عمارت بادگیر [Imarat-e Badgir, the wind catcher], کاخ گلستان [Golestan Palace]
فتحعلی شاه [Fat′h-Ali Shah Qajar 1772-1834], ناصرالدین شاه قاجار [Naser al-Din Shah Qajar 1831-1896]
The Golestan Palace collection is full of wonders. The palace represents scientific inquiry, industrialization, and progress to Iranians. Central to Tehran’s politics and its geography, and a focal point for social tension, the palace still stands for Iranian identity today.
The Golestan Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tehran, Iran. The Golestan Palace is a collection of wonders. The Hall of Mirrors makes the palace a spectacular tourist destination. In modern times, the Golestan Palace represents scientific inquiry, industrialization, and progress to most Iranians. Since the first days of Tehran in the fourteenth century, the location of the palace has been central to the city’s politics and its landscape, and a focal point for social tension. In the last two hundred years, leaders have rebuilt sections of the palace, which has affected how everyday people in Tehran use the surrounding public spaces. Golestan Palace is an emblem of a historic period of social change as well as Iran’s complicated relationship to the West. The palace still stands for Iranian identity today.
Though it was already in use by the Safavid kings who came before them, Golestan Palace as we know it was built to be the seat of the Qajar dynasty. In 1865, Shah Naser al-Din and his prime minister, Amir Kabir, modernized the citadel section of the Palace using plans by Haji Abd ol-Hasan Mimar Navai. Notable changes to the complex included European design and construction methods, which were used in service of Persian aesthetics and approaches to building. Later, they added the Sun Palace to the east, which was designed by Moayer al-Mamalek and architect Mohammad Ali Kashi. Design advances in these structures included the use of European steel and engineering. Naser al-Din reorganized royal space within the Golestan complex, which impacted the public by moving gathering points to the Toopkhaneh Square. This new meeting place was farther away from commercial and religious centers near the palace and closer to the growing residential neighborhoods of the north. The move, which benefited wealthier communities, increased tensions between richer and poorer residents.
The palace collection reflects the opulence of the Qajar court. Objects collected by Naser al-Din and his son, Mozaffar al-Din, include gifts of fine china from European state visitors, and 19,000 early photographs and films. There is a mechanical clock, and a famous portrait of Naser al-Din sitting in the Hall of Mirrors. Kamal-ol-Molk’s 1896 portrait is done in a photo-realistic style that reflects the Qajar kings’ collection of optical devices. Though he adopted innovations from Europe, Naser al-Din lived a traditional life and ran a darbar or court in the Safavid style. The palace had a wing for the Shah’s harem, and was home to the extravagant Peacock Throne. Eventually, the luxurious Qajar court weakened under its many financial commitments, and increasing colonial pressure from Britain deposed Mozaffar al-Din from the throne in 1925.
In the 1930s, Golestan Palace would undergo many transformations at the hands of a new, reformer Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who found it old-fashioned. The new Shah opened the palace on the city’s south side to the public and moved his own seat of power to the north. Changes like these allowed the Shah to more easily move troops, workers, and products through the city and enabled him to upgrade the infrastructure of roads and sewers. In 1935, Pahlavi turned most of the palace into an art museum to display the Safavid and Qajar treasures.
Shah Pahlavi promoted a unified and modern image of Iran overseas. He used European methods to update the Golestan Palace. But Pahlavi achieved his vision by destroying much of what Naser al-Din had built. Even though he used the palace for both his coronations, he decried its “Asiatic” architecture. During his campaign to abandon Shi’ite Islamic customs such as polygamy, he tore down the Qajar harem and the portal gate of the Nagareh Khaneh, where the namaaz had been called each day. Naser al-Din’s Tekyeh Dowlat state theater complex, a symbol of Iran’s modernizing ambitions in the late nineteenth century, was torn down to promote the same ambitions for twentieth century Iran. Shah Pahlavi uprooted the economic and social life of the city by moving sites of worship and gathering, which forced Shi’ite traditions underground for a time. The backlash against his reforms came in 1979, leading to his overthrow and the formation of the current Islamic Republic.
The unrest that resulted from the Golestan Palace’s reconstruction recalls 21st century protests against gentrification in cities around the world. As the poorer residents of the city were forced to move farther away from the city center and their jobs, new, wealthy residents moved in and made things more expensive. The new residents changed the character of the city center and who it was designed to serve. This trend was named in the present day by writer Richard Florida, whose book The Rise of the Creative Class (2002) gave names to the “hipster” and the “gig economy.” Naser al-Din’s Tehran also recalls Baron Haussmann’s Paris, which he redesigned in the 1860s at the behest of Napoleon III. Haussmann’s Paris was home to modern artists including the Impressionists.
The Golestan Palace remains popular as a museum. Its exhibitions draw big crowds, such as one in 2019 of meteorites that were discovered in Iran’s Lut Desert in Naser al-Din’s time. The palace, with its fusion of Persian and European design, is an early example of modern art in Iran that goes beyond politics. The Islamic Republic now maintains the palace with care. Although Iran’s religious leaders spoke out against European-style architecture in Iran in the 1980s and 1990s, they have also come to value the Golestan Palace as a unifying symbol of Iran’s diverse people.
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