10/05/1866 – At Karaj, sleeping under abandoned Qajar art

Over the past three days, on a last straight stretch from Qazvin to Tehran, the weather has been wonderful. Tinco Lycklama is enjoying the easy ride through the beautiful and flat countryside. He makes little stops here and there – in Abdol-Abad, Safarghadj, Songhorabad and other villages . But, his last night before reaching the capital would be the most remarkable.

Fath Ali Shah (1772-1834)
Fath Ali Shah (1772-1834), 2nd Qajar king (coll.: British Library)

He hadn’t anticipated it, and the old authors he had read (like Jean Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier and Pietro della Valle) never mentioned Soleymaniyeh. Not really surprising, as this place only came into existence around 1810 – when Fath Ali Shah (1772-1834) – the second Qajar king – constructed a summer palace here. Today, Soleymaniyeh is just part of Karaj, Iran’s fourth largest city but only a small old village back then (Tinco calls it Gheredj, after the river that runs through it).

Interestingly, the palace is abandoned. A few guards are present on the grounds, but they let Tinco enter freely. Even more, Tinco simply installs himself in one of the vast halls of the palace to set up camp for the night! On the walls around him, Tinco admires historical portraits and oil paintings in traditional Qajar style. Tinco can’t believe his eyes and thinks he must be dreaming an oriental fairy tale.

In fact, here at Soleymaniyeh, Tinco takes note of the same observation he makes throughout his travels in Persia…

The palace is totally abandoned. In other words, the ruins progress with a speed that is so typical in this country. Only sixty years are needed to accomplish what centuries would do elsewhere. It’s a pity, because the royal palace at Soleymaniyeh, with its grand splendour and its interior decorations, deserves meticulous conservation.
(Translated from “Voyage…”, Vol. II, page 171)

Over the past month, Tinco saw many mosques, caravanserai and palaces that are left in a bad state – built by a previous generation and totally ignored by a new one. If UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee would have existed back then, there is no doubt that Tinco would have started campaigning for preservation upon his return to Paris.

For now, Tinco and his companions are simply camping amongst magnificent art – and enjoying every minute of it. Has the art that Tinco saw at Soleymaniyeh survived? It’s hard to tell, as Tinco didn’t publish a full inventory of the contents of the palace. As the illustration shows, some restoration of wall paintings has taken place, fortunately.

Soleymaniyeh Palace at Karaj
Interior of the Soleymaniyeh palace at Karaj



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