Tinco’s farewell to Tehran

We’re August 18, 1867 – and Tinco Lycklama is leaving Tehran (and will never return). He is traveling back to the Ottoman border and will then start his exploration of the northern regions of modern Iraq and Syria – the heartland of Kurdistan and ancient Assyria.

View of Tehran by Luigi Pesce
View of Tehran, 1860 (Photography by Luigi Pesce)

Tinco Lycklama had spent most of the year 1866 in Persia. After his a stay in Baghdad, in the first half of 1867, he returned to Persia in the summer of 1867. It was his second in Tehran – and also the last one. He used his three weeks in the Persian capital to respond to letters from Europe and Russia. Books had been sent from Europe, so that he could study the latest literature and prepare the next stages of his trip – through Kurdistan and Assyria to places such as Kirkuk and Mosul, and to the ancient sites of Khorsabad and Niniveh. Tinco also spent time in Tehran’s bazar, where he bought many more antiques and rugs that would stand pretty in his future museum.

In the fourth volume of his travel account, published in 1975, Tinco concludes his descriptions of Persia in a philosophical manner. In the meantime, the shah of Persia, Naser al-Din, had travelled Europe for the first time (1873). At that occasion, Tinco had met him several times, as well as his friends Emam Qoli Mirza (an uncle of the Shah), and Abd-al-Samad Mirza (the shah’s nephew).

I saw them charmed by the welcome they enjoyed everywhere in Europe, and full of admiration for the wonders of western civilisation. However, it would be an error to think that, once upon his return to Tehran, Naser al-Din would europeanise Persia… To every people its own genius, its destiny, and its role in the world… I believe that Persia will always remain Persia, the way it was shaped by its history, its religion, and the nature of its people.

Tinco is now traveling back to Hamadan, to meet again with his friend Abd-al-Samad Mirza, the “Ezz-al-Dawla“, and then to continue towards Kurdistan and Assyria – in the northern part of modern Iraq.

Between Tehran and Hamadan
Between Tehran and Hamadan

Making friends in Hamadan : governor Abd-al-Samad Mirza, “Ezz-al-Dawla”.

In Hamadan, Tinco Lycklama builds a friendship that will last a lifetime. Indeed, the young governor of the province, Abd-al-Samad Mirza, “Ezz-al-Dawla”, enjoys the company of his Dutch visitor and – a few years later – will come and visit Tinco in Cannes.

3-06-04 - Portraits divers - Abdol Samad Mirza Ezz ed Dowleh Saloor 2Abd-al-Samad Mirza (1844-1929) was a Qajar prince and a younger brother of Naser el-Din, the shah of Persia. At a young age, he was sent by his brother to rule the province of Hamadan. In later years, he also became governor of other provinces and briefly occupied the position of Justice Minister of Persia (1885-87).

In 1872, Abd-al-Samad Mirza, “Ezz-al-Dawla”, became chief of the Qajar tribe. It was in that capacity that he accompanied his brother on his first visit to Europe, in 1873. At that occasion, he also traveled to Cannes to meet his friend Tinco and to visit the museum that Tinco had opened in Cannes earlier that year.

Abd-Al-Samad Mirza is the common ancestor of the Saloor branch of the worldwide Qajar family.

In Tinco’s writings, the name of Abd-al-Samad is spelled differently (a typical challenge with all names and titles in the Persian Qajar dynasty) : Abdolsamad Mirza, Ez-ed-Daulèh.

An excellent profile on Abd-al-Samad Mirza can be found on Iranica Online…

Synchronicity? – How Yann Arthus-Bertrand relates to Tinco Lycklama…

This summer, the city of Cannes is presenting two major exhibitions to its visitors. One is the Lycklama exhibition, which retraces  the life and travels of Tinco Lycklama à Nijeholt (1837-1900), founder of the Musée de la Castre and benefactor of the City of Cannes. The other one is “Le patrimoine mondial vu du ciel“, with a selection of works by world-reknowned photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. These exhibitions have something in common – and you can call it synchronicity.

YAB - 21 rue Hautefeuille Paris
Arthus-Bertrand, éditeur – 21, rue Hautefeuille, Paris

In 1877, the Dutchman Tinco Lycklama – a well-respected resident of Cannes – donated his personal museum to the city. The collection was the built from art, souvenirs and artefacts bought during his exceptional three-an-a-half year tour through Persia, Mesopotamia and the Levant, between 1865-68.

Tinco Lycklama, a friend of Claude Arthus-Bertrand.

Upon his return from the Near East, Lycklama published a monumental travel account – over 2,200 pages in four volumes. His editor was Claude Arthus-Bertrand, located at 21 rue Hautefeuille, in Paris.

Tinco Lycklama was a member of the French Société de Géographie, which was presided by his friend Victor Malte-Brun. The Société de Géographie was closely associated with the house of Arthus-Bertrand, the official publishers of the Société. Claude Arthus-Bertrand was the obvious publisher-of-choice for Tinco Lycklama. Victor Malte-Brun was highly supportive of Tinco and recommended his books through articles and speeches.

It is interesting to note that Claude Arthus-Bertrand – the third generation of editors and medallion manufacturers in Paris – was the great-great-grandfather of Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Yann Arthus-Bertrand (born 1942, see Wikipedia…), photographer and film-producer, known worldwide for his recognisable aerial photography and film, is also a United Nations ‘goodwill ambassador’ for environmental issues. With his GoodPlanet Foundation, Yann Arthus-Bertrand actively encourages the public’s consciousness about ecology and the preservation of nature.

His exhibition in Cannes is sponsored by the French Committee for UNESCO. Through a selection of 35 aerial photographs, it showcases exceptional sites protected by UNESCO as world heritage sites. Cannes, with its Ile Sainte Marguerite and the famous Croisette, is a candidate for UNESCO recognition as World Heritage.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand captures what Tinco Lyckama saw

Beyond the unsuspected connection between Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Tinco Lycklama through the photographer’s ancestry, there is more that links the two exhibitions.

Tinco Lycklama made an exceptional voyage through the Near East, in 1865-1868. He visited places as a ‘simple tourist’, at a time when the only travellers in the region came with official government missions. Lycklama explored the Near East as a citizen, as someone who wanted to see things for himself, observe people and monuments, learn from other cultures and customs – without judging.

He also visited places that are currently destroyed or in danger of unreparable damage. Places like Mosul, Aleppo, Homs, Palmyra… Unfortunately, Tinco Lycklama didn’t make any photographs.

Amongst the 35 photographies at the Yann Arthus-Bertrand exhibition, there are a few spots visited by Tinco Lycklama. We let you discover two of these places through the exceptional photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, with quotes from Tinco Lycklama’s books

Palmyra, Syria

YAB - Theatre Romain Palmyre

“J’avais vu les ruines de Persépolis, grandioses et superbes sur leur terrasse de granit, piédestal gigantesque qui en augmente l’effet; celles de Palmyre offrent un grandiose d’un autre genre, mais dont l’aspect n’est pas moins saisissant… Je consacrai trois journées entières, à explorer en détail ce magnifique cercueil d’une puissance un moment si brillante et si soudainement éteinte.” – Tinco Lycklama at Palmyra, July 16, 1868


Istanbul, Turkey

YAB - Hagia Sophia

“De tant de monuments, d’édifices, de temples contenus dans l’enceinte de Constantinople, obligé de faire un choix, je ne veux parler que de ce qui m’a frappé le plus, Sainte-Sophie… Sainte-Sophie (Aga-Sophia) était jadis la cathédrale de Constantinople; elle en est aujourd’hui la principale mosquée. Bâtie par Justinien sur les ruines de l’église de Constantin, les matériaux les plus précieux, arrachés à des monuments plus antiques, furent employés à sa construction. Transformée en mosquée par les premiers sultans, cette basilique en reçut l’adjonction de quatre minarets, qui sont les plus élevés de la ville ; mais sa disposition extérieure se trouve noyée dans les contreforts massifs et les autres constructions dont elle a été successivement entourée.” – Tinco Lycklama at Constantinople, September 12, 1868


About the exhibitions in Cannes…

  • “Le fabuleux voyage du chevalier Lycklama en Orient (1865-68)” – 09/07-29/10/2017 – Musée de la Castre (See details…)
  • “Yann Arthus-Bertrand – Le patrimoine mondial vu du ciel” – 01/07-29/10/2017 – Île Sainte Marguerite (See details…)

Tinco Lycklama meets up with cuneiform history at Bisotun.

Almost everything we know about the ancient civilisations of the Middle East relates to the decipherment of cuneiform script. At Bisotun, Tinco explores the reliefs and carvings that date back to the time of Darius the Great. But, not before having coffee at the Shah Abassi caravanserai.

Bisotun Caravanserai Shah Abassi.jpg-large
Caravanserai Shah Abassi, at Bisotun

Tinco Lycklama left the city of Kermanshah on June 29, 1867. He spent a most interesting fortnight in the company of the Turkish consul, and made new friends at the Qajar court. On his way to Hamadan, Tinco makes a stop at Bisotun. From a cultural perspective, a most interesting one.

By way of comparison, out modern knowledge about ancient Egypt owes everything to the decipherment of hieroglyphs – one of the oldest writing systems in the world. This was made possible by the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799, a piece of rock that not only contains a text in hieroglyphs (dated to the year 196 BCE) but also its translation into Greek.

Cuneiform script, which predates hieroglyphs by a couple of centuries in the 4th millennium BCE, remained a total mystery until the full decipherment of the texts at Bisotun (also called Behistun), in 1857. Like with hieroglyphs, its decipherment was made possible by the fact that the carvings at Bisotun contained the same text in three cuneiform variants – Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite.

Bisotun Cuneiform Inscriptions - Closeup
Cuneiform inscriptions at Bisotun

Tinco spent the night at the local chapar khaneh, the courier station where he got fresh horses and provisions for his team. The station has disappeared today, unlike the nearby caravanserai of Shah Abassi, where Tinco went for coffee with an Englishman named Fowl. A happy encounter, but Fowl’s principal reason for staying at Bisotun was business, as he was a telegraph engineer. He did not share Tinco’s interest in the cuneiform inscriptions, located at the foot of the Bisotun mountain.

The inscriptions at Bisotun where carved between 522 BCE and 486 BCE, during the reign of Darius the Great. They contain historical information about the dynasty and the Persian empire. Though the inscriptions were known for centuries, it was Sir Henry Rawlinson who, in 1835, made transciptions and casts and proceeded with the first full decipherment of the Old Persian texts. Understanding these texts, and of the other two writing systems, took another two decades. (See a history of the Behistun inscriptions on Wikipedia…)

Bisotun Reliefs and Inscriptions
Reliefs and cuneiform inscriptions, from the reign of Darius the Great.

Hence, when Tinco Lycklama visited Bisotun in 1867, the world’s knowledge of cuneiform script – and the secrets it was holding – was still at a very early stage. The translation of clay tablets and rock inscriptions only progressed slowly, and full-scale scientific research only took off in the early 20th century.

Rawlinson, Henry Creswicke
Sir Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895)

As a result, Tinco Lycklama couldn’t tell us too much (and certainly not with full certainty) what the inscriptions meant at the ruins and monuments of these ancient civilisations. He could only admire the craftmanship of the people that produced these carvings, thousands of years ago, and provide insights in the general knowledge that was available about these civilisations through other sources such as oral transmission and ancient Greek chronicles.

Who knows what the cuneiform tablets in Tinco’s collection hold? They have never been translated.



Stone with cuneiform inscriptions (Lycklama Collection, Musée de la Castre, Cannes)

Sharing photographs and strawberries with the Qajars in Kermanshah

Tinco Lycklama is having a most interesting time in Kermanshah, as the special guest of Seyid Djouab. The Ottoman consul is a most entertaining host and takes Tinco along for wonderful horserides around the city, exploring the ancient monuments of Kermanshah – which was once a capital of the Persian Empire. Tinco also meets the Qajar rulers of Kermanshah, and discovers their keen interest in photography – and strawberries.

At the time of Tinco’s visit, the governor of Kermanshah was Emam Qoli Mirza (1814-1875), a Qajar prince with the title of Emad ed-Dauleh who occupied this position since 1852. He was an uncle of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, the Persian “King of Kings”, whom Tinco met in a private audience in 1866, in Tehran. Emam Qoli Mirza was a son of Mohammad Ali Mirza Dowlatshah (1789-1821), who had been governor himself and who was a son of the second Qajar King, Fath-Ali Shah (1772-1834). The Qajars in Kermanshah formed the prominent Dowlatshahi branch of the dynasty.

Emam Qoli Mirza courteously offered several gifts – including a waterpipe and family portraits. These belonged to Tinco’s most prized objects in his museum in his native Beetsterzwaag (NL), and later in Cannes (F). This was not the only time that Tinco met the governor. In 1873, Emam Qoli Mirza became Minister of Justice and travelled along with Naser al-Din Shah on his first visit to Europe. Tinco joined them during their Paris stay, in July 1873.

Emam Qoli Mirza (1814-1875, governor of Kermanshah B-W
Emam Qoli Mirza (1814-1875), Persian Minister of Justice (1873-75)

The governor had several sons. One of them was Murtaza Quli Mirza, Mansur us-Sultana (who died in 1905). In 1894-95, he became deputy Governor-General of Kurdistan. Murtaza Quli Mirza owned a very beautiful private park just outside Kermanshah, and he took Tinco there for a ride. He also introduced Tinco to Persian strawberries. Though Persia has a relatively large production of strawberries today, they were an extreme and exquisite rarity a hundred and fifty years ago.

It was another son of Emam Qoli Mirza who grabbed Tinco’s attention even more. The governor’s oldest son, Ali Quli MirzaSarim ud-Daula (who died in 1872), had been a deputy governor of the Luristan province, and governor of the Kubai tribe of Kurds. But, besides that, he was also an avid photographer.

The Qajars had a fascination for photography, and they were extremely well equipped for that time. They shipped photographic material from Europe and built enormous collections of photographs (only few of them are digitally available, unfortunately).

When Prince Ali Quli Mirza invited Tinco to join him at his Kermanshah palace, he had asked him to come dressed in the Arab costume he had bought in Baghdad (news travelled fast, even about clothes). The reason was that he wanted to take pictures of Tinco, which he did. Whereas he kept several pictures for himself, Ali Quli Mirza also gave Tinco copies of his own portrait, plus those of a few of the prince’s family members.
Unfortunately, we have no trace of these pictures. There is a solid chance that they could be found in the well-preserved photo collections of the Golestan palace in Tehran. Who knows, perhaps one day?

Tinco under Turkish guards at Kermanshah

Since he arrived at Kermanshah – on June 12, 1867 – Tinco Lycklama has been under permanent guards by Turkish soldiers. In fact, when he was approaching Kermanshah, he was met by a military detachment of twenty-five heavily armed men who escorted him into the city. These things happen – except that Kermanshah is not Turkish – it’s in Persia.

Kermanshah by Pascal Coste - 1840
View of Kermanshah (drawing by Pascal Coste, 1840)

In fact, it was Tinco Lycklama’s new powerful friend Namik Pasha – the Ottoman viceroy of Baghdad – who had made these arrangements. Remember that Tinco enjoyed significant priviliges when he stayed in Baghdad the previous winter, such as access to the military arsenal of the city and special escorts during his excursions to Babylon and Najaf.

Mehmed Emin Namık Pasha (1804-1892)
Mehmed Namik Pasha (1804-1892), Viceroy of Baghdad

The Ottoman Empire and Persia were not necessarily on friendly terms, but they maintained diplomatic relations. In fact, both empires were coping with external (European) influence and interference, especially from the British and the Russians.

The Turks seemed keen to please Tinco. Namik Pasha had instructed his consul in Kermanshah, Seyid Djouab, to treat him with the utmost deference.

Tinco had the choice of two houses offered by the Turks, where he could stay for the duration of his visit to Kermanshah. He chose the little townhouse, which came with a nice courtyard and a big garden. What’s interesting is that, after spending months traveling the deserts and often sleeping in tents, Tinco had started to adopt the customs of the region. Hence, he decided to pull up his tents in the gardens and, during his two-week stay, it’s in these tents that he worked and received his visitors – like a real sheikh of the desert.

It’s also with Consul Seyid Djouab that Tinco explored some very interesting sites in and around Kermanshah, such as the Taq Bostan rock reliefs. These are monumental sculptures dating from the Sassanid dynasty that ruled the Persian Empire from 226 to 650 CE. Kermanshah was a capital city of the Sassanids in the 4th century. In October 1866, Tinco Lycklama had seen similar rock sculptures from the earlier Sassanid rulers, near Persepolis.

Tagh Bostan
Taq Bostan

Regardless of all the good efforts by the Turks to please Tinco during his stay at Kermanshah, he is also getting back into “Persian mode”. Over the next few days, he will meet up with the Qajar rulers of the city.

“Orientals measure their respect for the traveller by his style.”

Time flies. It feels as if it were yesterday, but Tinco Lycklama arrived in Baghdad in December 1866, five months ago. Now it’s time again to move on. In style…

As it was the perfect custom for a gentleman in those days, Tinco Lycklama spent his last few days on goodbye visits to the people he had acquainted. Little time was lost on ‘Europeans’ (by which he certainly meant the personnel of the foreign legations) – with whom he had spent little time. But he had grown fond of the Carmelite priests, the people of the trading house of Weber, Jaeger and Wartman, and the Tonietti, Asfar, and Hanousche families (Levantines). They had done their utmost to make his stay in Baghdad comfortable and interesting. They had become friends.

Of course, he also visits Mehmed Namik Pacha, the powerful Ottoman viceroy of Baghdad. A direct relationship of mutual respect had grown between the two men. It had given Tinco a few privileges, such as special protection on some of his excursions to places like Babylon, Najaf and Karbala. As Tinco was about to continue his travel through Mesopotamia for a short return to Tehran (Persia), and then back through the north of modern Iraq towards Erbil and Mosul, the viceroy obliged again and provided Tinco with a passport and a special letter of recommendation. (In 1868, Tinco Lycklama and Mehmed Namik Pacha will meet again in Constantinople).

And, Tinco decided to leave Baghdad in style…

Caravan in the desert
Not Tinco Lycklama – but his desert caravan may have looked like this

We know from Tinco’s travelogue that he never travelled alone. He hired servants to assist him with practicalities – from cooking and washing clothes, to delivering messages, conversing and negotiating with locals, and protecting Tinco and his possessions.

“Je permets au lecteur de s’égayer à mes dépens ; je ris encore moi-même quand je me vois, par le souvenir, marchant en tête de cette caravane, d’une composition, néanmoins, absolument orientale.”

He never was short of servants as he had the money to pay them – and pay them well. But, he reflected that it would make sense to expand his team. “The reader is entitled to cheer at my expense; I’m still laughing myself, remembering how I was leading this caravan which, by the way, looked perfectly oriental.” Indeed, he left Baghdad with…

  • Eight servants:
    • Jussouf – a schismatic Armenian
    • Betros (Pierre) – a catholic Chaldean
    • Naoum – a catholic Chaldean
    • Djamoun (Simon) – a catholic Chaldean
    • Reza-Kouli – a chiite Persian
    • Iskender (Alexander) – a chiite Persian
    • Abbas – a chiite Persian
    • Naguy – a sunni Kurd
  • Three mule-drivers – all arab muslims
  • Twenty-five animals:
    • 10 mules
    • 9 Arabian horses
    • 2 greyhounds
    • 2 English dogs
    • 1 cat
    • … and of course his faithful Vashka – the dog that had joined him in Tiflis.

This caravan may have been perfectly oriental, but with a somewhat excentric Dutchman in the lead it must have been a pretty interesting sight!

Why did Tinco grow his team even though he didn’t need the extra manpower? Let’s assume that, carrying a precious recommendation from the viceroy of Baghdad, Tinco must have felt that he had to live up to his new status. And, as we’ll see later, word about Tinco’s activities in Baghdad even reached Tehran: his journey through the Orient got noticed!

However, there is also a very practical reason, and the answer lies in the enumeration of the various religions in his team. As a rule, travellers in the Orient were advised to hire people from different backgrounds, so that they would look at each other rather than turn against their paymaster. Tinco admits that it sounds ‘Machiavellian’, but it may have been a wise decision.

On a seperate note (and, admittedly, it’s very trivial), one may wonder where the cat came from. In fact, Tinco informs us that the cat was a gift from someone in Tehran. That means that he has been travelling no less than seven months with a cat, without telling us! We already know that the story of his dog Vashka is exceptional, as no other dog in history has seen as many remnants of antiquity (Persepolis, Babylon, Nineveh, Palmyra) or ancient places such as Aleppo, Damascus and Jerusalem. Now, we’re finding that he also had a cat with him when climbing the stairs of the palace of Darius and walking the streets of Baghdad. We have no clue, however, about the greyhounds and the English dogs. Perhaps he took them along as gifts for his friends in Tehran?

Quintessential coffee at Ctesiphon, the bedouin way.

30/04/1867  —–  Yesterday, Tinco Lycklama left Baghdad for an excursion to the ruins of antique Ctesiphon. It’s not just for touching another remnant of antiquity. He is also going to herd sheep and experience life in the desert. And, he’ll learn how the bedouins make coffee. Real coffee.

The Tigris was still flooding part of the city, and the main roads were impractical, so Tinco and his companions used quffa boats to move themselves and their horses out of town.

The trip was organised by Hanouche Asfar, a prominent christian merchant from Damascus who lived close to Tinco in Baghdad. Asfar had to inspect his flock of over 2,000 sheep, at his desert camp about an hour south of Ctesiphon. He brought along his two sons – Djabouri and Rhedzouk.


Ctesiphon by Sandor Alexander Svoboda (1826 - 1896)
Ctesiphon prior to 1888, rendered by Hungarian artist Sandor Alexander Svoboda (1826 – 1896)


The party was joined by Father Damien, one of the missionaries of the Discalced Carmelites who had become close friends with Tinco. Our research tells us that father Damien was actually Pierre Batailley, a young French doctor from the Faculté de Médecine in Paris. When Father Marie-Joseph de Jésus, in his previous life Gustave Cancel, became the superior of the Baghdad mission in 1858, he briefly returned to France to find an assistant. He met Pierre Batailley by chance, and it was a godsend for the future of Baghad. Father Damien became the most prominent doctor in the city – and for over thirty years (until his death in 1898) he helped rich and poor through the many sanitary challenges of Baghdad in those days.

Father Damien thought of himself as a good huntsman, and he joined the excursion for a little break of desert hunting. Tinco amusedly reflects that Father Damien’s hunting skills were probably limited to rabbits and low-flying birds.

Tinco’s five-day trip to Ctesiphon – the ancient capital of the Sassanids – was instructive, not only for the opportunity to witness again another remnant from antiquity, but also because it was his first real experience with the bedouin life and a true immersion into their culture. The herdsmen of Hanouche Asfar were genuine Bedouins – a world apart from the people in the city.

The juxtaposition of the simple life of the bedouins, in the shadow of the monuments that ruled the Orient over two thousand years ago, was a striking sight to Tinco Lycklama.

Naqsh-i Rustam (Iran): Sasanian Relief Showing the Investiture of Ardashir I by the God Ahura Mazda (Hormizd)
A relief depicting Ardeshir I, at Naqsh-e Rustam, near Persepolis – visited by Tinco Lycklama in October 1876 (photo by Antoin Sevruguin in the 1890s)

The Sassanid Empire (224-651) had its origins at Estakhr, the lost city near Persepolis which Tinco Lycklama explored in October 1866. King Ardeshir I soon moved its capital to Ctesiphon, where the Sassanids rule until the dawn of the islamic period. At times, the empire covered the whole of the Middle East as far as modern-day Egypt, Turkey, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Ctesiphon was already a capital in the preceding Parthan Empire (247 BCE – 224 CE). Its real history started about 120 BCE around what was originally a military encampment near the old regional Parthian capital of Seleucia. It became the empire’s capital around 58 BCE.


Around the fourth century of our common era, the city of Ctesiphon measured about twice the size of Rome. It is also around that time that the remaining and remarkable archway of Tāq-i Kisrā was built. After the start of the islamic period, much of city was taken down for use as building material to construct the new Abbassid capital of Baghdad in the 8th century CE. Ctesiphon became a ghost town.

It is under the Tāq-i Kisrā archway that Tinco Lycklama is having coffee today – in the manner of the desert people.

In terms of constructions, the Taq-i Kisra is about the sole building that subsist from the old Ctesiphon. Tinco saw more of it than visitor’s can see today. Indeed, the northern façade collapsed in 1888 due to flooding by the Tigris river. The archway, with its monumental height of 37 meters, was the largest construction of its kind when it was built. The fact that it still stands is a witness to the incredible craftmenship of its architects.

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Genuine excavations of the Ctesiphon site were only conducted for the first time in the late 1920s and early 1930s. in 1867, Tinco was keen to undertake some digging himself, understanding the potential of what he saw as an ancient graveyard nearby. But, he didn’t have the tools nor the skilled manpower to undertake it, and contented himself with a few objects that he found laying bare in the sand.

But, for Tinco Lycklama, the experience of the desert life at Ctesiphon proved to as fascinating as the sight of the ancient site. He share the meals with the bedouins, saw them at work with the herds of sheep. He saw how different the people were, both physically and culturally, from the citizens of Baghdad. He reflected on the different roles of women. For their hard labour, women had far more value here in the desert than in the city. As a result, bedouin parents prized themselves when having many daughters, whereas parents in Baghdad were keen on raising many sons.


At Ctesiphon, Tinco also tasted the best coffee he ever had in his life. And, no doubt having us in mind – 150 years later, he even shared the recipee for making the best coffee – the bedouin way. Courtesy of Djérif, a sixty-year old chief herdsman at the service of Hanouche Asfar.

In a nutshell, here is how you must make your coffee:

  • Coffee in the desertPrepare three coffee pots of different sizes.
  • The largest pot holds the used coffee of the previous day. Boil it slowly.
  • Put a layer of freshly grinded coffee in a second, smaller pot, and pour the old coffee over it. Boil it for another fifteen minutes.
  • Then pour what you have into the third pot, the smallest one, and let the water evaporate as much as what suits your taste for stronger or lighter coffee.

Tinco Lycklama calls this the ‘quintessential coffee’ which has nothing to do with what we erroneously like to call ‘good coffee’. Just don’t drink it before you go to bed, he says.

Let’s assume that Tinco must have delighted his guests in Cannes, later in life, when serving coffee the bedouin way, after a delightful meal.



Where are Lycklama’s five missing sarcophagi?

At the Musée de la Castre in Cannes, we can admire three impressive sarcophagi that Tinco Lycklama brought back from the ancient city of Sidon in the Lebanon. At Babylon, he excavated two others, and now we discover that he found three more at Sidon as well. But, these five sarcophagi are lost. In fact, we have no clue whether they ever made it to Europe.

Musée Lycklama Hotel de Ville 02
One of the christian-era sarcophagi from Sidon, displayed at the Musée Lycklama (at the Hôtel de Ville of Cannes) in the 1920s.

A sarcophagus is an important object in any museum collection. Sometimes it is valuable because of the ancient personality or family that the sarcophagus relates to. Sometimes it is a remarkable piece of art and craftsmanship. Sometimes, if untouched by vandals or thieves, it reveals valuable objects that the deceased were supposed to take with them to their afterlife. In any case, a sarcophagus is a delicate object that museums care for and enjoy sharing with the public.

Tinco Lycklama was proud of the three sarcophagi that he showed to the visitors of his museum in Cannes. These are christian sarcophagi made in lead, found at Sidon in the Lebanon, and they are dated to the 4th century CE. It is not clear whether Tinco unearthed these sarcophagi himself. They do not appear in the 1871 inventory of his museum in his native Beetsterzwaag (NL). On the basis of the written traces we have today, it is quite possible that he acquired them from Joseph Durighello (1822-1896), the French vice-consul at Sidon who was a passionate and reputed researcher of antiquity, who became a respected acquaintance of Tinco.

Our understanding of the vast collections of Tinco Lycklama is compounded by the fact that past inventories are confusing. Some have been lost, and others contain significant errors. During the move of the museum between Beetsterzwaag and Cannes, in 1872, some object were broken and lost their reference numbers. Beyond the 1871 inventory by Tinco’s personal secretary Ernest Massenot, we don’t have another inventory by either Lycklama or Massenot) that gives us an exact description of how the collection looked like before 1877 (when Tinco Lycklama donated his museum to the city of Cannes). Subsequent attempts at inventories by consecutive curators at the service of the museum of Cannes were haphazard, to say the least.

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Khan Antoun Bey, station of the ‘Messageries Impériales’ at Beirut (photo taken by Félix Bonfils between 1867-70 – source Lycklama photo collection)

The 1871 inventory was drawn upon the collection that was exhibited at Lycklama’s museum in Beetsterzwaag. It concerns about 600 objects, and we do know that at least as many that were acquired by Tinco in the Orient (between 1865-1870) never made it to The Netherlands. Some (if not all) were stored in Beirut because the political situation (including the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71) seriously complicated transportation to Europe. Also, at some point, the Ottoman administration that ruled over most of the Middle East prohibited the exportation of archaeological artefacts. As a result, many objects never went to The Netherlands, and were shipped directlty to Cannes later on, where Tinco officially opened his museum early 1873.

As we reported in an earlier article, Tinco Lycklama excavated two tombs from the ruins of Babylon (in modern Iraq). They were precious finds, as he found gold objects within them, an indication of the importance of the deceased. He took the tombs to Baghdad, where he left them in the care of his agents – the Swiss merchants Weber, Jaeger & Wartman. The tombs then supposedly were sent to Aleppo, from where Tinco must have sent them to Beirut – the key station on the maritime connection with Marseille.

Alphonse Durighello (1822-1896)
Alphonse Durighello, French vice-consul in Beirut (1822-1896)

After his great voyage through the Orient in 1865-68, Tinco Lycklama returned to the Lebanon in the winter of 1869-70. He stayed five months in Beirut, from where he made another expedition to Sidon. Indeed, not only had Tinco appreciated that Sidon was a very promising site for future archaeology, Joseph Durighello had also pointed him to some unexplored spots south of the town.

In the written report that Tinco’s secretary Massenot published in 1873, we see that Tinco unearthed three sarcophagi. They were not from the Christian era, and probably even predated the Roman and Greek era. These sarcophagi were handed over to the care of Antoine Joseph Sayur, a merchant in Beirut who also acted as the Dutch consul in that city.

Our next traces are as follows…

  • In 1872, the shipping company “Messageries Maritimes” in Marseille reports to the Dutch consulate that three crates from Beirut had arrived for Tinco Lycklama. We assume that these must have contained the three christian-era sarcophagi, and they were probably shipped directly to Cannes, where Tinco had just rented the Villa Escarras and where he was about to install his new museum.
  • In early 1873, Giovanni Battista de Rossi (1822-1894), the pioneer in christian archaeology, publishes an article praising Tinco’s finds from Sidon – in particular the christian sarcophagi made in lead. Tinco has sent him photographs of the sarcophagi, which were at that point on display at his museum in Cannes.
  • In March 1873, Ernest Massenot publishes his report about the 1869-70 trip to Beirut, where he explains the excavation of the three sarcophagi found in Sidon. These sarcophagi were made from stone (and thus they are not related to the sarcophagi currently at the Musée de la Castre, as these are made from lead). The newly found sarcophagi were left in the care of the Dutch consul Sayur in Beirut.
  • In November 1873, the local newspapers in Cannes report Massenot’s imminent departure for Beirut. His mission was to recover the objects that Tinco Lycklama had not been able to ship to Europe because of the wars. A few months later, in February 1874, the same papers report that Ernest Massenot had returned to Cannes from a successful mission to Beirut.
Ernest Massenot - cropped
Ernest Massenot, personal secretary to Tinco Lycklama

Later in 1874, there is a fall-out between Tinco Lycklama and his secretary Ernest Massenot. From 1875 onwards, we never hear anymore about the latter. The conflict must have been very serious, and one may wonder if it has to do with the handling of Tinco’s collections, and possibly with the objects that had to be transferred from Beirut to Cannes.

The fact is, from the eight sarcophagi that had been excavated and had belonged to Tinco Lycklama, only three are accounted for and are on display today at the Musée de la Castre in Cannes. Where are the five others? Have they been destroyed for some reason? Where they sold for profit by the handlers in Beirut, perhaps with complicity of Ernest Massenot. Or, where they simply stolen?

Tinco Lycklama himself hasn’t left us any written statement about the fate of these five sarcophagi – at least not by what know today. The last volume of his series of four books about his travels in the Orient was published in 1875. It does refer to his second trip to Sidon, but doesn’t suggest that anything went wrong with the sarcophagi.

It remains a mystery. It is obvious that a collection of eight sarcophagi, including five from distant antiquity of which two from Babylon, leaves a different impression to the visitor of a museum than a set of three sarcophagi from the christian era.

What makes it even more astounding is the probability that the three subsisting sarcophagi were probably not excavated by Tinco Lycklama and rather acquired from Alphonse Durighello. The French vice-consul was a meticulous man with all the right connections, which may account for the fact that these three subsisting sarcophagi safely made it to Europe.

But, Tinco’s personal finds are lost. Did he place his trust in the wrong people? Are the results of his passion and hard work now on display in some other museum with uncertain attribution? Perhaps we’ll discover it, one day.

Socialising with Indian and Persian princes in Iraq’s holy city of Karbala

Ten soldiers were awaiting Tinco Lycklama as a guard of honour at the gates of Karbala. This was arranged by the Turkish kaymakam (governor) of the city who, impressed by the instructions of the Viceroy of Baghdad, did his best to please this special guest – a ‘simple tourist’ from The Netherlands. Karbala was very busy, as tens of thousands of pilgrims had descended on the holy city for religious celebrations. Including the heir to the Indian Kingdom of Oudh, as well as a rebellious Qajar prince-in-exile from Baghdad.

Tinco Lycklama had truly enjoyed his travel from Najaf (the other Shi’a holy city) to Karbala. He could actually claim to have done something quite unique: for thirty-six hours, he had sailed the deserts in a boat! Indeed, because of the most severe flooding of the century between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, the deserts had become a gigantic lake – and the only way to reach Karbala was by sailing the sands.


The city of Karbala dates from the earliest days of islam, built around the shrine of the Imam Hussain – son of Muhammed’s daughter Fatimah and her husband ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib – the first Imam of all muslims in the Shi’a belief system. After the deaths of both his father and his older brother, Hussain became the third Imam.

Karbala Imam Hussain shrine
Imam Hussain shrine, Karbala

Imam Hussain became a martyr when he died in battle at Karbala, in the year 680 CE. Hussain is a key figure in the original split between Sunni and Shi’a islam. And it explains why Karbala, like Najaf, are so important no only to the Iraqi Shia’s but also to Iran, which is largely Shi’a.

In fact, Karbala was essentially a Persian city in Iraq. At the time of Tinco Lycklama’s visit, most of the pilgrims travelled aal the way from Persia. Even by the end of the 19th century, it is estimated that seventy-five percent of the population was of Persian origin.

This helps to explain why Tinco met with an Indian prince from Oudh and a Qajar prince from Teheran. When Tinco heard about the presence of Birjis Qadr in the city, he promptly sent a message and asked for an audience with His Majesty. No way that Tinco would miss the opportunity to pay his respects to a crown prince who had just lost his last chance to recover his kingdom.

Birjis Qadr
Birjis Qadr (in The Illustrated London News, August 1, 1857)

In 1856, the Lord Dalhousie, Governor General of the East India Company, deposed Wajid Ali Shah, the last king of Oudh (or Awadh), and his rich kingdom was annexed to British India. The princes and kings of Oudh had their origins in Persia and were followers of Shi’a islam. After the British annexation, Birjis Qadr, the son and heir to the deposed King, went into exile.

Birjis Qadr (1845-1893)
Birjis Qadr (1845-1893)

At the time of Tinco Lycklama’s visit, prince Birjis Qadr was living in Nepal. But, in 1867, as a devout muslim, he did his pilgrimage to the holy shrines in Karbala. There he was joined by Ilkhani Khan. This is how Tinco calls him, but the latter’s full name was Amir ‘Allah Quli Khan-e Qajar Quyunlu (1821-1892), and he was the Ilkhani (or ‘head’) of the Royal Tribe. A cousin of the Persian shah Naser al-Din Qajar, he was considered somewhat rebellious and sent into exile to Baghdad in 1846 (he returned to Persia in 1870 and occupied various posts as provincial governor).

There was a special relationship between the Kingdom of Oudh and the city of Karbala. The Oudh Bequest was a rich endowment by the kings of Oudh to the cities of Karbala and Najaf to meet the expenses for upkeep of the holy Shi’a shrines. Needless to say that prince Birjis Qadr was a most significant guest at Karbala.

Tinco Lycklama has fond memories as the guest of Birjis Qadr and Ilkhani Khan. In fact, their encounter was so gracious and friendly that he was invited to stay at their palace. Unfortunately, Tinco’s stay was short, so he had to decline the offer (and he was staying in quarters arranged by the governor of Baghdad, and refusing that honour would have been a political ‘faux-pas’).

By an interesting twist of coincidence, Tinco would later befriend another Earl Dalhousie in Cannes. James Broun-Ramsay, the Lord Dalhousie and British governor-general in India, had died in 1860. His cousin Fox Maule-Ramsay was the heir to the earlship of Dalhousie and a prominent guest in Cannes, where he attended Tinco Lycklama’s famous ‘bal masqué’.