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Latest Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World


Turkish exhibitors called 'The Return of Colours' an exhibition of unique Achaemenid wood paintings a success


04 December 2010



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  Tatarlı – The Return of Colors

Yapı Kredi Vedat Nedim Tör Museum

June 18, 2010 – September 26, 2010

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Number of restored paintings and reconstructed versions

(Click to enlarge)


LONDON, (CAIS) -- The cultural authorities in Turkey called the exhibition of ‘The Return of Colures’ a success, as for the first time the Achaemenid tomb chamber, one of the finest examples of the ancient Iranian art of wood painting that survived to the present day, was on show at Yapi Kredi Vedat Nedim Tör Museum.


The exhibition was opened to visitors on June 18 and ended on September 26, 2010. Visitors were captivated by the colourful Iranian scenes of battle, ritual and myth depicted on the walls of a unique wooden tomb chamber. 


This magnificent work of Iranian art offers important insights into the life styles and beliefs of the Persian Anatolia during the Achaemenid Dynasty in 5th century B.C.E.


The unique tomb chamber built around 470 B.C.E. for a Persian noble-warrior has remained intact for nearly twenty five centuries. Buried under a tumulus in relatively stable conditions for many years, the paintings on the wood could be preserved.


Unfortunately like many ancient sites, Tatarli Tumulus fell victim to illegal excavations and lootings long before archaeologists were able to conduct any research. In 1969, provoked by antique dealers, Turkish villagers broke into the tomb chamber of the tumulus located near the town of Tatarli, near Dinar, a district of the Afyonkarahisar province.


Contrary to their expectations, plunderers could not find any treasures in the grave as it had already been opened in ancient times. Disappointed, the looters sawed off two of the painted beams and smuggled them to Europe. The remaining beams were brought to the newly established Afyonkarahisar Museum after a rescue excavation in September 1970. In 2004, two well-preserved painted beams, presumably cut out during the illegal excavation of 1969, were found in the collection of The Bavarian State Archaeological Collection at Archäologische Staatssammlung in Munich, by Dr. Lâtife Summerer from the Institute of Classical Archaeology of Institut für Klassische Archäologie, Ludwig-Maximilians universität München. When scientific research confirmed that the beams were originally from Tatarli, Lâtife Summerer and Dr. Alexander von Kienlin from the Institut für Denkmalpflege und Bauforschung of ETH Zurich, submitted a project to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey to repatriate the stolen parts and restore the chamber.


The restoration project included reconstructing the chamber, completely vandalized forty years earlier. The Persian Frieze fragments that had been smuggled to Munich were returned, repaired and replaced in their original locations. The reconstruction of this unique artwork is not only a boon for scientific research but also a significant contribution to the preservation of Iranian cultural heritage which Turkey ironically called it “Turkish Culture”.


After remaining intact for 2500 years, the Tatarli wooden paintings were nearly destroyed within the last forty years. Restoring this burial chamber to its former glory required fitting hundreds of pieces together, making new additions to the original material and using an artificial steel construction. Five restorers and two undergraduate students worked for months to strengthen the wooden pieces and gather any existing information on painted burial chambers, aided by the financial backing of German Foreign Office. While the results are stunning, it is not yet possible to restore this burial chamber to its pre-1969 authentic state.


The Tatarli project produced valuable new data on the ancient Iranian art of wood painting and building techniques by integrating archaeology, architecture, restoration, conservation, scientific analysis and computer techniques. The exhibition was not only details the return of this matchless work of art to its original location but supplies information on the faded colours. Paints on the wood have only survived in thin layers and colours have largely faded, though the original paintings have not been retouched or recoloured. Some friezes have been reproduced based on scientific and technological research so that picture compositions can be more easily seen. These reproductions allowed viewers an opportunity to compare them with the originals and, potentially, be able to distinguish more colours and figures. Impressive drawings depicting scenes of battle between the Persians and their cousins the Scythians, a funerary procession and a hero’s adventure are not only exciting in terms of art but also in historical discourse. Scenes with dozens of ancient Iranian figures give us important information about the life styles and beliefs when Anatolia was part of Persian Empire.


Despite the unique wood paintings were Achaemenid and that part of the world was part of Iranian territory for centuries, no Iranian was invited or involved in the project.



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