Set on 104 hectares of spectacular mountainside parkland, the Sa’d Abad Museum Complex was a royal summer home during the Pahlavi period. The site’s 18 buildings house museums dedicated to subjects as diverse as the royal dishware, royal automobiles and miniature paintings. To see everything you’ll need at least three hours. Having lunch at Darband and then entering from the north entrance makes sense and your thighs will thank you.
All tickets must be bought at either the front gate or the northern entrance from Darband, so you’ll need to decide in advance what you want to visit. For example, be sure to buy a ticket for the Nation’s Art Museum or you won’t be able to see the basement of the White Palace. Ask also for the English map and ‘brochure’. If you start at the front gate, take the free minibus from outside the White Palace up to the Green Palace (the two highlights), then walk down. Following are a selection of the museums.
There are two appealing cafes on the grounds. To get to the front gate, walk or take a taxi (US$2 dar baste) 1.5km northwest from Tajrish Sq, beginning on Ja’fari St and turning left and right (ask anyone for ‘Musee Sa’d Abad’). Or go to Darband and enter from there.
White Palace Palace
(Palace of the Nation) What is now called the White Palace was built between 1931 and 1937 and served as the Pahlavi summer residence. The two bronze boots outside are all that remain of a giant statue of Reza Shah – he got the chop after the revolution. Most of what you see in the 5000-sq-metre, 54-room palace dates from Mohammad Reza Shah’s reign (1942–79) and little has changed since the revolution. The modern building is filled with a hodge-podge of extravagant furnishings, paintings, a tiger pelt and immense made-to-measure carpets. It was the height of luxury in its day, with discreet air-conditioning units that fold away into the walls. In the upstairs Ceremony Hall is a 143-sq-metre carpet that is said to be one of the largest ever woven in Iran. The nearby Dining Hall contains a similar carpet, and it is here that the shah, convinced the palace was bugged, dragged a table into the middle of the room and insisted both he and the American general he was entertaining climb on top before they spoke. Don’t miss the trippy stainless-steel staircases at the back of the ground floor, which spiral down to the Nation’s Art Museum in the basement.
Green Palace Palace
(Shahvand Palace) At the uphill end of the complex, the more classical-looking Green Palace was built at the end of the Qajar era and extensively remodelled by the Pahlavis. Reza Shah lived here for only a year and apparently found the bed, if not the mirror stalactites on the ceiling, a little too soft – he slept on the floor instead. It was later used as a private reception hall (upstairs) and residence (downstairs) for special guests. The design is over-the-top opulent, with wall-to-wall mirrors in the appropriately named Mirror Hall and the bedroom. Be sure to take in the view from the back.
Other Museums & Galleries Art Gallery, Museum
The most interesting of the remaining museums include: the Royal Automobile Museum, with its Rolls Royce, Cadillac and a ‘unique’ armoured Mercedes Benz 600; the expansive Museum of Fine Arts in a building near the front gate that served as the royal court between 1968 and 1979 and now exhibits furniture and paintings by modern and older Iranian artists, plus Western painters including Salvador Dali; the Royal Dishware Museum as much for the faux-French architecture as the ornate plates; and the Military Museum set inside and around another palace that belonged to the shah’s nephew Shahram – just look for the helicopter.
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