History of the Iranian Thrones
Thrones were symbols identified with the status and power of monarchies since ancient times. In the history of mankind thrones were first identified as seats of Gods. But later the meaning of the word changed to include the symbolic seats of those who held secular or religious power such as monarchs and popes.
In the history of Iran that was over 3,000 years old, special significance was attached to the splendor of the Monarch’s throne as it was also believed that the throne besides being a symbol of the power of the Monarch, also conferred such power to the Monarch. The thrones were embellished with the rarest and most expensive of all metals such as gold and silver, and usually encrusted with the rarest of precious stones such as diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and semi-precious stones like spinels, garnets, amethysts etc. The dazzling effect of the shining metals, diamonds and precious stones, combined with the dazzling robes, ornaments and the crown worn by the monarch, created an aura of greatness, that was out of the world and more akin to the divine, from whom most monarchs believed they derived their power to govern.
Great kings of the Archaemenid dynasty like Cyrus the Great, and the Sassanid dynasty like Khosrau I and Khosrau II, whose empires achieved unprecedented splendor and material wealth, had splendorous thrones designed and constructed to reflect their great status. Subsequent kings of different dynasties such as the Seljuq Turks, the Safavids, Nadir Shah, and the Qajars also had splendorous thrones in their court, but the most splendorous of all these thrones was the Peacock Throne of Nadir Shah, that was acquired by him during his Indian campaign of 1739. against the Mogul empire.
The Peacock Throne
The Peacock Throne was originally constructed by Shah Jahaan who reigned between 1628 and 1658. Shah Jahaan’s court was famous for its pomp and pageantry. Nizam-ud-Din Bakshi, the chronicler of the Mogul court wrote that Shah Jahaan held the view that the crown jewels of a monarchy were not meant to be stacked in a safe vault and hidden away from public view. The greatest service such jewels could render was to adorn the throne of the empire that would not only elevate the status of a monarch as he shines with increased brilliancy, but also give an opportunity to his subjects to admire the beauty of these brilliants. Accordingly Shah Jahaan ordered his court artisans and jewelers to design and construct a throne that would surpass all other thrones ever created, in beauty and brilliance, and the result was the most splendorous throne ever created in the history of mankind.
Tavernier who saw the throne in 1665, during a visit to the court of Aurangzeb, the son and successor of Shah Jahaan, gives a vivid description of the throne in his book of travels. He describes the throne as having the shape of a bed or platform 6ft. by 4 ft., supported by four golden legs of about 2 ft. in height, encrusted with jewels. The throne was ascended by silver steps. Twelve columns arising from the horizontal bars of the platform, supported a canopy. Rows of beautiful pearls were embedded on the columns and the horizontal bars were encrusted with diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds. The inside of the canopy made of enamel was thickly set with rubies, emeralds, garnets, and other precious stones. Representations of two open peacocks, with gilded tails. and set with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones occupied the back of the throne, and served as the main attraction of the throne, that gave the throne, its name. The eyes of the peacock was also set with diamonds. Some of the famous diamonds like the Koh-i-Noor, the Akbar Shah, the Shah, and the great table diamond were also incorporated in the throne according to Tavernier.
Is is said that Nadir Shah was so taken up with the throne that he got his unwilling host the Mogul emperor Muhammad Shah, to make a divan on the same style, and carried both thrones to Iran on his return trip, together with an enormous booty that was estimated to cost 700 million rupees at that time, which according to current estimates would be around $ 5 billion. In the immediate aftermath of Nadir Shah’s assassination in 1747, most of the crown jewels of Iran were looted by his commanders and generals who were close to him. The Peacock thrones were dismantled and the diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and other precious stones and the gold were stolen and never recovered.
After Nadir Shah the throne of the Iranian Monarchy came to be known as the Peacock Throne until its final end in 1979 following the Islamic revolution. Several thrones that were made by the rulers of the Qajar dynasty, copying the features of the original throne, were also known as the Peacock Throne. Examples of such thrones are the Naderi Throne built by Fath Ali Shah in 1812, and the throne built by Fath Ali Shah’s successor Muhammad Shah in 1836.
The Peacock Throne at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul
In the treasury of the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul there are several thrones that belonged to the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire who ruled over the centuries. But, the most unique and dazzling of all these thrones, that has become the most popular exhibit in the entire museum, that genuinely amazes the thousands of visitors who see it every day, is the Peacock throne, which was previously thought to be the throne of Shah Ismail captured by Sultan Salim after the Battle of Caldiran. But recent research carried out on the documents related to the throne had revealed that the throne actually belonged to Nadir Shah, and entered the treasury in 1758, eleven years after his death.
The throne which is on display in the third salon of the treasury of Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, is undoubtedly of Indian origin and considered to be a masterpiece of 18th century Indian craftsmanship. The throne which is in the form of a high-edged table or platform stands on four stout intricately carved legs. A separate stool with matching carved legs as the legs of the throne served both as a step to ascend the throne as well as a foot rest. The throne is covered with a cushion decorated with gold braid and pearls. The entire throne is covered with a red and green enamel wash, over which are intricate floral designs in gold and set with rubies, emeralds and pearls. There are eight short vertical columns rising from the edge of the platform and except for the space between the front two columns, where the monarch is supposed to sit, all other spaces are covered with vertical decorative panels. The exterior as well as the interior of these vertical panels are heavily encrusted with jewels. The overall effect of the entire throne is so dazzling that visitors who see it for the first time are awe struck and spellbound by its appearance and are unable to conceal their amazement.
The above description of the Topkapi Peacock Throne when compared with the Tavernier’s description of Shah Jahaan’s Pea Cock throne, brings out some fundamental differences.
1. Shah Jahaan’s Peacock Throne had twelve vertical columns that supported a canopy, but the Topkapi Peacock Throne has only eight short columns, without a canopy.
2. Shah Jahaan’s Peacock Throne was ascended by steps covered with silver, but the Topkapi Peacock Throne was ascended by a short stool serving both as a step and footrest.
3. The main attraction of the Shah Jahaan’s Peacock throne were the representations of two open peacocks with gilded tails and set with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, occupying the back of the throne. but in the Topkapi Peacock Throne this representation is conspicuously missing.
Thus the Topkapi Peacock Throne is in all probability the second throne which Nadir Shah got his host Emperor Muhammed Shah to make before he left Delhi in 1739. This throne was said to be a divan made on the same broad pattern as the original Peacock Throne. The Topkapi Peacock Throne closely resembles the divan that was made for Nadir Shah in 1739.
The question next arises how this divan-like second Peacock Throne ended up in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, the capital city of neighboring Turkey. In 1943, four years after Nadir Shah’s successful Indian campaign, he attacked the Ottoman Turks, but was forced to conclude a truce, due to revolts at home. Subsequently he resumed hostilities with the Turks again, and won a great victory over them near Yerevan in Armenia, in 1746. Nadir Shah’s plans were to extend his campaign right into the heart of Turkey, and he moved into Anatolia (Asia Minor). Having lost the battle at Yerevan Sultan Mahmud of Turkey, was in no mood for a fresh battle, and he sued for peace. Nadir Shah in a surprising change of heart accepted the offer and finally a peace treaty was concluded at Kasri Sirin in 1746, to the satisfaction of both parties. To celebrate the successful conclusion of the peace treaty both parties agreed to a diplomatic exchange of gifts, in order to foster goodwill and consolidate the relationship between the two parties.
Among the valuable gifts which Nadir Shah selected to be sent to his counterpart in Turkey, Sultan Mahmud, was the divan-like Peacock Throne, which he had brought down from Delhi during his Indian campaign. Nadir Shah appointed his two trusted lieutenants Mohammed Mahdi Han and Sanli Mustafa Han as emissaries entrusted with carrying the valuable gifts to Istanbul. Sultan Mahmud on his part got a dagger decorated with large emeralds and rubies as a special gift to Nadir Shah, together with loads of other valuable gifts, and sent it to Esfahan in the custody of his emissary Ahmet Pasha. The two caravans carrying the gifts and the emissaries met on May 30, 1747, near Baghdad. The exchange of gifts took place, after both parties inspected each others gifts, and the emissaries then started their journey homewards. As the Ottoman emissaries reached the city of Hamadan, news reached them that Nadir Shah had been killed by his own troops in a rebellion. The emissaries immediately began moving and eventually reached the safety of Ottoman lands, and thus prevented the gifts from being looted. Having reached Istanbul safely the emissaries handed over the gifts to Sultan Mahmud, who was indeed pleased by the dazzling throne received from his unlucky friend Nadir Shah. The two Iranian emissaries refused to return to Iran after their leader’s death, and were granted political asylum in Turkey by Sultan Mahmud. This explains how one of the peacock Thrones escaped destruction, and is now preserved in the Topkapi Museum. The original Peacock Throne however was destroyed immediately after Nadir Shah’s death, and all the jewels and the gold stolen.
The Naderi Throne
The Naderi Throne is believed to have been constructed during the period of Fath Ali Shah in 1812, as evident from the verses written on the throne which attribute it to him. There is controversy as to why the throne is known as the Naderi Throne if it is not related to Nadir Shah. One explanation for this is that the throne resembled at least in part the original Peacock Throne of Nadir Shah. Another explanation is that the term “Nader” in the Persian language means rare or unique, so that the name Naderi Throne does not refer to Nadir Shah at all, but in actual fact is a reference to a rare or unique throne.
Unlike the original Peacock Throne which was like a raised platform, the Naderi Throne was more like a chair, and resembled thrones used by rulers of the ancient Archaemenid dynasty in the 5th century BC, and the Safavid dynasty in the 17th century AD.
The throne could be easily dismantled into 12 different sections, and reassembled again when required. In other words the throne was meant to be portable and easily carried as the king moves around in his domain, and especially when he moved to his summer residences.
The throne which is 2.25 meters in height, is made out of wood, but covered with sheets of gold and encrusted with jewels such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds and spinels. The total number of jewels covering the throne is exactly 26,733. On the backrest of the throne there are four very large emeralds and four very large spinels. The largest emerald and the largest spinel weigh 225 carats and 65 carats respectively. The largest ruby on the throne weighs 35 carats.
The most attractive part of the throne which is the backrest is designed in the form of a peacock tail, with figures of symmetrically placed pairs of ducks and dragons incorporated. The motif shows two pairs of ducks, a pair of dragons, and a floral pattern in the center. A lion motif is depicted on the front panel of the footstool, and the front panel of the seat shows a leaf pattern.
The Naderi Throne’s moment of glory in the 20th century. The 1967 coronation of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi.
The Naderi Throne reawakened to its former glory in 1967, when it was selected by Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last ruler of the world’s most ancient monarchy, to be used on the day of his coronation in the Grand Hall of the famous Golestan Palace. Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi who ascended the Iranian Throne in 1941, had actually vowed not to have his coronation until he was able to bring growth and development to his country and emancipate his people socially and economically. In the early 1960s, he embarked on the most ambitious development program ever carried out in the history of Iran, known as the “White Revolution,” which included sweeping changes that had never been attempted before in the long history of the country. The most popular of these changes was the sweeping land reforms, that re-distributed lands belonging to a few rich landlords and the clergy (wakf properties), among 2.5 million landless families. Among the other popular measures included in the program were profit sharing among workers and farmers, setting up of agricultural co-operatives, creation of the “Health Corps” and the “Literacy Corps” to serve the rural population, emancipation and enfranchisement of women, and the undertaking of massive agricultural and industrial projects.
The successful implementation of the “White Revolution” brought about a massive wave of popular support for the Shah and at the height of this popularity, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, finally decided to have his coronation on October 26, 1967, 25 years after ascending the throne. The event that was one of the most glittering and splendorous events ever held in the long history of the Iranian monarchy, had unlike in the past, a worldwide audience, given wide coverage by the international press and brought to the homes of millions of television viewers around the world. The coronation ceremony was also unique in another respect, as it was an occasion that had a triple significance, viz. the coronation of the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the coronation of the Shahbanou Empress Farah Diba, and the declaration of the Shah’s son Prince Reza Cyrus as the Crown Prince of Iran, with the Shahbanou acting as regent, in case the Shah dies before the Crown Prince attains maturity. Empress Farah became the first empress ever to be crowned in the 2,500-year history of the Iranian monarchy, and for this a special crown was designed and created by Van Cleef and Arpels of Paris.
The coronation took place in the Grand Hall of the Golestan Palace in the presence of 500 distinguished guests that included the monarchies of other countries, world leaders, and diplomats. Besides this 5,000 other distinguished invitees were also accommodated in special enclosures constructed in the gardens of the Golestan Palace, just outside the Grand Hall.
The climax of the coronation ceremony was when the Shah entered the Grand Hall, preceded by the commanders of the Imperial Navy, Air Force and the Army. The Shah walked along the red carpet, acknowledging the bows and courtesies that came from the distinguished guests who lined up on either side of the red carpet. After the Shah reached the Naderi Throne placed on top of a raised platform at the end of the hall, he turned round and stood still for a moment facing the invited guests in the Hall. All the guests remained standing. His Imperial Majesty then bowed towards the right and the left, acknowledging the homage of the guests, and inviting everyone to take their seats, climbed the Naderi throne and sat on it.
Three officers then walked into the hall carrying the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, the Imperial Crown of Iran, and the new crown of the Empress of Iran. Four other officers carried the other coronation regalia such as the emerald belt, the royal sword, the jewel studded imperial robe and the royal scepter. The coronation began with the recital of verses from the Holy Qur’an by the spiritual leader of the country Imam Djomeh. The Imam recited a special prayer for the coronation and later presented the holy book to the Shah, who after standing up and receiving it, kissed it and placed it on the cushion covered tray on which it was brought. Then the other rituals of the coronation followed. An officer carrying the emerald belt came forward, and the Shah took the belt from the tray and placed it around his waist, with the large green emerald facing forward. Then the officer carrying the royal sword approached the Shah, and he took the sword and hung it on the belt. This was followed by two members of the royal household bringing the jewel studded imperial robe and placing it around the shoulders of the Shah. Then came the final moment, the actual coronation, for which the nation had been waiting for 25 years. The officer carrying the Imperial Crown of Iran, moved forward, and the Shah took the crown from the blue cushion covered tray, and while still standing in front of the Naderi Throne facing the invited guests, placed it on his head, thus crowning himself, as Napoleon I did on December 2nd, 1804. The glorious moment was marked by a 101 gun salute, that reverberated through the capital Teheran. People of all walks of life cheered the long awaited moment and prayers were said in the mosques. To wrap up the rituals of the coronation, another officer moved forward and handed over the royal scepter to the Shah, which he received, and later remounted the Naderi Throne.
The coronation of the Empress Farah Diba quickly followed, and was performed by his Imperial Highness Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. This was followed by the formal presentation of the Crown Prince, Reza Cyrus, to the nation. Then after speeches made by the Prime Minister and the President of the Senate, His Imperial Highness Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi addressed the nation from his throne, in which he thanked the Almighty God for the strength and opportunity given to him to serve his people, and prayed for the protection of his country and his people. He said the only purpose of his life was the honor and glory of his people and his country. He said that his only hope was the maintenance of the country’s independence and sovereignty, and the progress of the people of Iran, and said, that he was prepared to lay down his life to accomplish this goal.
The Sun Throne
Like the Naderi Throne, the Sun Throne was also constructed under the orders of Fath Ali Shah who reigned between 1797 and 1834. The construction of the throne was supervised by the Governor of Esfahan, Mohammed Hussein Khan Sadr Isfahani. A motif of the sun, encrusted with jewels was incorporated on the top of the throne, from which the throne gets its name. Subsequently Fath Ali Shah married a lady by the name of Tavous Khanoum Tajodoleh, and the throne came to be known as Takht-e-Tavous or the Peacock Throne. Tavous in the Persian language means Peacock.
Thus Fath Ali Shah’s Peacock Throne is often confused with Nadir Shah’s Peacock Throne. Whereas Fath Ali Shah’s Peacock throne was designed and constructed in the early 19th century in Iran, Nadir Shah’s Peacock Throne was constructed in India on the orders of the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahaan, in the mid-17th century. Again, while Fath Ali Shah’s Peacock Throne get its name from his Queen whose first name was Tavous, meaning peacock in Persian, Nadir Shah’s Peacock Throne gets its name from the representation of two open peacocks, with gilded tails encrusted with jewels, occupying the back of the throne.
Fath Ali Shah was succeeded by his grandson Muhammad Shah (1834-48). who was succeeded by his son Nasser-ed-Din Shah (1848-96). During the reign of Nasser-ed-Din Shah certain alterations were made to the Sun Throne, by the addition of some panels bearing Arabic calligraphic verses.
The Sun Throne was displayed at the Golestan Palace its original home since it was constructed by Fath Ali Shah in the early 19th century. The Golestan Palace was constructed during the reign of Shah Tahmasp I of the Safavid dynasty. The palace was reconstructed by Karim Khan Zand, and subsequently was chosen by kings of the Qajar dynasty as their residence and court. Nasser-ed-Din Shah and the two rulers of the Pahlavi dynasty also made modifications to the palace. On September 6th, 1980, after the Iranian Islamic revolution the Sun Throne was relocated to the vault of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where it has been put on permanent display with the Iranian Crown Jewels.
Our account of the thrones of Iran will not be complete if no mention is made of another famous throne found in Iran, the Marble Throne, which is 250 years old and belongs to the period of the Zand Dynasty.
The Marble Throne
Two of the famous thrones of Iran, the Sun Throne or Peacock Throne, and the Naderi Throne were constructed on the orders of one of the most prominent Shahs of the Qajar dynasty Fath Ali Shah (1797-1834), who succeeded the founder of the dynasty, Agha Mohammed Khan Qajar. Fath Ali Shah protected and expanded the collection of Iranian Crown Jewels, which was scattered in the immediate aftermath of Nadir Shah’s assassination, but was later reassembled partly by Agha Mohammed Khan Qajar. Fath Ali Shah was also noted for his extravagance in trying to enhance the splendor of his court, and is credited with turning out some extraordinary pieces of jewelry for personal adornment as well as the two famous thrones listed above.
However there is another famous throne of historical importance in Iran, which is more than 250 years old, and constructed on the orders of Karim Khan Zand, in 1751, made entirely of yellow marble. This throne was previously installed in the royal palace of Karim Khan Zand.
After the death of Nadir Shah in 1747, the Iranian State fragmented into three different states. The largest and most successful of these states was the one headed by Muhammad Karim Khan Zand (1747-1779), based in central and southern Iran, with its capital at Shiraz. During this period Teheran was a small insignificant town. But, Karim Khan Zand ordered the construction of a citadel, a palace with a harem, and some government offices, and several towers, in Teheran, in an area previously occupied by a vast garden called the Chahar Bagh (four gardens), created during the time of Safavid Shah, Abbas I.
In 1789, Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar who was in the process of re-uniting Iran after capturing territories previously held by the Zand rulers, declared Teheran as the new capital of Iran. In 1794, he defeated Lotf Ali Khan and had captured the entire Zand territory including the capital of Shiraz.
Under the Qajar rulers, Karim Khan’s citadel and palace was eventually transformed into the Golestan Palace complex and became the residence and the royal court of the rulers of the Qajar dynasty. In 1791, Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar ordered the transfer of all decorative items, paintings, artifacts, and the famous alabaster (marble) throne, belonging to the royal palace of Karim Khan from Shiraz to the Golestan Palace complex.
The Marble throne is a 250 year old throne built in 1751 for Karim Khan Zand. The throne was designed and built by Mirza Bab Shirazi Naqqash Bashi and the royal stone cutter Ustad Mohammed Ibrahim Esfahani, and consists of sixty-five pieces of yellow marble obtained from Yazd Province. The unique feature of the throne are the supports which are carved in the shape of men, women, fairies and demons. After the throne was transferred to the Golestan Palace complex, a special edifice was built to install the throne, known as the Iwan Takht-e-Marmar (Marble Throne Verandah), under the orders of the second Qajar Shah, Fath Ali Shah. The Iwan Takht-e-Marmar is a ceremonial hall with the Marble Throne installed in the center. The coronation of Qajar kings and other formal court ceremonies were held in this Iwan. The last coronation to be held in the Takht-e-Marmar was the coronation of the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1925. Paintings and decorations belonging to the Qajar period adorn the walls of the Marble Throne Verandah. Every Qajar ruler tried to perfect the decorations of his predecessor and add more adornments of his own to the buildings of the palace complex.
After Fath Ali Shah constructed new buildings for the Golestan palace complex, the next ruler who introduced a lot of modifications to the palace complex during his reign was Nasser-ed-Din Shah. More modifications were made during the rule of the Pahlavi dynasty, especially during the coronation ceremony of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1967, and also prior to the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II.
1. Encyclopaedia Britannica – 2006
2. Website of Iran Chamber Society
3. Wikipedia – Peacock Throne
4. Wikipedia – Takht-e-Taus
5. The Crown Jewels of Iran- Dr Victor E Meen