2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire

The Celebration of the 2,500th Anniversary of the Founding of the Persian Empire[1] (Persian: جشن‌های دوهزار و پانصدمین سال بنیانگذاری شاهنشاهی ایران) was a national event in Iran that consisted of an elaborate set of grand festivities during October 1971 to celebrate the founding of the ancient Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus the Great.[2][3] The intent of the celebration was to highlight Iran's ancient civilization and history as well as to showcase its contemporary advances under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[4] The celebrations highlighted pre-Islamic origins of the country while promoting Cyrus the Great as a national hero.[5]

2,500th Anniversary of the Founding of the Persian Empire
The Cyrus Charter of Cyrus the Great served as the centrepiece of the national event's emblem
Persepolis is located in Iran
Location of the ancient Iranian city of Persepolis, where the main celebratory events were held due to its status as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire
Native name دوهزار و پانصدمین سال بنیانگذاری شاهنشاهی ایران
Date12–16 October 1971 (1971-10-12 – 1971-10-16); 51 years ago
Location Imperial State of Iran
Coordinates29°56′04″N 52°53′29″E / 29.93444°N 52.89139°E / 29.93444; 52.89139
Also known as2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire

Some later historians argue that this massive celebration contributed to events that culminated in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, although others argue that the extravagance of the proceedings was exaggerated by revolutionaries motivated to discredit the Shah's regime.[6] As a result, many accounts of the event are said to have overstated its cost and luxury.


Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae, where the festivities started.
The military parade in Persepolis during the celebrations.
Persian Immortals, as portrayed during the parade.

The planning for the party took a year, according to the 2016 BBC Storyville documentary, Decadence and Downfall: The Shah of Iran's Ultimate Party. The filmmakers interviewed people tasked by the Shah to organize the party. The Cyrus Cylinder served in the official logo as the symbol for the event. With the decision to hold the main event at the ancient city of Persepolis, near Shiraz, the local infrastructure had to be improved, including the Shiraz International Airport and a highway to Persepolis. While the press and supporting staff would be housed in Shiraz, the main festivities were planned for Persepolis. An elaborate tent city was planned to house attendees. The area around Persepolis was cleared of snakes and other vermin.[7] Trees and flowers were planted, and 50,000 song birds were imported from Europe.[4] Other events were scheduled for Pasargadae, the site of the Tomb of Cyrus, as well as Tehran.

Tent City of PersepolisEdit

Tent City of Persepolis.
Tent in Persepolis.

The Tent City (also called Golden City) was planned by the Parisian interior-design firm of Maison Jansen on 160 acres (0.65 km2). They referred to the meeting between Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.[7] Fifty 'tents' (prefabricated luxury apartments with traditional Persian tent-cloth surrounds) were arranged in a star pattern around a central fountain. Numerous trees were planted around them in the desert, to recreate how ancient Persepolis would have looked. Each tent was provided with direct telephone and telex connections for attendees to their respective countries. The entire celebration was televised to the world by way of a satellite connection from the site.

The large 'Tent of Honor' was designed for the reception of the dignitaries. The 'Banqueting Hall' was the largest structure, and measured 68 by 24 metres (223 ft × 79 ft). The tent site was surrounded by gardens of trees and other plants flown in from France and adjacent to the ruins of Persepolis. Catering services were provided by Maxim's de Paris, which closed its restaurant in Paris for almost two weeks to provide for the glittering celebrations. Legendary hotelier Max Blouet came out of retirement to supervise the banquet. Lanvin designed the uniforms of the Imperial Household. 250 red Mercedes-Benz 600 limousines were used to chauffeur guests from the airport and back. The dinnerware was created using Limoges porcelain and linen by D. Porthault.


2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire
2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire
2,500-year celebration of the Persian Empire

The festivities were opened on 12 October 1971, when the Shah and the Shahbanu paid homage to Cyrus the Great at his mausoleum at Pasargadae. For the next two days, the Shah and his wife greeted arriving guests, often directly at Shiraz's airport. On 14 October, a grand gala dinner took place in the Banqueting Hall in celebration of the birthday of the Shahbanu. Sixty members of royal families and heads of state were assembled at the single large serpentine table in the Banqueting Hall. They dined off a special dinner service of 10,000 plates commissioned from the English china manufacturer, Spode, each plate decorated in turquoise and gold, with the Shah's coat of arms. The official toast was raised with a Dom Perignon Rosé 1959.

The food and the wine for the celebration were provided by the Parisian restaurant Maxim's.[8] 600 guests dined over five and a half hours, thus making for the longest and most lavish official banquet in modern history as recorded in successive editions of the Guinness Book of World Records. A son et lumière show, the Polytope of Persepolis designed by Iannis Xenakis and accompanied by the specially-commissioned electronic music piece Persepolis,[9] concluded the evening. The next day saw a huge military parade of armies of different Iranian empires covering two and half millennia by 1,724 men of the Iranian armed forces, all in period costume, followed by representatives of the Imperial Armed Forces, with a large military band, manned by military musicians and providing the music for the parade, split into two - the modern band playing in Western instruments and a traditional band wearing uniforms of the bandsmen from different eras of Iranian history. In the evening, a less formal "traditional Persian party" was held in the Banqueting Hall as the concluding event at Persepolis.[10]

The inauguration of the Shahyad Tower

On the final day, the Shah inaugurated the Shahyad Tower (later renamed the Azadi Tower after the Iranian Revolution) in Tehran to commemorate the event. The tower was also home to the Museum of Persian History. In it was displayed the Cyrus Cylinder, which the Shah promoted as "the first human rights charter in history".[11][12] The cylinder was also the official symbol of the celebrations, and the Shah's first speech at Cyrus' tomb praised the freedom that it had proclaimed, two and a half millennia previously. The festivities were concluded with the Shah paying homage to his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi, at his mausoleum.[10]

The event brought together the rulers of two of the three oldest extant monarchies, the Shah and Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Emperor Hirohito of Japan was represented by his youngest brother, Prince Mikasa. By the end of the decade, both the Ethiopian and Iranian monarchies had ceased to exist.


Security was a major concern. Persepolis was a favoured site for the festivities as it was isolated and thus could be tightly guarded, a very important consideration when many of the world's leaders were gathered there. Iran's security services, SAVAK, captured and took into "preventive custody" anyone that it suspected of being a potential threat.


The Ministry of the Court placed the cost at US$17 million (at that time); Ansari, one of the organizers, puts it at US$22 million (at that time).[7] The actual figure is difficult to calculate exactly and is a partisan issue.

According to the BBC documentary, Decadence and Downfall the celebrations cost about 120 million United States dollars, however, this claim has been described as having no real basis. For example, the documentary suggests supports Shah imported approximately 50,000 birds that died within a few days due to the desert climate, while historian Robert Steele has described this claim as infeasible, and given the October climate in Persepolis, the birds would have been accustomed to the local weather. [13] The event has been subject to a lot of exaggerated cost estimates in many journalist and historian accounts inaccurately claiming the regime wanted to spend whatever was necessary. However, the Shah only approved the celebration plans after the scope was reduced to one-quarter of the original plan in order to reduce costs. [14]

List of guestsEdit

Commemorative set of 9 gold and silver coins, minted in Canada
Commemorative silver coins from a set minted on the occasion of the celebrations
Obverse of the Medal for the 2500 anniversary of the Persian Empire.
Reverse of the Medal for the 2500 anniversary of the Persian Empire

Queen Elizabeth II had been advised not to attend, with security being an issue.[7] The Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Anne represented her instead.[15] Other major leaders who did not attend were Richard Nixon and Georges Pompidou. Nixon had initially planned to attend but later changed his mind and sent Spiro Agnew instead.[7]

Some materials[16] say that the attendee of China was Guo Moruo. According to his daughter, Guo was originally planned to attend, but he fell ill on the way arriving and then-Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Zhang Tong attended instead.[17]

Some of the guests who were invited include:

Royalty and viceroysEdit

Title Guest Country
Emperor Haile Selassie[15]   Ethiopia
King Frederick IX   Denmark
Queen Ingrid
King Baudouin   Belgium
Queen Fabiola
King Hussein   Jordan
Princess Muna
King Mahendra   Nepal
Queen Ratna
King Olav V   Norway
Emir Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa   Bahrain
Emir Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani   Qatar
Emir Sheikh Sabah III Al-Salim Al-Sabah   Kuwait
King Konstantínos II   Greece
Queen Anne-Marie
Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said   Oman
Musahiban Abdul Wali Khan   Afghanistan
Princess Bilqis Begum
King Moshoeshoe II   Lesotho
Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tunku Abdul Halim   Malaysia
Raja Permaisuri Agong Bahiyah
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan   Abu Dhabi
Prince Franz Josef II   Liechtenstein
Princess Georgina
Prince Rainier III   Monaco
Princess Grace
Grand Duke Jean   Luxembourg
Grand Duchess Joséphine Charlotte
Prince Bernhard   Netherlands
Prince Philip   United Kingdom and
Commonwealth realms
Princess Anne
Prince Aga Khan IV

  Nizari Imamate

Princess Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan
Crown Prince Carl Gustaf   Sweden
Prince Juan Carlos   Spain
Princess Sofia
Prince Victor Emmanuel   Italy
Princess Marina
Prince Takahito   Japan
Princess Yuriko
Prince Bhanubandhu Yugala   Thailand
Prince Moulay Abdallah   Morocco
Princess Lamia
Governor General Roland Michener   Canada
Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck   Australia

Presidents, Prime Ministers and othersEdit

Title Guest Country
President Josip Broz Tito   Yugoslavia
First Lady Jovanka Broz
Chairman of the Presidium Nikolai Podgorny   Soviet Union
President Franz Jonas   Austria
President Todor Zhivkov   Bulgaria
President Emílio Garrastazu Médici   Brazil
President Urho Kekkonen   Finland
President Cevdet Sunay   Turkey
President Pál Losonczi   Hungary
President Suharto   Indonesia
President Ludvík Svoboda   Czechoslovakia
President Yahya Khan   Pakistan
President Suleiman Frangieh   Lebanon
President Jacobus Johannes Fouché   South Africa
President Léopold Sédar Senghor   Senegal
President V. V. Giri   India
President Moktar Ould Daddah   Mauritania
President Hubert Maga   Dahomey
President of the State Council of Romania Nicolae Ceaușescu   Romania[15]
First Lady Elena Ceaușescu
President Mobutu Sese Seko   Zaire
President Rudolf Gnägi   Switzerland
Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas   France
Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil   South Korea
Prime Minister Emilio Colombo   Italy
Prime Minister Prince Makhosini   Swaziland
Deputy Chairman of the Council of State Mieczysław Klimaszewski   Poland
Vice President Spiro Agnew   United States
Chief Earl Old Person

  Blackfeet Nation

Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress Guo Moruo   China
President of the Bundestag Kai-Uwe von Hassel   West Germany
Foreign Minister Rui Patrício   Portugal
First Lady Imelda Marcos   Philippines
Cardinal Maximilian von Fürstenberg    Holy See


Iran's National Film Board produced a documentary of the celebrations, titled Forugh-e Javidan (فروغ جاویدان) in Persian and Flames of Persia in English. Farrokh Golestan directed, and Orson Welles who had said of the event "This was no party of the year, it was the celebration of 25 centuries!"[7] agreed to narrate the English text, written by Macdonald Hastings, in return for the Shah's brother-in-law funding Welles' own film, The Other Side of the Wind.[18][19] The film was aimed at a Western audience.[20] Despite a requirement to show the film in 60 cinemas in Tehran, its "overheated rhetoric" and popular resentment at the extravagance of the event meant it did poorly at the domestic box office.[21]


Persepolis tent city ruins in 2007.

Persepolis remains a major tourist attraction in Iran. In 2005, reports suggested that the Islamic regime of Iran intended to reconstruct the tent city created for the 1971 celebration.[15] In 2005, it was visited by nearly 35,000 people during the Iranian new year holiday.[15]

The tent city remained operating until 1979 for private and government rent, when it was looted after the Iranian Revolution and the departure of the Shah. The iron rods for the tents and roads built for the festival area still remain and are open to the public, but there are no markers making any reference to what they were originally for.[22] The dedicated Shahyad Tower remains as a major landmark in Tehran, although it was renamed Azadi Tower in 1979.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Celebration of the 2,500th Anniversary of the Founding of the Persian Empire". Ministry of Information. 14 September 1971. Retrieved 9 May 2022.
  2. ^ Amuzegar, The Dynamics of the Iranian Revolution, (1991), pp. 4, 9–12
  3. ^ Narrative of Awakening : A Look at Imam Khomeini's Ideal, Scientific and Political Biography from Birth to Ascension by Hamid Ansari, Institute for Compilation and Publication of the Works of Imam Khomeini, International Affairs Division, [no date], p. 163
  4. ^ a b Nina Adler (14 February 2017). "Als der Schah zur größten Party auf Erden lud" (in German). Der Spiegel. Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  5. ^ Steele, Robert. The Shah's Imperial Celebrations of 1971.
  6. ^ Steele, Robert. The Shah's Imperial Celebrations of 1971.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Kadivar C (25 January 2002). "We are awake. 2,500-year celebrations revisited". Archived from the original on 8 November 2002. Retrieved 23 October 2006.
  8. ^ Van Kemenade, Willem (November 2009). "Iran's relations with China and the West" (PDF). Clingendael. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 October 2021. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  9. ^ Karkowski, Z.; Harley, J.; Szymanksi, F.; Gable, B. (2002). "Liner Notes". Iannis Xenakis: Persepolis + Remixes. San Francisco: Asphodel LTD.
  10. ^ a b "The Persepolis Celebrations". Retrieved 23 October 2006.
  11. ^ British Museum explanatory notes, "Cyrus Cylinder": "For almost 100 years the cylinder was regarded as ancient Mesopotamian propaganda. This changed in 1971 when the Shah of Iran used it as a central image in his own propaganda celebrating 2500 years of Iranian monarchy. In Iran, the cylinder has appeared on coins, banknotes and stamps. Despite being a Babylonian document it has become part of Iran's cultural identity."
  12. ^ Neil MacGregor, "The whole world in our hands", in Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy, and Practice, p. 383–4, ed. Barbara T. Hoffman. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-521-85764-3
  13. ^ Steele, Robert. The Shah's Imperial Celebrations of 1971.
  14. ^ Steele, Robert (2020). The Shah's Imperial Celebrations of 1971_ Nationalism, Culture and Politics in Late Pahlavi Iran. loomsbury Academic _ I.B. Tauris. p. 144.
  15. ^ a b c d e Tait, Robert (22 September 2005). "Iran to rebuild spectacular tent city at Persepolis". The Guardian. Persepolis. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  16. ^ [1], spelt as "Kuo Mo-jo"
  17. ^ 庶英, 郭 (24 August 2004). "忆父亲郭沫若". Guangming Online. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  18. ^ Naficy, Hamid (2003). "Iranian Cinema". In Oliver Leaman (ed.). Companion Encyclopedia of Middle Eastern and North African Film. Routledge. p. 140. ISBN 9781134662524.
  19. ^ Welles, Orson (1998). This is Orson Welles. Perseus Books Group. p. xxvii. ISBN 9780306808340.
  20. ^ Watson, James A.F. (March 2015). "Stop, look, and listen: orientalism, modernity, and the Shah's quest for the West's imagination" (PDF). The UBC Journal of Political Studies. Vancouver: Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. 17: 22–36: 26–28. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 February 2016. Retrieved 15 February 2016.
  21. ^ Naficy, Hamid (2011). A Social History of Iranian Cinema, Volume 2: The Industrializing Years, 1941–1978. Duke University Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780822347743.
  22. ^ Iran Daily (23 June 2007). "Team Named For Renovating Persepolis". Archived from the original on 2 July 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2008.

Further readingEdit

  • Steele, Robert (2021). The Shah's Imperial Celebrations of 1971: Nationalism, Culture and Politics in Late Pahlavi Iran. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-8386-0417-2.

External linksEdit