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  • It would be only six short years until the demonstrations began, the demonstrations that would escalate into widespread unrest and lead to a monarch fleeing to exile, but in October of 1971 that very monarch, Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran hosted probably the most extravagant party the world has ever seen.

    It was the 2500th year celebration of the Persian Empire, the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Iranian monarchy by Cyrus the Great. Invited were countless dignitaries, heads of state, and royals. An opulent “Tent City” had been constructed near the city of Shiraz in southern Iran, at the base of the ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis. The tents, actually luxury prefabricated apartments, were designed and constructed by a well known French interior designer and were by all accounts lavishly appointed. The uniforms of the imperial household staff were designed by Lanvin. Surrounding gardens sprung up almost overnight in the arid desert with trees and shrubs and flowers that were flown in from France.

    A large tent was erected for the reception of dignitaries and on the evening of October 14th over 600 of the invited guests enjoyed a sumptuous five and a half hour feast catered by Maxim's of Paris, served on Limoges dinnerware.

    The Shah's secret police, SAVAK, kept security tight and the guests enjoyed their stay in Iran without incident. Two hundred and fifty red Mercedes Benz shuttled them back and forth between the airport in Shiraz and Tent City as they arrived and departed. Any evidence of poverty along the road had been hidden by large fences.

    It was this last thing that became the shah's undoing. In general, the Iranians were proud of their heritage, proud of such an ancient history, proud that the world had come to call. They might have forgiven the extravagance even considering the needs of the poor in the country. But the word on the street was about the fences. It was spoken about in hushed tones on every street corner, in every bazaar. It rankled, it enraged, it humiliated. Did you hear about the fences? We all did, over and over.

    The storm clouds of the revolution were beginning to gather.

    photograph of Persepolis by Ali Majdfar
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