Farah Pahlavi: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Farah Pahlavi
Official State portrait of Empress Pahlavi taken 30 May 1972
Empress of Iran
Tenure 1967–1979
Coronation 26 October 1967
Queen consort of Iran
Tenure 21 December 1959–1967
Spouse Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
Reza, Crown Prince of Iran
Princess Farahnaz of Iran
Prince Ali-Reza of Iran
Princess Leila of Iran
House House of Pahlavi
Father Sohrab Diba
Mother Farideh Ghotbi
Born 14 October 1938 (1938-10-14) (age 71)
Tabriz, Iran
Religion Shia Islam

Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran (née Farah Diba, Persian: فرح دیبا Faraḥ Dība, born 14 October 1938, Tabriz[1], Iran) is the widow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah of Iran, and only Empress (Shahbanu) of modern Iran. She was the Queen consort of Iran 1959–1967, and the Empress consort since 1967 (exiled since 1979).

Though the titles and distinctions of the Iranian Imperial Family were abolished by the new government, Her Imperial Majesty is often styled Empress or Shahbanu, out of courtesy, by the foreign media as well as by supporters of the monarchy. It must also however be noted that some countries such as the United States of America, Denmark, Spain and Germany still address the former Empress as Her Imperial Majesty, the Shahbanu of Iran in official documents, for example Royal wedding guest lists.



Empress Farah Pahlavi was born on 14 October 1938 in the north-western Iranian city of Tabriz and is an ethnic Iranian Azeri.[2][3] Born as Farah Diba, she was the only child of Sohrab Diba and his wife, Farideh Ghotbi. In her memoir, the former Empress writes that her father's family were natives of Iranian Azarbaijan while her mother’s family were from Gilan Province on the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea.[4]

Through her father, Empress Farah Pahlavi came from a relatively affluent background. In the late 19th century her grandfather had been an accomplished diplomat, serving as the Iranian Ambassador to the Romanov Court in Moscow. Her own father was an officer in the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces and a graduate of the prestigious French Military Academy at St. Cyr. Empress Farah Pahlavi enjoyed an extremely close bond with her father and his unexpected death in 1948 deeply affected her [5]. This tragic situation furthermore left the young family in a difficult financial state. In these reduced circumstances, they were forced to move from their large family villa in northern Tehran into a shared apartment with one of Farideh Ghotbi’s brothers.

Pahlavi is fluent in Persian, English, and French languages and also speaks the Azeri language, her ethnic language. During her visit to Soviet Azerbaijan in 1972, Farah gave many interviews in Azerbaijani, showing her skill in this language.

Education and engagement

Empress Farah Pahlavi began her education at Tehran’s Italian School, then moved to the French Jeanne d'Arc School and later to the Lycee Razi. She was an accomplished athlete in her youth and became captain of her school's basketball team. Upon finishing her studies at the Lycee Razi, she pursued an interest in architecture at the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris, where she was a student of Albert Besson.

Many Iranian students who were studying abroad at this time were dependent on State sponsorship in order to do so. Therefore when the Shah, as head of state, made official visits to foreign countries, he would frequently meet with a selection of local Iranian students. It was during such a meeting in 1959 at the Iranian Embassy in Paris that Farah Diba was first presented to Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

After returning to Tehran in the summer of 1959, the Shah and Farah Diba began a carefully-choreographed courtship, orchestrated in part by the Shah’s daughter Princess Shanaz. The couple announced their engagement on 23 November 1959.

Marriage and family

The Imperial Family after the coronation ceremonies in 1967.

Farah Diba married Mohammed Reza Pahlavi on 21 December 1959, aged 21. The young Queen was the object of much curiosity and her wedding garnered worldwide press attention. After the pomp and celebrations associated with the Royal wedding were completed, the success of this union became contingent upon the Queen’s ability to produce a male heir. Although he had been married twice before, the Shah’s previous marriages had given him only a daughter, who under agnatic primogeniture could not inherit the throne. The pressure for the young Queen was acute. The Shah himself was deeply anxious to have a male heir as were the members of his government.[6]. It was, furthermore, no secret that the dissolution of the Shah’s previous marriage to Queen Soraya had been due to her infertility.[7]

The long-awaited heir, Reza Pahlavi, was born on 30 October 1960. Together the couple would go on to have four children:

As Queen and Empress

The exact role which the new Queen would play if any, in public or government affairs, was uncertain. Within the Imperial Household, her public function was secondary to the far more pressing matter of assuring the succession. However, after the birth of the Crown Prince, the new Queen was free to devote more of her time to other activities and official pursuits.

Not unlike many other Royal consorts, the young Queen initially limited herself to a ceremonial role. She spent much of her time attending the openings of various education and health-care institutions, without venturing too deeply into issues of controversy. However, as time progressed, this position changed. The Queen became much more actively involved in government affairs where it concerned issues and causes that interested her. She used her proximity and influence with her husband, the Shah, to secure funding and focus attention on causes, particularly in the areas of women's rights and cultural development.

Eventually,the Queen came to preside over a staff of 40 workers who handled various requests for assistance on a range of issues. She became one of the most highly-visible figures in the Imperial Government and the patron of 24 educational, health and cultural organizations. Her humanitarian role earned her immense popularity for a time, particularly in the early 1970’s.[8] During this period, she travelled a great deal within Iran, visiting some of the remotest parts of the country and meeting with the local citizens.

The Imperial Government in Tehran was not unaware of her popularity. Her significance was exemplified by her part in the 1967 Coronation Ceremonies, where she was crowned as the first Shahbanu, or Empress, of modern Iran. It was again confirmed when the Shah named her as the official Empress Regent should he die or be incapacitated before the Crown Prince’s 21st birthday. The naming of a woman as Regent was highly unusual for a Middle-Eastern Monarchy.[8]



Yet the Empress’ tenure as Empress was not without controversy. The causes she championed and her role in government sometimes came into conflict with certain groups, particularly religious conservatives. It would, however, be more accurate to say this group’s dissatisfaction was aimed at the entire Pahlavi government and not solely at the Empress. Although not necessarily the source of the animosity, the Empress became a convenient target at which to aim it.

She, along with the entire Pahlavi government, was criticized for what were perceived as excesses. Two State occasions garnered particular ire, the elaborate Coronation ceremonies in 1967, but predominantly the 2,500 year celebration of Iran's monarchy held in 1971 in the ancient city of Persepolis. While the Empress herself defended this event as a magnificent showcase of Iran’s history and its contemporary advancements, critics claimed the price tag (which although disputed was certainly in the tens of millions of dollars) was far too high, given the other more pressing financial needs of the country.

Contributions to art and culture

Iranian Imperial Family
Coat of Arms of Pahlavi dynasty and Iran.jpg

From even the beginning of her reign, the Empress took an active interest in promoting culture and the arts in Iran. Through her patronage, numerous organizations were created and fostered to further her ambition of bringing historical and contemporary Iranian Art to prominence both inside Iran and in the Western world.

In addition to her own efforts, the Empress sought to achieve this goal with the assistance of various foundations and advisers. Her ministry encouraged many forms of artistic expression, including traditional Iranian arts (such as weaving, singing, and poetry recital) as well as Western theatre. Her most recognized endeavour supporting the performing arts was her patronage of the Shiraz Arts Festival. This occasionally controversial event was held annually from 1967 until 1977 and featured live performances by both Iranian and Western artists.[9]

The majority of her time, however, went into the creation of museums and the building of their collections.

Ancient art

Although one of the most culturally-rich countries in the world, the Iran of the 1960s had little to show for it. Many of the great artistic treasures produced during its 2,500-year history had found their way into the hands of foreign museums and private collections. It became one of the Empress's principal goals to procure for Iran an appropriate collection of their own historic artefacts. To that end, she secured from her husband’s Government permission and funds to ‘buy back’ a wide selection of Iranian artifacts from foreign and domestic collections. With these artefacts she founded several national museums (many of which still survive to this day) and began an Iranian version of the National Trust.[10]

Museums and cultural centres created under her guidance include the Negarestan Cultural Center, the Reza Abbasi Museum, the Khorramabad Museum with its valuable collection of Lorestān bronzes, the National Carpet Gallery and the Abgineh Museum for ceramics and glass works.[11]

Contemporary art

Farah Pahlavi at work in her office in Tehran, 1970s.

Aside from building a collection of historic Iranian artifacts, the Empress also expressed interest in acquiring contemporary Western and Iranian art. To this end, she put her significant patronage behind the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. The fruits of her work in founding and expanding that institution are perhaps the Empress' most enduring cultural legacy to the people of Iran.

Using funds allocated from the Government, the Empress took advantage of a somewhat depressed art market of the 1970s to purchase several important works of Western art. Under her guidance,[citation needed] the Museum acquired nearly 150 great works by such notable artists as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, George Grosz, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Roy Lichtenstein. Today, the collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is widely considered to be one of the finest 20th-century Western art collections in the world, in addition to being the most significant outside of Europe and the United States. It is somewhat remarkable then, according to Parviz Tanavoli, a modern Iranian sculptor and a former Cultural Adviser to the Empress, that the impressive collection was amassed for "tens, not hundreds, of millions of dollars".[10] Today, the value of these holdings are conservatively estimated to be near US$ 2.8 billion.[12]

The collection created a conundrum for the anti-western Islamic Republic which took power after the fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty in 1979. Although politically the fundamentalist government rejected Western influence in Iran, the Western art collection amassed by the former Empress was retained, most likely due to its enormous value. It was, nevertheless, not publicly displayed and spent nearly two decades in storage in the vaults of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. This caused much speculation as to the fate of the artwork which was only put to rest after a large portion of the collection was briefly seen again in an exhibition that took place in Tehran during September 2005.[12]

The Iranian Revolution

The Shah and Empress Farah shortly before leaving Iran in 1979.

In Iran by early 1978, a number of factors contributed to the internal dissatisfaction with the Imperial Government becoming more pronounced.

Discontent within the country continued to escalate and later in the year led to demonstrations against the monarchy.[13] The Empress could not help but be aware of the disturbances and records in her memoirs that during this time ‘there was an increasingly palpable sense of unease’. Under these circumstances most of the Empress’ official activities were cancelled due to concerns for her safety.[6]

As the year came to a close, the political situation deteriorated further. Riots and unrest grew more frequent, culminating in January 1979. The government enacted martial law in most major Iranian cities and the country was on the verge of an open revolution.

It was at this time, in response to the violent protests, that the Shah and Empress Farah determined (or were obliged by the circumstances) to leave the country. Both the Shah and Shahbanu departed Iran via aircraft on 16 January 1979.

After leaving Iran

The question of where the Shah and Empress would go upon leaving Iran was the subject of some debate, even among the monarch and his advisers[14]. During his reign, the Shah had maintained close relations with Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and the Empress had developed a close friendship with the President’s wife, Jehan Al Sadat. The Egyptian President extended an invitation to the Imperial Couple for asylum in Egypt and they accepted.

Due to the political situation unfolding in Iran, many governments, including those which had been on friendly terms with the Iranian Monarchy prior to the revolution, saw the Shah’s presence within their borders as a liability. Although a callous reversal, this was not entirely unfounded as the Revolutionary Government in Iran had ordered the arrest (and later death) of both the Shah and Empress Farah. The new Iranian Government would go on to vehemently demand their extradition a number of times but the extent to which it would act in pressuring foreign powers for the deposed monarch's return (and presumably that of the Empress) was at that time unknown. Regardless, the predicament was complex.[15]

The Shah and Empress were far from unaware of this complexity and cognizant of the potential danger which their presence exposed their host. In response, the Imperial Couple left Egypt, beginning a fourteen-month long search for permanent asylum and a journey which took them through many different countries. After Egypt, they first traveled to Morocco, where they were briefly the guests of King Hassan II.

After leaving Morocco, the Shah and Empress were granted temporary refuge in the Bahamas and given use of a small beach property located on Paradise Island. Ironically, Empress Farah recalls the time spent at this pleasantly named location as some of the ‘darkest days in her life[6]. After their Bahaman visas expired and were not renewed, they made an appeal to Mexico, which was granted, and rented a villa in Cuernavaca near Mexico City.

The Shah’s illness

After leaving Egypt the Shah’s health began a rapid decline due to a long-term battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The seriousness of that illness brought the now exiled Imperial couple briefly to the United States in search of medical treatment. The couple’s presence in the United States further inflamed the already tense relations between Washington and the revolutionaries in Tehran. The Shah’s stay in the US, although for genuine medical purposes, became the tipping point for renewed hostilities between the two nations. These events ultimately led to the attack and takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in what became known as the Iran hostage crisis.

In these difficult circumstances, the Shah and Empress were not given permission to remain in the United States. A short time after receiving basic medical attention, the couple again departed to Latin America, although this time destined for Contadora Island in Panama.

By now, both the Shah and Empress viewed the Carter Administration with some antipathy in response to a lack of support and were initially pleased to leave. That attitude, however soured as speculation arose that the Panamanian Government was seeking to arrest the Shah in preparation for extradition to Iran.[16] Under these conditions the Shah and Empress again made an appeal to President Anwar El Sadat to return to Egypt (for her part Empress Farah writes that this plea was made through a conversation between herself and Jehan Al Sadat). Their request was granted and they returned to Egypt in March 1980, where they remained until the Shah’s death four months later on 27 July 1980.

Life in exile

After the Shah’s death, the exiled Empress remained in Egypt for nearly two years. President Sadat gave her and her family use of Koubbeh Palace in Cairo. A few months after President Sadat’s assassination in October 1981, the Empress and her family left Egypt. President Ronald Reagan informed the exiled Empress that she was welcome in the United States.[17]

She first settled in Williamstown, Massachusetts but later bought a home in Greenwich, Connecticut. After the death of her daughter Princess Leila in 2001, she purchased a smaller home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., to be closer to her son and grandchildren. Empress Farah now divides her time between Washington D.C., New York City, Paris, and Cairo. The Empress currently has three grandchildren through her son Reza and his wife Yasmine.

  • Noor ( 3 April 1992)
  • Iman ( 12 September 1993)
  • Farah ( 17 January 2004)

She was featured in a Swedish documentary titled The Queen and I in 2008.


Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, and his wife, Empress Farah, wave goodbye prior to boarding an aircraft after a visit to the United States.

In 2003, Farah Pahlavi wrote a book about her marriage to the Shah entitled An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah. The publication of the former Empress's memoirs attracted international interest. It was a best-seller in Europe, with excerpts appearing in news magazines and the author appearing on talk shows and in other media outlets. However, opinion about the book, which Publishers Weekly called "a candid, straightforward account" and the Washington Post called "engrossing", was mixed.

The New York Times, Elaine Sciolino, the paper's Paris bureau chief, gave the book a less than flattering review, describing it as "well translated" but "full of anger and bitterness."[18]. The National Review's, Reza Bayegan, an Iranian writer, however praised the memoir as "abound[ing] with affection and sympathy for her countrymen."[19]


  • Miss Farah Diba (1938–1959)
  • Her Majesty The Queen of Iran (1959–1967)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of Iran (1967–1979)
  • Her Imperial Majesty Empress Farah of Iran (1979-)


The Shahbanou's personal standard

See also


  1. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/iran/2009/01/090129_ir_farha_diba.shtml
  2. ^ Shakibi, Zhand. Revolutions and the Collapse of Monarchy: Human Agency and the Making of Revolution in France, Russia, and Iran. I.B.Tauris, 2007. ISBN 184511292X; p. 90
  3. ^ Taheri, Amir. The Unknown Life of the Shah‎. Hutchinson, 1991. ISBN 0091748607; p. 160
  4. ^ Pahlavi, Farah. ‘An Enduring Love: My life with The Shah. A Memoir’ 2004
  5. ^ Pahlavi, Farah. ‘An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah. A Memoir’ 2004
  6. ^ a b c Pahlavi, Farah. ‘An Enduring Love: My Life with The Shah. A Memoir’ 2004
  7. ^ Queen of Iran Accepts Divorce As Sacrifice, The New York Times, 15 March 1958, p. 4.
  8. ^ a b http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945049-2,00.html
  9. ^ www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/leon.2007.40.1.20
  10. ^ a b http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2005/oct/07/art.iran
  11. ^ Pahlavi, Farah. ‘An Enduring Love: My Life with The Shah. A Memoir’ 2004
  12. ^ a b http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=4406991&page=1
  13. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/november/5/newsid_2538000/2538427.stm
  14. ^ Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Answer to History, Stein & Day Pub, 1980
  15. ^ Time Magazine: Shah’s Dilemma. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,947015,00.html?promoid=googlep
  16. ^ Time Magazine: The Shah’s Flight. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,921924-2,00.html
  17. ^ Pahlavi, Farah. ‘An Enduring Love: My life with Shah. A Memoir’ 2004
  18. ^ Elaine Sciolino, The Last Empress, The New York Times, 2 May 2004.
  19. ^ Reza Bayegan, "The Shah & She", The National Review, 13 May 2004.

External links

Farah Pahlavi
Born: 14 October 1938
Iranian royalty
Title last held by
Sorayâ Esfandiyâri
Queen consort of Iran
21 December 1959–1967
Became Empress
Preceded by
Herself as Queen
Empress consort of Iran
1967 - 11 February 1979
Monarchy abolished
Titles in pretence
Monarchy dissolved — TITULAR —
Empress consort of Iran
11 February 1979 – 27 July 1980
Reason for succession failure:
Iranian Revolution
Succeeded by
Yasmine Pahlavi


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address