Iran to Rebuild Spectacular Tent City at Persepolis
Robert Tait, The Guardian UK:
It was once the scene of a lavish celebration of Iranian monarchy and a symbol of loathing for the revolutionaries who swept the shah from power. Now Iran's Islamic rulers are to reconstruct a spectacular tent city that hosted kings, sheikhs and sultans in a 1971 extravaganza billed as the greatest cultural gathering in history. The party was staged by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi beside the ancient ruins of Persepolis to pay homage to 2,500 years of the monarchy.The Iranian regime has always denigrated its Persian history in favor of its Islamic identity. This story is evidence that the regime feels it is now necessary for its existence to appeal to its sense of national pride in attempt to rally popular support among the population. This will alienate the regime's hard-line supporters.
The celebration, a feast of opulence at which guests consumed 5,000 bottles of champagne, was attended by international luminaries including the 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 political opponents that eventually swelled into the movement 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.
It served as an army barracks before being used as an administrative centre by the 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 hardline 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 King Darius in around 518BC and the symbolic seat of subsequent Persian monarchs before it was largely destroyed by the invading Alexander the Great in 330BC. The monument's dynastic associations earned it the hostility of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the 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 at the time as "traitors to Islam and the Iranian nation". Islamic sensibilities will be soothed by focusing on the event's excesses, such as alcohol consumption, female guests in low-cut gowns without hijab, and troupes of dancing girls.
But 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." READ MORE
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.
After the revolution, the complex narrowly escaped destruction when a group of Khomeini supporters turned up intent on torching it. It was saved by local people, who drove them out.
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."