First stop of the day was Golestan Palace in central Tehran. I won’t lie, 18/19th century palaces are not exactly my thing so forgive me scooting over it rather quickly. Built as a Royal complex it became the home of the Qajar royal family and was used for royal receptions. If you like glass and mirrors on every surface available then this is the place for you. If you like to see a hideously clunky clock with a bird on it which was a present (though I maintain that she couldn’t get rid of it fast enough) from Queen Victoria then again this place is where it’s at. More enjoyable are the fun, bright and sometimes surreal scenes in the tiles that cover the courtyard walls. They make a stark and very welcome contrast to the sometimes vulgar quantity of reflective surfaces in the rest of the complex.
The National Archaeological Museum of Iran was what the place I really wanted to spend the day and despite it not being extensive the fine quality of the artefacts on display soon have you lingering over them for longer than you thought. Such too is the complex and rich history of Iran that there is a lot to absorb, though actually not much to read in the museum itself. Wandering around the cases with Proto-Elamite clay tablets covered with neat and satisfying wedge-shaped script and knowing that they are around 5/6 thousand years old is staggering. I might never tire of thinking that while some Brits were digging ditches and building henge monuments there were some Elamites keeping busy pushing an implement into wet clay in order to produce written records. That is to say, before Stonehenge was conceived and before any stones had been dragged across the landscape, somewhere else in the world, a population was communicating in written form. That just makes my jaw drop. I mean I love henge monuments and all that but… I’m not judging you Britain. Much.
I’d read that the ceramic zoomorphic vessels are the items that capture the imagination. Correct. Every happy mooing smiling face in those cabinets is a joy. Mainly oxen, cattle and stags but there are a few strange hybrid animals in the collection. Each of their expressions are animated and so why no one has actually animated them remains a mystery. Pixar, listen up. So loved must they have been that they last from 1000 BC to the Parthian period and I defy anyone to find a happier looking ox than this one…
Once I’d dragged myself away from those delightful creatures I was confronted by the museum’s gem. If the animals had enchanted me, the wall of dark grey stone that now lay before me had me stunned into silence. The ‘wall’ is in fact a fragment, originally from the northern staircase of the Apadama in Persepolis, of bas-relief sculpture depicting a seated King receiving an audience. Thought to be Darius the Great or Xerxes it doesn’t really matter who the protagonists are as the delicate carving is exquisite and the scale, fittingly, majestic. I love that the detail is restricted. The throne is more defined than the dress of the King, the detail on the sword scabbard outweighs anything the man is wearing, each curl of the beard and hair contrast with the smooth skin of the individuals. It’s wonderful. There is more on the relief here and I provide only a few glimpses below.
I’d probably still be staring at now had I not been gently persuaded to help one of my travel companions with photographing a bowl. My role, as it ended up being, was to precariously form a tent over his head with a coat while he masterfully captured the photograph he needed without the glaring overhead lights reflecting himself in the glass. We must have looked ridiculous but that is the main problem of the museum – you do end up seeing a lot more of yourself than you do the artefacts. Thankfully, the stone relief is not behind glass.