floor’s reception hall, for example, was a common venue for official parties and includes a carpet from the city of Kerman, Iran; plaster covering the ceiling was created by Iranian artists; while the furniture, tapestry and chandeliers were made in France. The first floor also boasts a dining hall for 20 people, a spacious office — used by the king — and a bedroom fit for the queen.

The second floor is home to a huge dining hall, where the queen’s gowns are displayed. The US President Jimmy Carter was among the last guests received in this hall. Meanwhile, the adjacent ceremonial hall was where Mohammad Reza met with ambassadors and held press conferences. A relaxing room for the king is located on the same floor, where — similar to other rooms on the floor — gifts and souvenirs from royals, presidents and ambassadors from around the world are displayed.

The queens gowns are displayed in the second floor dining hall. (JG Photo/Wahyuni Kamah)

After exploring the White Palace, we headed northwest to the Green Palace. Walking up the road on the sunny day, I had to catch my breath. Thankfully, the path is shaded by tall trees on both sides. 

The architecture of the Green Palace is strikingly different from the more modern White Palace. The former faces a small, circular pond, which is a typical addition to the palaces of Iraq. As its name suggests, the interior is made of rare, green marble from the Khamseh mine in Zanjan, Iran. 

The Green Palace was once the residence of Reza Shah Pahlavi, who bought the unfinished building from Alikhan. Reza Shah employed Iranian artists and architects to continue construction on the building, which concluded in 1928. The shah used the ground floor for living and working, while the basement was utilized as a storage room.

Initially called the Stone Palace because of its exterior walls, Reza Shah Pahlavi’s son, Mohammad Reza, renovated the residence and renamed it Shahvand Palace. It became the Green Palace Museum after the revolution.

The Green Palace reflects the taste of Iran's modern royals. (JG Photos/Wahyuni Kamah)

Visitors are required to cover their shoes before entering, and once inside, they are unfortunately not allowed to take any photographs. 

I felt a sense of the royal family as soon as I entered the extravagant hall of the Green Palace. The portals and columns are made of the best marble of Khorasan, while the meticulously crafted plasterwork creates a glimmering sensation. 

 “The carpet’s design in the middle is similar to the plasterwork’s design on the ceiling,” said Mr. Sadeghi, prompting the group to look up. 

The decorations, such as the chandeliers, paintings, vases, candle holders and furniture were all imported from European countries.

I was truly impressed by the intricate designs decorating the interior of both palaces, both of which gave me an intimate look at Iran’s former royal families.