Paris-Tehran : the Arthur de Gobineau angle

We have been working on a who’s who of the foreign legations in Tehran as they were at the time of Tinco Lycklama’s stays in 1866 and 1867. Remember that only four countries had active diplomatic missions : Russia, Britain, France, and the Ottoman empire.

Tinco enjoyed significant protection from the Ottoman administration once he reached Bagdad. However, when in Tehran, he never mentions any of the Turkish diplomats by name, even though he affirms that he met them several times. In fact, from the account of his travels, we gather that he didn’t think highly of the Turks. About the Ottomans in Tehran, the only thing he says (in quite undiplomatic terms) is that they were all remarkably obese!

He was close to the British minister, Charles Alison, and spent considerable time with the English from both the legation and the Indo-European Telegraph Department. The Russian presence in Tehran was significant and Tinco met its diplomats regularly. However, he talks very little about his encounters with the Russians and, oddly, never even refers to the ambassador – Nicolay Girs.

Tinco is a bit more forthcoming about the French. That makes sense, as their presence and importance at the Qajar court cannot be ignored. The Shah’s personal physician was the French doctor Joseph Tholozan (1820-1897). The royal gardeners were French, as was the chief musician. And, the country’s first polytechnic – the Dar-ol-Funun – was significantly inspired by the French approach to science and counted many French teachers.

Jacques-Adolphe Cousseau, comte de Massignac (1815-1879)
Jacques-Adolphe Cousseau, comte de Massignac (1815-1879)

Shortly after his arrival at Tehran, early May 1866, Tinco’s first official visit was to Jacques-Adolphe Cousseau, comte de Massignac (1815-1879) – the French minister plenipotentiary. Unlike the English and Russian legations, which had offices in central Tehran but moved to compounds outside Tehran during the summer, the French legation had just a single mission in the heart of the capital. Before renting decent lodging of his own, Tinco stayed for a couple of days at the nearby house of assistant chancellor Emile Charles Bernay. When he moved to a house in Tajrish, in the Summer, he became the neighbour of chancellor Amedée Querry.

The French legation provided great assistance to Tinco and his practical arrangements. In fact, Tinco was traveling with a formal recommendation that sollicited the benevolence of Massignac. The intriguing question is : where did this recommendation come from?

In that respect, we need to look at a number of potential candidates – and they may all gravitate around the Ecoles des Langues orientales, in Paris. One of them is Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882). Gobineau is well-known as one of the leading thinkers on race theory. But, besides this area of debate, he was an eminent orientalist and acclaimed writer – an expert on the history and cultures of the Middle East. He was also Massignac’s predecessor as ambassador to Tehran (1855-63, serving the first year as secretary).

Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882)
Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882)

Tinco certainly did not meet Gobineau in Tehran. But, Gobineau belonged to a foreign service network that was tightly related to the Ecoles des Langues orientales. The circumstances seem to indicate (until further notice from the archives) that it was indeed Arthur de Gobineau who provided Tinco’s recommendation.

Arthur de Gobineau had studied oriental languages including Persian. When he took up his position as secretary in Tehran in 1855, he joins a legation that also comprises Charles Barbier de Meynard (1826-1908) and Amedée Querry (1825-1900). The next year, when Gobineau is appointed as minister of the legation, Barbier de Meynard returns to Paris and becomes a teacher at the Ecole des Langues orientales – where Tinco meets him in 1863-65. Amedée Querry, on the other hand, had become a close friend of Arthur de Gobineau and spent a total of seventeen years in Persia. Querry is considered one of the most important scholars and writers about law and justice in 19th century Persia.

Both Gobineau and Barbier de Meynard may have been instrumental in arranging a recommendation for Tinco’s voyage. Let’s keep in mind that, in those years, Tinco was the only European to undertake such an ambitious travel project. It is quite evident that Tinco was in touch with everyone in Paris who had some relationship to the Orient in general, and to Persia in particular. He may never have met Amadée Querry prior to his arrival at Tehran, but it must have been Querry that provided some important introductions has he had been in the region since over ten years. Massignac was courteous and generous in his assistance to Tinco – but Amedée Querry was probably Tinco’s most valuable contact.

There is so much more to discover about this trail of connections. It will help us in understanding how Tinco prepared his grand voyage. It may also shed some light on Tinco’s activities in subsequent years, his connections with the Société de Géographie and the Société d’Ethnographie in Paris, and with to scholars and travellers in other countries. And, through these connections, we should also get a better grip on his years of study (and partying?) in Paris – of which so little is known, yet.



  • For an excellent backgrounder on the people behind the French legation to Iran in the 19th centure – and in particular on Amedée Querry, we recommend the excellent monograph (in French only, at this time) by Prof. Florence Hellot-Bellier: Amédée Querry : drogman en Perse au milieu du XIXe siècle.

04/09/1866 – Moving in with Charles Alison, the British ambassador in Tehran

During his long stay of five months in Tehran, in 1866, Tinco Lycklama becomes a close friend of Charles Alison, the minister plenipotentiary at the British legation. When Alison invites Tinco to live at the Gulhek compound for two weeks, as Her Majesty’s guest, Tinco is very touched by this personal sign of affection.

Charles Alison (1810-1872)
Charles Alison (1810-1872), by Capt. W.H. Pierson, courtesy of Miss Philippa Bateman-Champain – Printed in “The English Amongst the Persians: Imperial Lives in Nineteenth-Century Iran” by Denis Wright, 2001, I.B. Tauris Publishers, London/New York.


The British minister was a pretty excentic man. Charles Alison (1810-1872) had taken up his position as the head of the British legation to the Qajar court on July 19, 1860. He came with a reputation for flamboyance, partying, and womanizing. But, since 1863, he also lived in sorrow.

Elizabeth Sorell (1823-1863)
Elizabeth Sarell (1823-1863)

Alison was new to his role in Tehran. His previous assignments at Constantinople and Damascus had been in lower positions. He spent many years in the Ottoman capital  where he had met Elizabeth Sarell (1823-1863). She was a member of an influential merchant family in the Levant and wife of Theodore Baltazzi (1798-1860) – personal banker to the Sultan and the richest person in that city. Baltazzi died in 1860. Though stationed in Tehran, Alison courted Elizabeth, and they married in Paris in 1863. The marriage was short-lived: Elizabeth died the same year, right after Christmas.

Tinco Lycklama doesn’t elaborate on this sad episode in Alison’s life. He simply writes that his friend was hiding a profound sadness – and kept it for himself.

Charles Alison was otherwise a perfect host and enjoyed throwing parties. Actually, that is how Tinco met Alison, only days after arriving in Tehran, in May 1866. The occasion was a party at the British residence. Tinco mingled with other Englishmen but also Frenchmen, Russians, Turks, Persians, and even an Indian prince. A single evening gave Tinco all the right introductions. But, there were many parties – and Tinco didn’t miss any of them.

Diplomats desperately needed parties in Tehran, as the city didn’t have much else to offer to its foreign residents. Charles Alison seems to have been a reasonably good piano-player, but Tinco writes that the best player of all was William John Dickson (1826-1900), the Oriental secretary at the British legation. With a slight display of false modesty, Tinco says he was occasionaly invited to perform as well.

Moving to Gulhek

British Legation at Bāgh-I Īlchī in 1867
The British Legation in Tehran at Bāgh-I Īlchī in 1867

The British legation was formally located in central Tehran, at Bāgh-I Īlchī. The compound dated from 1811 and was built under ambassador Sir Gore Ouseley (1770-1844). But, by the time Alison took his position, the buildings had been deteriorating, and he asked for (and obtained) the permission to acquire new lands and construct a new embassy. It was William Henry Pierson (1839-1881) – an important figure at the Indo-European Telegraph Department (also read this article…) – who conceived and oversaw the design of the new compound (and most of its execution). It was located at Ferdowsi – and entered into operation in 1872.

Tinco only saw the original compound at Bāgh-I Īlchī. And, as it was summer and the heat in Tehran was unbearable, the legation soon set up quarters at its summer residence at Gulhek – (then) located outside the city limits. This is where Tinco stayed for two weeks, September 4-18, 1866.

Charles Alison made arrangements so that Tinco could stay in a separate pavillion. It was surrounded by gardens and situated right opposite Alison’s main residence. On the 1865 map above we can identify Tinco’s pavillion as the red rectangular building above the residence (in white).

The days at Gulhek were well organized. At 8am, Charles Alison would rise for breakfast. Lunch was served at noon sharp, and dinner at 6pm. Tinco enjoyed the refined European luxury of Gulhek. Alison had even put a coach and three horses at his disposal. Of course, Alison had his official duties to tend to. But, he spent all meals and evenings in the companionship of Tinco.

Tinco describes Alison as one of the most educated people he ever met, of great elegance and good taste. In Volume II of his travel diaries (“Voyage…“), Tinco reports Charles Alison’s death, in 1872. From the sadness of Tinco’s words, one understands the deep affection both men had for each other. It is likely that they maintained correspondance.

British Legation - The Gulhek sumer camp in 1865
Sketch of the Gulhek summer residence of the British legation (sketch by Lt. Pierson, 1865)


Further reading…

  • For more information about Charles Alison in Constantinopel, as well as the Sarells, the Baltazzis, and other Levantine merchant families, we recommend the web site of the Levantine Heritage Foundation.
  • We acknowledge the Room for Diplomacy web site as the source for some of the images used. We recommend this web site for their excellent information and documentation on the history of British embassy and consultate buildings.

Tinco Lycklama and the Persian telegraph men – business or pleasure at Pas-e-Qaleh?

Around this time, in 1866, Tinco Lycklama made a brief and leasurely excursion into the Alborz mountains. Leaving his summer residence in Tajrish (north of Tehran), he traveled the same road as the one he took on August 23, on his way to the Shah’s encampment at Shahrestanak. However, this time he simply went to look for a waterfall, a few kilometers higher and beyond the village of Pas-e-Qaleh (or, as he calls it, Paskalé).

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Tinco obviously enjoyed the visit to the waterfall. But, the excursion is perhaps more interesting for the people he was traveling with. Major Smith, Captain Pierson, Doctor Baker, Mr. Mounsey, and Mr. Helm. The former three were all employees of the Indo-European Telegraph Department (1), a British government agency responsible for connecting the nascent telegraph communications in Persia into an international network. Mounsey was a secretary at the British legation in Tehran. And Mr. Helm, well, we’re not sure about him – except that Tinco calls him ‘a tourist’.

Telegraphy in Persia

One of the questions about Tinco Lycklama’s travels through the Middle East is this: how did he stay in touch with his friends and family in Paris and The Netherlands?. He tells us that he sent and received letters. He also talks a lot about (and with) the personnel working on the telegraph systems in the Middle East. He never tells us if he used the telegraph himself. We assume he did.

Siemens telegraph pole from 1870
Telegraph pole in Persia, dating from 1870

Having said that, Tinco arrived in Persia at a time when telegraphy was totally new in the region (2). Since 1858, the Persians had started experimenting with telegraphy, but only to connect a few places within the country. The first connections were established between Qajar palaces and some cities close to Tehran – allowing Naser al-Din Shah and his administration to communicate faster and excercise power in a more efficient way. As it happens, Persia was only connected ‘to the world’ from March 1865 onwards (3), when the local Persian system was hooked into the international system built by the Indo-European Telegraph Department.

Thus, when Tinco arrived in Tehran, it was theoretically possible for him to send a message to Paris (which could be useful, as his financial affairs were managed through the French capital). However, keep in mind that sending telegraph messages in those days was not like making a phone call! A message between London and Karachi would typically take 6 days, as the message had to be intercepted and re-transcribed at verious posts along the lines.

The Persian system also connected into the competing system backed by the German Siemens family – the Indo-European Telegraph Company (note the confusing names of these competing entities!). However, it’s only in April 1868 that Tehran connects through this alternative route to London, via the Caucasus, Russia, Warsaw, and Berlin (and thus after Tinco’s departure from the region).

Socializing at Pas-e-Qaleh

Interestingly, In Persia and Iraq, Tinco often traveled along the exact main routes that the overland cables were taking. And he certainly was interested in the topic of telegraphy. It is therefore not a surprise that he would make the trip to the Pas-e-Qaleh waterfall in the company of people that had a major hand in building the network.

Robert Murdoch Smith (1835-1900)
Sir Robert Murdoch Smith, KCMG (1835-1900)

Major Smith was Robert Murdoch Smith (1835–1900) (see his profile…). He was a military officer but also an archaeologist who proceeded (between 1856-61) with excavations in present Turkey and the North African Cyrenaica. During his time in Persia (1863-85), he collected valuable Persian art on behalf of the South Kensington Museum. Subsequently, he became the Director of the Science and Art Museum at Edinburgh, and was also chairman of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. But, Robert Murdoch Smith was also a major force in telegraphy. It was he who, in 1863, negotiated with the Qajar court the right for the Indo-European Telegraph Department to construct lines in Persia. He remained working for the Department until 1885 and, in 1887 (after his return to London) he became its director-in-chief.

Captain Pierson was William Henry Pierson (1839-1881) (see Wikisource…), a military officer who did duty in India between 1860-63.  He joined the Indo-European Telegraph Department in 1863 and was critical to the success of constructing large tracts of line from Bagdad into Persia. In 1866, he also did a brief stint on the telegraph lines in the Caucasus. Pierson was also the main designer and builder of the new British legation at Tehran. In 1871-73, he becomes the director of the Persian Telegraph, and later returns to military duties in England.

Doctor Baker was James Edmund Baker, the head physician to the Indo-European Telegraph Company (not the Department!in Persia. We know little of him, but he is noted for an authoritative report to the House of Commons in 1886, about the sanitary situation in Persia (4). On the other hand, we do know something about his family. James Edmund Baker was a son of a military officer named John Robinet Baker. He had several sisters. Eleanor Katherine Baker married Robert Murdoch Smith in 1869. Another sister, Frances Josephine Baker, married in 1870 to William John Dickson, the Oriental secretary at the legation in Tehran. The Bakers were a well connected family!

Augustus Henry Mounsey
Augustus Henry Mounsey (1834-1882)

M. Mounsey was August Henry Mounsey (1834-1882) (see Wikipedia…) – was not working for the Telegraph Department. He was a career diplomat who, after a few previous assignments, was stationed in Tehran in 1865 as 2nd secretary to the British legation. Together with the minister plenipotentiary Charles Alison, he is particularly remembered for the substantial relief efforts made for the Jewish victims of the pogrom at Barfurush, in May 1867. Later, Mounsey was stationed to many other places in Europe, but he is most noted for his duty in Japan, where he was a direct witness of the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 – an event about which he wrote a book.

That leaves us with M. Helm, the remaining member of the little excursion to the Pas-e-Qaleh waterfall. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to identify him. Tinco Lycklama describes him as a “young tourist, and very skilled hunter“. It is a bit unusual that Tinco, who is otherwise quite meticulous with details and information, doesn’t tell us who Helm was, or from which country he came. Given the German-sounding name, one could wonder if Helm was in any way associated with the efforts of the Siemens company  to negotiate the connection of Tehran to the telegraph system through the Caucasus and Russia (efforts that were ultimateluy successful in 1868). Dr. Baker worked for the Indo-European Telegraph Company – which was primarely backed by Siemens. But, this is just one of many possibilities.

Business or pleasure?

Tinco enjoyed very much his escapade – and the excellent company – to the Pas-e-Qaleh waterfall. They had to leave their horses behind in the village, and had some very difficult and perilous climbing to do for about 4 kilometers towards the waterfall. But, it was worth it. The waterfall in itself wasn’t that pretty, but the view was spectacular, nevertheless. They had great fun, did some hunting and had a delicious barbecue.

Ali Quli Mirza
Ali Quli Mirza, Minister of Telegraphy (and other duties) – Portrait published in 1863.

Did Tinco have more in mind than simply enjoying the scenery? Did he have a particular interest in what was happening with the telegraph systems in Persia? We don’t know. On the other hand, let’s keep in mind that Naser al-Din had appointed a new government in June 1866. The minister for Telegraphy (amongst his other attributions) was Ali Quli Mirza, a powerful advisor who was a son of Fath Ali Shah (and thus a grand-uncle of Naser al-Din). Tinco became close friends with this powerful minister, and they maintained a correspondance long after Tinco’s return to Europe. We know that Tinco was a sociable person, but there are some interesting coincidences that beg for closer scrutiny.




Further reading…

  1. About the Indo-European Telegraph Department, see the German Wikipedia page…
  2. For a history of telegraphy, check the Distant Writing web site…, and in particular its chapter about “Competitors & Allies”, which provide great detail about the operations of the telegraph companies in Russia, the Caucasus, Persia, and the Ottoman empire.
  3. A chapter on the early years (1858-1865) of telegraphy in Persia, when the system was destined only to transmit messages within Persia itself, see Iranica Online…
  4. “A few remarks on the most prevalent Diseases and the Climate of the North of Persia”, by Dr. James Edmund Baker, Report to the House of Commons, 1886


23/08/1866 – Was Tinco spying at Shahrestanak?

We couldn’t help it. The two-day excursion that Tinco Lycklama made to Shahrestanak just begs for a provocative title. In all fairness, we currently have nothing solid to suggest that Tinco Lycklama was doing anything else but traveling Persia as a tourist. However, the trip raises a few questions – just like many other things in Tinco’s writings.

For now, we’ll essentially stick to the description of the trip to Shahrestanak – a valley and village north of Tehran, deep in the Alborz mountains.

Royal encampment and summer residence of the Qajar

Tinco’s stated intention was to discover and describe Tehran how it was in 1866 and 1867 – and so he did. One of his objectives was to visit all the Qajar palaces. As such, Shahrestanak (spelled Chirastanek by Tinco) becomes a logical addition to Tinco’s inventory of the places that mattered to the court of Naser al-Din Shah. Except, Shahrestanak was not a regular “palace”…

In the summer, when 19th century Tehran suffocates under a sweltering heat, most inhabitants seek the coolness of the countryside and – those who can afford it – move higher up in the foothills of the Alborz. Tinco had done so himself in June 1866, when he rented a house at the lush village of Tajrish, just north of Tehran.

Naser al-Din Shah moved even further, to the Shahrestanak valley. The Qajar court painter Kamal al-Molk produced a fine painting, showing how the Shahrestanak Naseri palace look like in the 19th century. However, that palace was built only around 1878.

At Tinco’s time, in 1866, there was no palace but a summer encampment built of tents. It must have been a huge settlement, as the whole court in Tehran followed the shah (and his harem) to the valley. Also, his top military command and two full regiments set up base near the royal tents. In addition to that, large numbers of servants and tradesmen moved into the valley, to serve the needs of the court. Though Tinco doesn’t give us any numbers, we’re easily talking about many thousands of people!

We have no photos of the Shahrestanak encampment. However, a few pictures of a typical royal encampent and a royal tent of Naser al-Din’s father Mohammad Shah Qajar (1808-1848) can give some idea of how it looked. To house that many people at Shahrestanak, just imagine the encampment on the photo many times larger.

In the summer of 1866, Naser al-Din Shah and his court must have arrived by the middle of August (for over a month – as Tinco meets the shah in Tehran later in September). So, with all the notables gone from Tehran and the surrounding palaces, Tinco decided to follow and travel to Shahrestanak.

A perilous trip, but interesting

He set off in the morning of August 23, and took the shortest but most perilous route to get there. He traveled on horseback, accompanied by two of his servants as well as a mule to carry his equipment. He didn’t take a tent along  as one of the servants, Ismaïl, knew how to organize lodgings in the village of the Shahrestanak valley.

The trip took over 6 hours – across two major mountain passes and along precipitous ravines – before reaching the valley. The tent encampment was located at the same spot where the Qajars built the palace in 1878, and it straddled across the banks of the valley river. From higher up, Tinco had an impressive view on the layout of the camp, where the royal tents and those of the harem were clearly distinguishable by their red color.

Approximate map of Tinco Lycklama’s excursion to Shahrestanak 23-24 August 1866 – directly north across the mountains, and then back following a longer but easier road.

At the time of this excursion, Tinco had not yet met the shah in person, and he obviously traveled unofficially, so he steered clear of the encampment which was surrounded with heavily armed military posts. But, he observed that the royal tents and those of many dignitaries had the size of genuine houses and that their external decorations suggested the high level of luxury within.

In the absence of proper lodgings (Ismaïl had been too optimistic), Tinco was fortunate to come across a small farmhouse. The hospitable family was happy to allow Tinco and his men to set up their beds near the farmhouse – under the stars, but within the protection of the walled garden. The next morning, Tinco spent his time traveling the valley and examining the details of the royal encampment, which extended over a long distance along the river. The shah’s military men acknowledged him, but left him alone.

Questions remain

Tinco doesn’t tell us whether he tried to enter the camp. Nor does he tell us why it was so important to him to make this demanding trip. The fact that he even mentions it with a precise date comes as a surprise, as only few of his activities in Tehran are dated – and he is very discreet about his time in Tehran anyway. This contrasts significantly with his general approach of his books, where he easily shares dates and facts about even the most insignificante encounters. Having said that, his extended stays in Tiflis and Baghdad are both marred by the absence of such detail as well.

Even though Tinco Lycklama writes extensively about the history, the arts and the customs of these capital cities, from the narrative perspective it feels that he was doing many things there that are not coherent with the attitude of a “simple tourist”. We know that he met the most powerful men. Përhaps these local rulers and royalty may have found it interesting to meet a lonesome and somewhat excentric Dutch traveler. But, that doesn’t explain everything.

The visit to Shahrestanak is just an example for those awkward aspects of Tinco’s travel through the Orient. We simply know (today) that all the powers of Qajar Persia were present at the Shahrestanak encampment when Tinco came for a look.

After spending the night near the encampment at Shahrestanak, Tinco returns to Tajrish, taking another route – longer but easier to travel. And never mentions Shahrestanak again.




A Dutch traveler’s perception of Persian medecine in 1866-67

The International Qajar Studies Association  (IQSA) is holding its 2016 conference in Vienna, on August 8-9, on the topic of “Doctors and the Medicinal Arts in Qajar Iran”. It’s the occasion for us to talk about Tinco Lycklama’s observations on health during his stays in Persia in 1866 and 1867.

Dr. Johan Schlimmer, Dr. Conrad Fagergrin, Dr. Joseph Dickson, Dr. James Baker, Dr. Heward… Not surprisingly, Tinco Lycklama met many physicians during his stays in Persia in 1866 and 1867 – as he seems to have suffered almost permanently from one or another illness. Wherever he went, he obviously met with foreigners who had settled in Persia. And, foreign physicians were everywhere. Qajar Persia relied on these foreign doctors to modernize the practice of medecine throughout the country.

“In the eyes of the Persians, all Europeans are somehow physicians”

Tinco’s observation comes from an anecdote when visiting the town of Izad Khast (written ‘Yezdegast’ by Tinco) – on the road from Isfahan to Chiraz. A local notable was seriously suffering from what appeared to be a bullet wound. Tinco had no knowledge of surgery and there was nothing he could do. But, he shared some bandages, for which the poor man’s family was already extremely grateful.

In another passage in his books, Tinco also reflects, quite unfavourably, on the state of medecine in Persia: “It is purely empirical, devoid of any notion about the human organism. This total ignorance of the anatomy makes one wonder about the state of surgical practice in Persia which is obviously working according to the most basic principles and interventions.”

Was Tinco biased? He seems to have suffered all his life from weak health. In fact, his health was one of his main motives for moving from his native Beetsterzwaag (NL) to Cannes (F), shortly after spending more than three years in the Orient. When reading his books, one sometimes gets the impression that Tinco may have been a hypocondriac as he always seems to worry about getting sick.

Almost dead in Kirva

In all fairness, let’s keep in mind that Tinco traveled through hostile landscapes and climates. As colonel Andreini noted during an episode in Kirva, Tinco was often suffering from “traveler’s fever”, caused by fatigue and inappropriate food. Nothing that a solid dose of quinine, a diet, and some good rest could not solve.

Colonel Andreini was not a physician but – as an Italian military man (at the service of the Qajar court) – he had traveled a lot and had solid experience with foreign climates. He also liked to refer to the learnings of another Dutchman, the 18th century physician Herman Boerhave, still a reference for European travelers.

At Kirva, the local Persian physicians had concluded that Tinco was probably dying. They suspected cholera, and Tinco almost believed them. He feared that he would succomb to the same fate as the famous French 17th traveler Jean Thévenot, who also died at Kirva in 1667. But, after reaching Qasbin and with the help of colonel Andreini, Tinco survived.

At Qasbin, Tinco was joined by Mirza Cheikh Djellal, a young and trustworthy Persian physician dispatched by the French minister in Tehran Jacques-Adolphe Cousseau, comte de Massignac (1815-1879). The usual French physician at the legation in the capital, Dr. Joseph Tholozan was unavailable, but sending this Persian physician “could do no harm”.

The foreign doctors in Persia

Mirza Cheikh Djellal had had the privilege of studying at the Faculté de médecine in Paris – probably as one of the first students sent by the pioneering polytechnical school in Tehran – the Dar al-Fonun. However, Tinco observes that the young doctor had obviously not understood much of modern science, in which his cult of tradition only saw a series of dangerous innovations.

See original image
Entrance to the Dar al-Fonun polytechnic

Tinco had arrived in Persia in the early days of what the Qajar court of Naser al-Din Shah considered to be the necessary modernization of the country. Medicine was one of the Shah’s priorities and became a major section at the Dar al-Fonun, which started operating in 1851.

But, the foreign legations in Persia still relied heavily on their own physicians to deal with the health problems of foreign personnel. In turn, these foreign doctors were critical in helping Persia with the modernization of medical practices.

At the highest levels of the Qajar court, it was understood that the health of the royals was better served by foreign doctors. Ernest Cloquet (1818-1855) was the doctor of the French legation and became the personal physician to Naser al-Din Shah. Upon his death in 1855, he was replaced by the Bohemian doctor Jakob Eduard Polack, who had previously been the first teacher in medecine at the Dar al-Fonun. The Dutch physician Johann Schlimmer replaced Polack in 1860 at the polytechnic, and in the same year the French doctor Joseph Tholozan (1820-1897) takes Polack’s place as the physician to the Shah.

Dr Joseph Tholozan
Dr. Joseph Désiré Tholozan (1820-1897) – Image courtesy of Amir Ali Sardari Iravani


Tholozan remained in this position until shortly before his death. He accompanied the Shah on each of his three trips to Europe (1873, 1878 and 1889), and may be considered as instrumental in organizing the first efficient medical infrastructure to combat the spread of infectuous diseases in the country.

But, also beyond the royal court and beyond Tehran, Persians seemed to turn to foreigners to provide health care. For instance, in 1867, when Tinco travels through the little town of Sadatabad (named “Seadet Abad” by Tinco) he notices that there were no foreigners amongst the population except for one Armenian and twelve jews. These few foreigners were all pharmacists and physicians (though not of good quality – says Tinco).

Tinco’s encounters

In 1866, when Tinco arrived in Teheran, Dr. Joseph Tholozan was the only French physician in town. Surprisingly, Tinco never mentions Tholozan in his writings, even though we know from the message from French minister de Massignac to Tinco that Tholozan was in the capital. Then again, besides a few noteworthy exceptions, Tinco Lycklama is very sparse with his comments on the people he met at Tehran.

But, Tinco tells us a lot about the other doctors he acquainted. At the British legation, for instance, he met with the English physician Dr. Joseph Dickson, who kept his position for almost 40 years (1848-1887). More than simply being doctors, people like Dickson played an important diplomatic role as they easily gained the confidence of their patients at the Qajar court. Another Englishman whom Tinco acquainted was Dr. James Baker, who later wrote an authoritative report for the House of Commons about the sanitary situation in Persia (“A few remarks on the most prevalent Diseases and the Climate of the North of Persia”, 1886).

Johann Schlimmer - Terminologie medico-pharmaceutique - Cover
Schlimmer’s “Terminologie Médico-Pharmaceutique Française-Persane“, 1872

As we saw earlier, the Dutch Dr. Johann Schlimmer (1819-1881) became the head of medecine at the Dar al-Fonun in 1860. In 1861, he was also responsible for training students at the new state hospital in Tehran, and he was one of the few who actually wrote textbooks for the benefit of medical students. A few years later, the Shah transferred Schlimmer to Fars, where he was appointed as personal physician to the province’s governor, Massoud Mirza Zell-e Soltan (1850-1919), a son of the Shah. During his time at Isfahan, Tinco actually stays at the home of Dr. Schlimmer and his Armenian wife.

In Chiraz, Tinco meets with Dr. Conrad Fagergrin (1818-1879) – a Swede from Stockholm. Again, Tinco suffers from a heavy headache, but it was easily solved after the doctor practiced a bleeding. Dr. Fagergrin had arrived in Persia twenty-five years earlier, and was sent by the Shah to Chiraz to handle a big epidemic in the province. He stayed on to become the chief physician of Chiraz. He and his French wife and family where the only Europeans in town – so they were most happy to welcome Tinco in their home.

Tinco’s travel through Persia in 1867 ended at the harbour city of Bender Bushir, where he embarked on a steamer that would take him over the Persian Gulf to Iraq – an Ottoman territory at that time. But, Bender Bushir might well have become his last resting place – were it not for the good care of Dr. Heward, an Armenian doctor. Indeed, feeling unwell, Tinco was quickly diagnosed with symptoms of typhoid fever, probably caused by drinking from the same water jar as his servant Ali Beg. Dr. Heward prescribed big doses of quinine and some herbal concoctions, and Tinco was fine within a couple of hours. The poor Ali Beg, however, died a few days later.

Quinine, diet, rest, and tea

The quality of the food was never the issue for Tinco’s ills in Persia. In fact, he states that the food served was very wholesome (but perhaps he may have indulged too much, at times). It is more likely that the hot climate was a major factor, especially for someone who grew up in Frisia. If Tinco’s health was not the best, he certainly did not make it any better by traveling cold mountain passes and sweltering deserts on horseback. Also, from several observation in his books, we understand that travelers had to be very careful about the water they were drinking.

What we do learn from Tinco’s writings is that quinine was essential – and he made sure that he always had an ample supply of that. Combined with solid rest and a reasonable diet it usually fixed the problems. And, Tinco tells us also: “I drank a lot of tea which, throughout my travels, has been my universal panacea, excellent in health, and even better so when ill.”


09/07/1866 – Tinco turns twenty-nine in Tehran

Happy birthday, Tinco!

Tinco Lycklama à Nijeholt was born on a Sunday, 9 July 1837, at the home of his parents at Beetsterzwaag, in Frisia. Today, he celebrates his 29th birthday far away from his family. He is currently living in the lush Tajrish area, north of Tehran. His neighbour is Amedée Querry, chancellor of the French legation to Persia. In Tajrish, many foreign diplomats chose to live to escape the suffocating summer heat of Tehran.

Luigi Montabone  Veduta generale di Tegeris  [Ricordi del viaggio in Persia della missione italiana 1862]  1862     Photograph  Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana  N. inv.: 87266; segn.: 138.C.88. Tavola 55, scheda 235b:
Tajrish in 1862 – Photography by Luigi Montabone in “Ricordi del viaggio in Persia” – Collection Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Given that Tinco enjoyed socializing, balls, and music and dance performances, one would assume that he must throw a party today at his Tajrish home. Well, we currently don’t know. In fact, little is known (yet) about what he did exactly during his first 5-month stay in the Qajar Persian capital. So, unfortunately, we can’t say anything about how he spent his birthday.

On the other hand, we know exactly what he did on the three other birthdays that he celebrated during his travels of 1865-1868. So, because of the lack of precision on Tehran, we use this occasion to say a few words about his birthdays in Moscow (Russia), Hamadan (Persia), and the deserts near Palmyra (Syria).

Having said that, we hope that Tinco enjoys our present: a little collection of contemporanean photography about Tehran and Persia on Pinterest.

09/07/1865 – Birthday on Sparrow Hill, Moscow

Tinco arrived in Moscow on July 5th, 1865. He stayed five days visiting the city and, the day before his departure (which was July 10th) he made a short trip to Sparrow Hill (“la montagne des moineaux”). According to Tinco, visiting this hilltop was a must for any visitor, as it gave you the most magnicificent view of Moscow.

Montagne des Moineaux - Moscow
“Vue générale de la ville de Moscou, prise de la montagne dite des moineaux” – Date unknown – Collection: Library of Congress

Tinco also wanted to see the exact places that saw Napoleon’s withdrawal from Moscow on October 19, 1812 – after looting the city and before setting it on fire. Tinco takes the road to Sparrow Hill from Kaluga Gate – which is where Napoleon’s troops left the city that day. Thirty-five days before, Napoleon and his troops first laid eyes on the still-intact city from Sparrow Hill. Now, from the same hill, Napoleon looked at the devastated city he left behind.

Tinco briefly reflects on these events. He had an instant liking for the city and preferred it over Saint Petersburg, despite the latter’s grandeur and more modern architecture. One can only guess at Tinco’s feelings celebrating his birthday on Sparrow Hill.

09/07/1867 – Birthday with Mahmud Khan, at Hamadan

Gonbad-e ʿAlawiān mausoleum at Hamadan
Gonbad-eʿAlawiān mausoleum at Hamadan – Photography courtesy of Encyclopaedia Iranica

On this birthday, Tinco was in Hamadan – the city at the ancient site of Ectabana, once the capital of the Parthes and today a major city in Iran. Tinco met a number of interesting people at Hamadan, such as governor Abdosamad Mirza, Ezz ed Dowleh (1843-1929) – a brother of Naser al-Din Shah – with whom Tinco became instant friends and who visited Tinco in Cannes, in 1873. However, this encounter only takes place a few days after this birthday.

Tinco spends his birthday in the company of Mahmud Khan, former Persian ambassador to Saint Petersburg and London. He had met Mahmud Khan and his brother Amman Ali Khan previously in Tehran, in the summer of 1866 – at the home of Charles Alison, the British minister plenipotentiary. These were very influential men in Persia, even though they were not members of the Qajar dynasty but rather of the Qaraguzlu (Kara guzlou) tribe. Both tribes were transplanted at the same time centuries before from Syrian regions to Persia. The privileged position of the Qaraguzlu was owed to Naser al-Din’s father who had bestowed the rule over the Hamadan province to this tribe (though the Qajar princes maintained the nominal governorship).

The day of his birthday, Tinco was invited to Mahmud Khan’s impressive fortress and palace at Sheverin (Chavari), just outside Hamadan. In the company of Mahmoud Khan’s family, Tinco enjoyed dinner and music, as well as the excellent companionship of Mahmud Khan himself, who was fluent in English and French. Mahmud Khan had spent many years in Europe and, despite being a traditional Persian at heart, he was a protagonist for European-style modernization of the country.

09/07/1868 – Birthday with Sheik Mijwal, in the desert between Homs and Palmyra

You could call this a pretty exciting and adventurous birthday.

On July 4th, Tinco Lycklama was in the city of Homs (in current Syria). It was the famous Algerian military and politician Abd el-Kader (exiled in Beirut) who told Tinco to travel to Homs and meet with Jane Digby. As she was married to Sheik Abdul Mijwal al-Musrab, the leader of a powerful bedouin tribe, she was best placed to arrange protection for Tinco in the pursuit of his dream to visit the ancient site of Palmyra. Everybody had told Tinco it was impossible to reach Palmyra given the strife between rivalling tribes in the desert. But, Tinco was stubborn… and did it.

Thus, Tinco left Homs on July 6th and headed for the Sheik’s desert encampment. Given the turbulence in the desert, he only left on the 13th and reached Palmyra the 15th, escorted by 120 riders. Tinco paid a 1,500 francs for the effort (which probably amounts to around 7,000 euro today). It was the Sheik’s own brother, Yussuf, who took command.

But, on the day of his birthday, Tinco stayed in the safety of the encampment, in tents next to the Sheik himself. surrounded with a small army of over 5,000 men. On the day of the 9th, groups of riders drove out into the desert to observe the movements of rival tribes and got into occasional skirmishes. Before his departure for Palmyra, Tinco actually observed outright desert battles between the Sheik’s troops and tribes from the Hauran region.

Tinco was happy with life in the encampment. The food was basic, the comfort spartian. But il allowed him to observe for many days how life was in the desert. He was far away from his family, but at age 31 this would be an experience of a lifetime.

Desert encampment between Homs and Palmyra - 6-13-1868
Location of the desert encampment of Sheik Abdul Mijwal al-Musrab – July 1868





The government of Naser al-Din Shah of 18/06/1866


Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1831-1896), King of Persia
Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1831-1896)

On 18 June 1866, Tinco Lycklama witnesses an important event in Persian politics: the formation of a new government. Coincidence?

Over a year earlier, in April 1865, the ruler of Persia Naser al-Din Shah had dismissed his cabinet of ministers and ran the empire with just a handful of close collaborators. In that same month, Tinco left Paris and embarked on his memorable voyage.

Despite the fact that Persia was top of his mind, it took Tinco a year before setting foot in the country. Actually, he leisurely spent the winter in Tbilisi (Georgia), and had no obvious urge to move on. However, early April 1866, he suddenly packed his bags and had to reach Tehran as quickly as he could.

So today, on 18/06/1866, the Shah appoints a new government. Some of its members are his long-time trusted advisors. Others are new and will play a major role in the years to come. The government under Naser al-Din Shah is generally considered conservative and quite autocratic. However, significant change is occurring. The country is keen on importing innovations from Europe, such as modern transportation and communications. Early industrialization of certain sectors of the economy starts to take shape. The new government incarnates these changes.

Over 1866-67, Tinco spends over six months in and around Tehran. He got very close to the tight political and diplomatic community. Though he talks only briefly about it, he develops a close relationship with one key member of the Shah’s new cabinet – Ali Quli Mirza. Besides being his great-uncle, this many is arguably also the Shah’s most trusted advisor – as minister of commerce, and assuming many other responsibilities. One should wonder why such a powerful politician and Qajar family member would spend his time on an ‘insignificant’ Dutch tourist – and even maintain correspondence after Tinco’s return to Europe.

Tinco Lycklama doesn’t specify any other particular encounter with members of the Shah’s cabinet. However, it is inconceivable that it did not occur. In fact, one anecdote illustrates this opinion. In September 1866, the Shah’s aide-de-camp conveys the Shah’s curiosity that Tinco had not yet asked for an audience with the Shah himself – despite having become a real presence on Tehran’s political and diplomatic scene. That meeting took place – but interestingly it was sort of requested by the Shah himself.

The list below provides us with the names and titles of the government’s ministers. We highlight their ‘modern’ names, followed by the spelling as given by Tinco Lycklama. We also provide some relevant links to online profiles for these people (some names require further clarification and we will update as we progress).


The cabinet appointed by Naser al-Din Shah on 18/06/1866…

  • Aziz Khan Mokri (1792-1871)Aziz Khan Mokri (1792-1871), Sardar-e Koll, Minister of War
    • Aziz Khan, Serdar-Koll, (Ministre de la Guerre)
    • See Iranica Online…, Wikipedia..
    • NOTE: he was replaced before November 1866 by Méhemmed Khan, Sepeh Sala Azem


  • Mirza Yousof, Mostowfi al-Mamalek, Finance Minister
    • Mostofi-ol-Memalek, (Ministre des Finances, Grand-Maître de la garde-robe, Directeur du timbre et des écuries royales), Mirza Youssouf
    • Genealogy on Geni…

  • Dost ‘Ali Khan, Muayyar ul-Mamaluk, Lord Treasurer
    • Moayir-ol-Memalek, (Contrôleur-général des Finances, Directeur de la Monnaie), Doust-Ali-Khan.
    • Genealogy on Geni…

  • Anoushirvan Khan Qajar Qovanlou (xxxx-1868)Anoushirvan Khan Qajar Qovanlu (xxxx-1868), Eyn ol-Molk, Etezad od-Doleh, Khan Salar
    • Etezod-ed-Doulet, (Grand-Maître d’hôtel, chef de la tribu des Kadjars), Eyin-ol-Molk.
    • See Qajarpedia…


  • Emam Qoli Mirza (1814-1875, governor of KermanshahAli Quli Mirza (1822-1880), I’tizad us-Sultana, Minister of Commerce
    • Etezad-es-Saltanet, (Ministre du Commerce et de l’Instruction publique, des manufactures, de l’imprimerie et des télégraphes), prince Ali-Kouli-Mirza.


  • Mirza Sa’id Khan Ansari (1816-1884), Motamen olMolkForeign Minister
    • Mirza Saïd Khan, Ministre des affaires étrangères, Directeur des chemins de fer et chargé des affaires relatives aux sujets professant un autre culte que l’Islamisme, Mirza-Said-Khan
    • See Wikipedia (German)…

  • Haji Muhammad Nasir Khan-e Qajar Devehlu, Zahir ud-Daula
    • Zéhir-ed-Doulet, (Ministre de la Maison-Royale, Introducteur des ambassadeurs, Surintendant du Harem, des travaux publics et des postes, Référendaire des affaires relatives aux princes et au clergé musulman), Méhemmed-Khan.
    • Genealogy on Geni…


  • Mirza Hosein Khan (1828-1881), Moshir od-Dowleh
    • Debir-ol-Molk, (Secrétaire-Général du Chah, Administrateur des domaines royaux, Directeur des postes et chemins de fer de la province d’Aderbeidjân), Mirza-Hosséin-Khan.
    • See Wikipedia…

  • Haji Muhammad Quli Khan-e Qajar Devehlu (died 1871), Asaf ud-Daula, Minister of Justice
    • Sepehdar, (Ministre de la Justice), Hadji-Méhemmed-Kouli-Khan.
    • Genealogy on Geni…

  • Haj Ali Khan Moghaddam Maraghei (1807-1867), E’temad os-Saltaneh, Minister of Pensions and Pious Endowments


  • Pasha Khan, Amin ol Molk
    • Emin-ol-Molk, (Garde des sceaux et Conseiller intime), Pacha-Khan.
    • Genealogy on Geni…

  • Emim-Khelvet., (Surintendant du service du palais), Mirza-Hashem-Khan.

  • Grand-Maître des cérémonies, Mohammed-Nassir-Khan.


The Gates of Tehran

Some say that 19th century Tehran had six city gates. Other sources talk about seven or even eight. Of course, in the course of a few decades, one or two gates may have been added to serve the increasing traffic and expanding suburbs.

Unfortunately, little to none is left of the city walls and gates that Tinco Lycklama saw during his visits to  Tehran in 1866 and 1867. There is photography of these constructions, and it is quite possible that much material is still hidden in archives, waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, many photographs available online seem to deliver conflicting attributions.

On this page, we wish to bring together a definitive and documented view on Tehran’s main infrastructure in the 1860s. As we wish to develop a visual reconstruction of the Tehran that Tinco Lycklama saw, this page will evolve and include photography (or, alternatively, drawings) that dates from as close as possible to the 1866-67 period.

Tinco confirms the existence of seven city gates in the years 1866-67. This is how he calls and describes them (see “Voyage…”, Vol. II, page 183…) :

  • Derwazèh-i-Dooulet (Porte Royale)
  • Derwazèh-i-Chimrân (Porte de Chimrân)
  • Derwazèh-i-Dooulab (the way to Rey)
  • Derwazèh-i-Châh-Abdoul-Azim (the way to the Abdol Azim mosque)
  • Derwazèh-i-no (Porte Neuve)
  • Derwazèh-i-Kaswin (the roads to Qazvin, Ghislan and Isfahan)
  • Derwazèh-i-Mahomeddjèh (named after the father of Naser al-Din Shah)

(Please note that “Derwazèh” is Tinco’s spelling of the more modern “Darvazeh” – meaning “gate”).

The most contemporanean map of Tehran available to us today is the one made by August Krziz, an Austrian artillery instructor at the Dar-al-Funun – the Shah’s elite school. According to sources, Naser al-Din Shah engaged infrastructural changes in Tehran between 1869-1874 – which makes us believe that the August Krziz map is pretty accurate for how Tinco Lycklama found the city.

Having said that, Tinco mentions seven gates, but the Krziz map only shows six in the city walls. One internal gate, namely the access to the royal citadel, could be counted as an additional gate, but this one is not mentioned by Tinco as a gate in the city wall. Thus, the gate we haven’t yet identified is Derwazeh-i-no (“new gate” – but Tinco definitely describes it as a gate in the wall. In addition, he tells is that a square adjacent to this gate served as a public execution ground). Perhaps Iranian sources (and yet-undiscovered maps) may reveal more to us in the future.

Below, we first give the map by August Krziz, together with a schematic drawing. Next, we show the Krziz map as an overlay on Google Earth including the location of the identified gates (with thanks to the help of members the Qajar Heritage group).

Further below follows again the list of gates described by Tinco, together with some photography. Some of the photos (Pesce, Montabone) dates from very close to Tinco’s time in Tehran. Others are of a later date but are probably representative of what Tinco saw. We will continue our research and update with better information and illustration, when available. (Thanks to all readers for any helpful advice).


1858 map by August Krziz - High Resolution
1858 Map of Tehran – by August Krziz
Drawing by Ali Madanipour
Tehran City Gates (1866-67) with Google Earth and overlay of August Krziz map of 1858
Tehran City Gates (1866-67) with Google Earth and overlay of August Krziz map of 1858

The Tehran City Gates

Dowlat Gate

  • Derwazèh-i-Dooulet (Porte Royale)
  • GATES TEHRAN - Dowlat Gate
    Dowlat Gate – Darvazeh Doulat, Tehran

Shemiran Gate

  • Derwazèh-i-Chimrân (Porte de Chimrân)

Doulab Gate

  • Derwazèh-i-Dooulab (the way to Rey)

Shah Abdol Azim Gate

  • Derwazèh-i-Châh-Abdoul-Azim (the way to the Abdol Azim mosque)
  • GATES TEHRAN - Shah Abdol Azim Gate
    Shah Abdol Azim Gate – Darvazeh Shabdolazim, Tehran

New Gate

  • Derwazèh-i-no (Porte Neuve)
  • GATES TEHRAN - New Gate 1850s by Luigi Pesce - Collection Getty
    Porta Nuova, Teheran. Album fotografico della Persia compilato dal Sig.r Luigi Pesce, Tenente Colonnello; Instruttore d’Infanteria al servizio dello Shah, Teheran, 1860. (Collection: Getty)

(Direct link to image location…)

Qazvin Gate

  • Derwazèh-i-Kaswin (the roads to Qazvin, Ghislan and Isfahan)
  • GATES TEHRAN - Qasvin Gate 1900
    Qazvin Gate, Tehran

Mohammadiyeh Gate

  • Derwazèh-i-Mahomeddjèh (named after the father of Naser al-Din)


Internal Gates

Citadel Gate (internal gate to the Arg)

  • Darvazeh Arg
  • GATES TEHRAN - Porta della Cittadelle 1862 by Luigi Montabone - Biblioteca Marciana
    Porta della Citadella, Teheran. 1862. Luigi Montabone Ricordi del viaggio in Persia della missione italiana 1862 (Collection: Biblioteca Marciana)

    (Direct link to image location…)



  • One source for the Tehran map by August Kriz is…
    • J.E. Pollak, Topographische Bemerkungen zur Karte der Umgebung und zu dem Plane von Teheran, 1877, L.C. Zamarski, Vienna (see reference on WorldCat…)
  • Possibly interesting literature about Tehran’s urban development…
    • J.E. Pollak, op. cit.
    • P.G. Ahrens, Die Entwicklung der Stadt Tehran , 1966, Opladen

12/06/1866 – From the heat of Tehran to the lushness (and politics) of Tajrish

It’s really getting too hot in Tehran and Tinco is doing what everybody else does – he moves to the countryside.

In 1866, Tinco Lycklama was the first Dutchman since a long time to travel Persia – and to write about it. In fact, in the wake of the Crimean War (1853-56) and the complicated geopolitics in the region, Tinco was the only European “tourist” to do so for a quarter of a century.

The 1858 map of Tehran by August Krziz - with the royal Arg compound highlighted in blue and the bazaar highlighted in yellow
The 1858 map of Tehran by August Krziz – with the royal “Arg” compound highlighted in blue and the bazaar highlighted in yellow (click map to enlarge)

A month ago, Tinco Lycklama arrived in Tehran (see post). He took a few weeks (just like we did) to understand the city and get acquainted with the people that mattered. Tinco was traveling with credentials from the French government and stayed as a guest at the house of Emile Charles Bernay – a clerk at the chancery of the French legation. He accepted Bernay’s hospitality only for a few days, and then rented a decent house near the city’s bazaar. Indeed, he needed more space – not only for himself but also for his horses and his men. Tinco had hired two additional servants (which made a total of five) because – as Tinco says – he needed to “conform to the habits of European life in Persia”. Let’s assume that this means that he wanted to command respect.

Later, we’ll tell a few more things about the Tehran of 1866. Right now, Tinco needs to move on as it is really getting too hot. In the summer, Tehran’s temperatures are sweltering. Tinco tells us that more than half of the city’s population (about 100,000 people at that time) moves to the suburbs to escape the suffocating heat. The elites took refuge around Tajrish, a village some 15 kilometers north of town. Which is what Tinco did as well. Located some 400 meters higher in altitude, Tajrish was dry and mild – the perfect climate for our Dutch traveler.

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Today, Tajrish is just a neighbourhood, but it was a distinct area back then. It had its own bazaar, and it also houses a Shi’a holy shrine – the Imāmzādeh Sāleh. In addition, it was on the road towards Niavaran, the summer palace of the Qajars. Basically, the foreign diplomats couldn’t get closer to the Shah than Tajrish. (However, in the summer of 1866, the Shah was mostly at his military encampment at Shahrestanak, together with his political and military entourage).

Tinco rented a wonderful house with gardens, next to the house of Amedée Querry – the French chancellor (see note below). On the illustration above, we give the approximate location of Tinco’s house. By his own description, the house was located on the edge of the Darband river, which streams down the Alborz mountains. From his garden, Tinco would cross the Darband and get onto what is called today Shariati street (click here for an interactive map). Back then, this same road connected Tajrish to both Niavaran and the city of Tehran.

By chance (?), Tinco has arrived at an interesting time – politically speaking. Indeed, in a couple of days, Naser al-Din Shah will appoint a new cabinet of ministers (click here for a preview). For over a year, the Shah had been running the empire with just a handful of trusted advisors. Now, he is about to install a pretty stable government for the long run, and he is setting the stage for reforms and modernization.

Tinco developed some interesting relationships with key players in the Shah’s cabinet. In Tajrish, he also engaged daily with all the diplomats. Only the French, the British, the Russians and the Ottomans had formal legations in Persia. Tinco knew all of them – and his relationships were very personal. We’ll have a closer look at the people he acquainted later on (click here for an overview of the corps diplomatique – research in progress).

As we saw, Tinco traveled with French credentials (which seem to have been arranged in cooperation with the Dutch foreign ministry in The Hague prior to his departure from Paris). His closest and most intimate friendship was, however, with Charles Alison, the British minister plenipotentiary. On the other hand, when he goes and meet Naser al-Din Shah in September 1866, he is introduced by Ivan Zinoviev, the first secretary at the Russian legation. Tinco mentions little or none about the Ottoman legation, but when he travels around Baghdad in 1867, he does so with the highest level of protection from Turkish officials.

“Je ne perdrai jamais le souvenir des trois mois que j’ai passé dans ce véritable paradis terrestre, lisant, faisant la sieste, écrivant, me promenant surtout, et n’omettant dans mes excursions aucun des sites qui font de ce pied de l’Elbourz une des plus ravissantes choses du monde.” (see the quote in Tinco’s “Voyage…”)

Reading, sleeping, writing, visiting – Tinco indeed sounds like a perfect tourist. With the difference that he also acquainted the powers-that-were and was a welcome guest at all the parties that the foreigners in Tehran and Tajrish organized. And parties they had, as there was little else to do in Tehran, says Tinco.




11/05/1866 – Finally in Tehran… but why?

Shrine of Abdol Azim by Eugène Flandin
Shrine of Shah Abdol Azim. Drawing by Eugène Flandin in “Voyage en Perse”, éd. Gide et Baudry, 1851

Tinco Lycklama catches his first glimpse of Tehran with the distant sight of the magnificent golden dome of Shah Abdol Azim‘s holy shrine. Against the backdrop of the Elbourz mountains, “the panorama is grandiose“, writes Tinco.

He continues his sentence by saying that “seen from this perspective, the city of the Qajars holds more promise than it really delivers.

That doesn’t sound very inviting, and more like a ‘showstopper’, doesn’t it? In the preceding hundreds of pages of his travel story, Tinco insists on how keen he is to reach Tehran. Once he gets there (today), he stays no less than five months. And, a year later, her returns for another month. Surely, if a city doesn’t live up to its promises, why not pick up your bags and go elsewhere?

There are certainly many mysteries as to what Tinco Lycklama really did during all those months in Tehran.

Any 19th century traveler to the Persian capital would know that Tehran doesn’t make any particular promise in terms of history or archaeology. For a period of about fifty years prior to the advent of the Qajar dynasty, around 1795, the capital of Persia was Shiraz. At that time, Tehran was barely a village, in the shadow of the ancient city of Ray which is just six kilometers to the west (and actually the location of the Abdol Azim shrine). Though the recorded history of the village of Tehran goes back to at least the 13th century, when its inhabitants were living in underground caves, there was nothing interesting about the place until the Qajars decided to build their capital there. By the time Tinco visited the city, it had grown in barely seventy years’ time to a population of about 100,000 people (and it had absorbed the ancient ruins of Ray as a suburb).

Tehran with overlay of the 1858 map by August Krziz
Modern Tehran with overlay of the 1858 map by August Krziz (Google Earth imaging)
Tehran with overlay of the 1858 map by August Krziz - Zoom
Zoom on the August Krziz map of Tehran of 1858

Our illustration is telling. By adding an overlay of an 1858 map by the Austrian lieutenant August Krziz on top of a current Google Earth satellite view of Tehran, we get a good idea of how small Tehran really was. We get a sense for the city’s fortifications and the location of official buildings and palaces.

So, what was so interesting for Tinco Lycklama to justify a five-month stay? We know how keen Tinco was to explore ancient sites likes Persepolis or Ctesiphon, and undertake some archeological digging there – so why did he linger in Tehran?

Of course, there were quite a few things to do in Tehran – including visiting the royal fortress (the arg) and admiring the many palaces and mosques that had been built in very little time by the ruling Qajar dynasty and its princes. In his writings, Tinco covers many interesting aspects of Tehran, including observations about Persia’s history and customs. But, in itself, Tinco isn’t telling us much new, and he actually duly refers to the writings of others from which he copied a lot of information.

Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1831-1896), King of Persia
Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (1831-1896)

Over the next months, we will try and unravel the mysteries around Tinco. We will look into the people that he met and socially involved with – people that he explicitly mentions in his wirings, such as shah Naser al-Din himself. And, we’ll also look into the people that he doesn’t mention, for some strange reason.

One of the latter is the minister of the Russian legation – Nikolay Karlovich Girs (also called Nicholas de Giers). During all his months in Tehran, Tinco mingles with the foreign diplomats who constantly invite him to their residencies and their lively parties. He has excellent relationships with the three western legations – the Russians, the British, and the French. Actually, it is the Russian chargé d’affaires Ivan Zinoviev who takes Tinco along to meet with shah Naser al-Din. And Tinco is very involved with French Minister de Massignac and British minister Charles Alison. But, why not a single word about Nikolay Girs (1820-1895)? This was not an ordinary man. He was not only minister plenipotentiary of Russia in Tehran, in 1881 he also became the Foreign Minister of the Russian czar Alexander III and remained in that position for thirteen years. This obviously occurred after Tinco wrote his books, but the fact that he doesn’t even mention Nikolay Girs by name is absolutely startling.

There are many mysteries about Tinco’s life. Over the next few months, we may not be able to disclose many big secrets, yet. However, we will bring up all the right questions and run our investigations on the long run, if necessary. Perhaps state archives in Iran or in Western Europe may provide us with additional clues.

Tehran - Entrance to Bazar Emyr - Photography by Luigi Pesce, 1860
Tehran – Entrance to Bazar Emyr – Photography by Luigi Pesce, 1860 (Collection : Getty Research Institute)

One interesting aspect of our exploration of Tehran in Tinco’s days will be the encounter with a broad variety of people in its international community. Let’s have in mind that Persia used to be one of the most formidable empires in history. And, by the mid 19th century, Persia is still of crucial political and military importance, where all nations were vying for influence. Needless to say, to this day, Iran still has a very special place in world politics and in particular in the Middle Eastern region.

History books will be better than Tinco’s story to understand the facts and figures of 19th century diplomacy. However, the names that appear in the history books have real people behind them, and these people are often little known or understood. Tinco’s stories not only offer a glimpse into the social life of diplomats in Tehran, he also provides us with a good reason to dig deeper and to work on a more complete picture of how the geopolitical realities were often shaped by simple individuals with life stories of their own.

As such, when working our way through Tinco’s narrative, we may open new pêrspectives on previously ignored or under-explored areas of research. In the process, we will also look into the daily life of Qajar Tehran – the food, the shopping, the clothes, the harem… Tinco Lycklama is a most entertaining writer, with an excellent eye for good stories.