At a party organized by the Russian legation at Zergendeh, first secretary Ivan Zinoviev introduced Tinco Lycklama to Yaya Khan, aide-de-camp to the shah of Persia, Naser al-Din. The latter was well aware of the presence of our young Dutch traveller in the Persian capital, but had wondered why Tinco hadn’t asked for a private audience. They convened that Tinco would join Zinoviev a few days later at an official appointment with the Shah set for September 23, 1866. Hereunder follows a translation of Tinco’s own observations during this visit.
Translation of an extract from the travelogue by Tinco Lycklama à Nijeholt – “Voyage en Russie, au Caucase et en Perse, dans la Mésopotamie, le Kurdistan, la Syrie, la Palestine et la Turquie”, volume II – pages 357-362. Click here to view the original French texts on Gallica/BnF. Explanatory footnotes are given by the translator.
On Sunday, September 23, we were to meet at Zergendeh. After breakfast, we would head for the Niavaran palace (1) where the King had arrived a few days earlier after leaving his summer encampment at Shahrestanak (2). I had no uniform, so my dress code commanded a tail-coat, black vest and trousers, and a white tie. I also sported red leather overshoes over my boots. The latter was devised as a clever diplomatic trick at the peace negotiations at Turkmenchay in 1828 (3). Previously, diplomats were expected to honour the Persian custom that requires to approach the King without any shoes on. Using overshoes, you can simply take those off and keep your regular shoes on. The Russians even obtained for their ambassador the privilege of sitting before the Shah; for this reason, the Shah usually receives his visitors standing up, in order to avoid this privilege which has strongly offended the pride of the Qajars.
We mounted our horses at eleven. It was a sizeable procession, as the European legations take along guards, soldiers, servants, grooms – all rather richly dressed – at these occasions. I joined the procession with just two servants, both on horseback like me. It’s only a short distance between Zergendeh and Niavaran ; after a twenty-minute ride we arrived at the gate to the park surrounding the royal residence. After dismounting and walking a few steps, we were led into a tent where we could arrange our clothes, which was quite unnecessary given our short ride. Next, we walked towards another tent – prettier as it was a royal tent. Two masters of ceremony awaited us, and we took off our overshoes before entering. On behalf of the King, we were served coffee, tea, sweets, and waterpipes. We stayed for half an hour, resting on big cushions, drinking or rather tasting tea and coffee from tiny cups mounted on silver feet, inhaling the smoke from the waterpipes. Finally, it was announced that the Shah was ready to receive us. We took our overshoes and followed the masters of ceremony. Via a covered gallery, we passed the interior courtyard of the palace. We arrived at a magnificent staircase where, once again, we took off our overshoes; the masters of ceremony echanged their high Persian hats for white turbans laced with red. We followed up the stairs, and when we arrived at the peristyle we were received by young Persian pages holding silver canes. On the left side of the hall, a double door gave access to a richly decorated antechamber. Barely inside, a velvet curtain was lifted and showed us into another room with fabulous gilted ornaments. There was the King, seated in a golden chair, near an open window that seemed like an artistically arranged scenery, looking towards the palace of Sultanabad, with Tehran in the distance, and even farther we could see the brilliant dome of Shah-Abdol-Azim.
Naser al-Din Shah, 35 years old, gives a happy impression. One remarks instantly his intelligence, his finesse, and also his kindness. He was dressed rather simply for a sovereign. He had a buttoned, black velvet coat on, cut in a style that looks European. Below, he was wearing black stirrup trousers that entered into his socks. He had no shoes on. His small Persian hat made of black fur looked almost like a simple bonnet. However, on top of the hat, the master of Iran was also carrying a feather all made of rubis and diamonds. He also carried a necklace of enormous pearls reaching down to his waist. On his chest, he had two magnificent diamond brooches that are estimated at over four million francs (4). These splendid jewels seem to come from Delhi and belong to the last remaining treasures brought from India by Nader Shah (5).
After an initial greeting upon entering, we formed a semicircle before the King. A more profuse greeting followed, which was acknowledged by a gesture and a most gracious smile from the Shah. The representative of Russia gave a short introduction which was instantly translated by the interpreter standing next to the King. I had the impression that the words somewhat amplified to please the sovereign of Iran who is, in the eyes of his subjects, still the King of Kings – just like in the times of Cyrus, Khosrow, and Abbas the Great. Next, Zinoviev presented a letter from his Emperor to the Shah. One of the Shah’s ministers read the imperial missive to him. The Shah seemed very satisfied and responded with a few cordial words. He and the Russian minister then had a short dialogue, essentially an exchange of mutual compliments between the two sovereigns, self-congratulating for the excellent relationship between the two countries.
After this conversation, Zinoviev presented me to the Shah in the kindest terms. I greeted the Shah profusely. Naser al-Din said affectionately that he was pleased to meet me. He appreciated that Europeans come and see Persia for themselves, without fear of fatigue and despite the perils of such a long voyage. I thanked the prince for the honour to pay my respects. I explained that my curiosity had been satisfied by seeing the prosperity and tranquility that Persia experienced under his rule, including the high degree of security for the travellers that crossed his country by day and by night. I was talking only for myself, as I know that other travellers have not been as lucky, but one can also understand that some writers may somewhat exaggerate their adventures. My answers seemed to please the Shah. He told me that Holland was a very familiar name in Persia, as his country had not forgotten the trading post that my countrymen had operated in Isfahan, under the reign of Abbas the Great. He regretted that the commercial relations between his country and the great seefaring nation were not as they had been. I thanked the King accordingly for this gracious memory of my country. Naser al-Din then questioned me about my voyage and asked if I was a able to sketch. I had to admit that I was no painter nor a draughtsman, and that I regretted this, given all those wonderful things that Persia was showing to me. But, I told the King, I was keeping a diary of my observations and had the intention to publish them upon my return to Europe. The King asked me a few more questions, about the route I had taken, and about my next itinerary upon leaving Tehran. I pleased him as much as I could. He asked me where I was heading after Persia, and I answered that I would first go to Baghdad but that I intended to come back to Tehran the next year. He responded with a most gracious final gesture : “Cheili-Choub”, which means “I am glad to hear that!”
The audience came to an end. Zinoviev saluted the King and we withdrew with the same ceremonial. Obviously, I was very satisfied with the reception by the King of Persia, and especially with the flattering memory he had about my country. I forgot to mention that Naser al-Din Shah was wearing spectacles. I think he used them for posture rather than by necessity; he took them off and placed them back all the time – playing as we would with a pince-nez or a lorgnette.
Footnotes (by the translator)
(1) Most of the Niavaran palace, situated against the Shemiran hills north of Tehran, has been demolished since the end of the Qajar dynasty.
(2) See the article about Tinco’s visit to the Shahrestanak encampment.
(3) The Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828 ended the Russian-Persian war and settled definitely the border between the two empires on the Arras river.
(4) Four million francs in 1866 may be estimated to today’s equivalent of approx. twelve million euro.
(5) Nader Shah (1698-1747), from the house of Afshar, and considered one of the most powerful Shahs in the history of Persia. He occupied and plundered Delhi, capital of the Mughal empire, in 1739.