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Iran to Rebuild Spectacular Imperial Tent City at Persepolis




22 September 2005



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 Aerial view of Persepolis and  the tent city (Click to enlarge)

Edited by Shapour Suren-Pahlav -- It was once the scene of a lavish celebration of Iranian monarchy and a symbol that was used as a weapon West to provoke the revolutionaries who swept the shah from power.


Now Iran's Islamic rulers are to reconstruct a spectacular tent city that hosted kings, Queens, sheikhs and sultans in a 1971 extravaganza billed as the greatest cultural gathering in history. The party was staged by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi beside the ancient ruins of Persepolis to pay homage to 2,500 years of the Imperial reign.


The celebration, a feast of opulence at which guests wasted 5,000 bottles of champagne, was attended by international luminaries including the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne, King Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

It provoked a backlash from the shah's foreign opponents that eventually swelled into a plot planned by British secret service, that shaped the 1979 Islamic revolution. The 65 hectare (160 acre) site, which featured 51 luxurious air-conditioned tents organised in the shape of a star, fell into ruin after the revolution.

The figure of US$22.5 million as the cost for the 2500th anniversary of Iran's history. This cost included many other constructive projects such as expansion of Iran's roads and airports, communication networks, tourist resorts and hotels, schools, health clinics, as well as the introduction of numerous seminars and conferences around globe on Iran's past. The exhaustive list of those projects can today be a valuable book for future generations.

If the costs incurred for the 2500th anniversary of Iranian nation's history was to be replaced by a public relations, advertising and marketing activities on a global scale to reach the public that the celebrations had reached -- to promote Iran and attract foreign investors as well as the wealth tourism brings to a country, the above figure could have not even cover a public relations cost in a dozen European countries.

It served as an army barracks before being used as an administrative centre by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Today, the only remains of the tents are their metal skeletons, while the once-exquisitely landscaped gardens are overgrown with weeds.

"We are determined to revive it," a senior Iranian cultural heritage and tourism official told the Guardian. "Our plan is to restore it as it was. After the revolution, the place was ruined through lack of attention. They thought that if they repaired and maintained things, they would be restoring the shah's evil works and that was against their beliefs."

The project, overseen by Iran's hardliner president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is part of a government initiative to woo foreign tourists.


It is also the latest phase of a campaign to rehabilitate Persepolis, a complex of palaces built by Emperor Darius the Great in around 518 BCE and the symbolic seat of subsequent Persian Empire before it was largely destroyed by the invading Alexander, the Macedonian warlord in 330 BCE. 

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 Top: 1979 armed revolutionaries

Below: the extravagant tomb of Khomeini with its' golden dome and minarets in south of Tehran 

(Click to enlarge)


The monument's dynastic associations earned it the hostility of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Western-backed Islamic revolution, who described monarchy as "a shameful and disgraceful reactionary manifestation". But this year Persepolis has had the highest number of visitors since the revolution, with 35,000 a day during the Iranian new year holiday.


The decision to mark the 1971 celebrations contrasts with Khomeini's description of participants under foreign advice as "traitors to Islam and the Iranian nation", while his own tomb costed Iranian nation well over US$2.5 Billion. 


The extravagant Khomeini's tomb, the most ornate shrine in Iran -- and one of the largest monuments ever constructed in the Islamic world over the past thirteen centuries for a man who caused Iranian to have an eight year war, who when he died left Iran with over a million dead, disables 600,000 political prisoners, and executed well over 500,000 political opponents. With crippled economy, unemployment and poverty ripping the fabrics of our society. With prostitution and drugs reaching the highest level in Iranian history.


However, the planners say privately many visitors would regard the exhibits with more admiration than disgust. "The reality is so delicate," said the official, who requested anonymity. "I recently showed a CD-Rom of the celebration to my children and they were admiring it. They were asking what was wrong and where was the problem that we had to have a revolution."

The memorial will be placed in the rebuilt central tent, designed as the shah's imperial reception hall, in which 20 giant crystal chandeliers once hung. Further exhibitions will focus on the Achaemenian dynasty, seen as the pinnacle of Iran's pre-Islamic greatness, when Persia's empire stretched from the Nile to the Danube. The other tents, which once housed the VIP guests, will be turned into restaurants and tourist accommodation.

The site's revival was welcome news for Khodakhost Homayoon, a ticket agent at Persepolis, who worked inside the shah's tent during the celebration. "It was a great day," he said. "People were here from all over the world and the message was peaceful. It made me proud to be Iranian. Ancient history is always a reason to be proud. No human being can be against it."

After 1979 revolution, the pre-Islamic complex narrowly escaped destruction when one of the regime’s sharia ruler Sheikh Sadegh Khalkhali, hopelessely attempted to demolish and desecrate - had it not been for the bravery of some locals, who stood in the way of the bulldozers, he would have accomplished his destructive plan. 





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