Rare and Beautifully Printed Iranian Menu from the Most Decadent Dinner in History, Hosted by the Shah of Iran

Item: 20872
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2,500 YEAR CELEBRATION OF THE PERSIAN EMPIRE [SHAH MOHAMMAD REZA PAHLAVI. (1919-1980)]. Menu. 18pp. 4to. Persepolis, October 14, 1971. In French and Farsi. A magnificent, unsigned menu celebrating the Shah’s commemoration of the 2,500 year anniversary of the founding of the Iranian Empire, remembered as the most expensive dinner party in history.

Between October 12 and 16, 1971, Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919-1980) and his wife Shahbanu Farah Pahlavi (b. 1938) hosted a celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the foundation of the Imperial State of Iran. The lavish event commemorated the founding of the Achaemenid Empire or First Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great in 550 BCE when Cyrus rebelled against and defeated the Medes. Cyrus went on to conquer surrounding kingdoms including Lydia and Babylon and a number of Greek islands during the much mythologized Greco-Persian Wars. His conquest of Babylon in 539 marked the end of nearly 400 years of Mesopotamian domination of the region and created an important cultural shift. Cyrus eventually established a far-flung, multi-ethnic empire ruled by a centralized bureaucracy, the first such government in history. The territory would be expanded by his successors, including Alexander the Great, to become the largest empire up to that point in time.

Interior of the banqueting hall

The 2,500 Year Celebration marked the anniversary of Cyrus’ death in 529 and started with a ceremony as his tomb in Pasargadae, the capital of the Persian Empire. However, most of the events were held at a lavish tent city built just for this occasion in the desert on the site of the ancient Persian city of Persepolis by a Parisian interior designer and inspired by the Field of Gold Cloth where Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England met in 1520. The extravagance of the setting cannot be overstated. Each “tent,” which housed heads of state and their retinues for the duration of the celebration, included two marble bathrooms and direct telephone lines to their home countries. Outside, an oasis was planted and populated with trees and song birds imported from Europe.

The event’s climax was the October 14th dinner in the banqueting hall erected at the center of the tent city and outfitted with Italian drapes, gold embroidered silk canopies, Bohemian crystal chandeliers, Limoges china, and Baccarat crystal. The food was prepared by Maxim’s, which closed its Paris restaurant for two weeks and brought in 160 chefs, bakers and staff to prepare the meal. The menu included quail eggs stuffed with golden imperial Caspian caviar, mousse of crayfish tails with Nantua sauce, roast saddle of lamb with truffles, champagne sorbet, and 50 roasted foie gras stuffed peacocks, Iran’s national symbol. Each course was accompanied by a specially selected vintage of French wine or champagne.

Queen Sophia of Spain holding her menu

The meal lasted 5½ hours and the 600 guests in attendance included royalty from England, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Monaco, Lichtenstein, Naples, Jordan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Japan, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrein; heads of state from Germany, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Portugal, the USSR, Yugoslavia, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Morocco, Senegal, Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Tunisia, Brazil, Australia, and Canada; and a Cardinal representing the Vatican. The United States was represented by Vice President Spiro Agnew. The Guinness Book of World Records recorded it as the longest and most lavish official banquet in modern history.

Although the celebration was meant to both highlight the ancient history of the modern state of Iran and its many modern advancements, historians postulate that its extravagance helped foment the Iranian Revolution which would overthrow the pro-Western monarchy in 1979 and replace it with an Islamic Republic led by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Our original menu was printed in Paris by Tolmer in gold ink on pink wove paper, bound with a pink cord with gold silken spine. An exquisite production in excellent condition and contained in the original faux lacquer box with a removable lid and a mirrored interior bearing the imperial coat of arms. Light wear to the box’s corners.

Provenance: From the collection of a French chef who worked at the American embassies in Paris and Cairo, Blenheim Palace, and hotels and restaurants in London and New York.

Here is a BBC documentary about the event:

Rare and Beautifully Printed Iranian Menu from the Most Decadent Dinner in History, Hosted by the Shah of Iran

$1750 • item #20872

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