The Shah’s Jewels

My guide to Iran’s National Treasury

It took me nearly two years before I managed to visit the National Treasury of Iran, located in the country’s Central Bank in Tehran. We had lived in Tehran from 2007 to 2009, and every day demands such as school runs, work and the general difficulties of moving around in the city’s atrocious traffic had prevented my visit for the longest time.

Nor is it easy to plan such a visit when you are not on holiday. The location of the Central Bank is obvious enough – smack in the centre of town – but the Treasury’s opening hours are fairly limited, and children below 12 are not allowed. You cannot bring anything into the building – no cameras, no handbags, no coats, no mobile phones – and you have to leave all these items prior to entering at a dodgy outdoor hut with a guardian who hands you over a cheap plastic chip with an Arabic number on it. No access for wheel-chairs. And watch out for any Islamic holidays – although it won’t be announced on its homepage, the Treasury for sure will be closed.

When I finally made it to the Treasury – alone, someone had to stay with the kids – I was greeted by a queue that rivaled those at the Uffici in Florence or the Louvre just before opening hour. After some 40 minutes, it was finally my turn to step through the security gates and the time-switch operated doors, which guarantees that only a certain amount of people are in the Treasury at any given time.

Once inside, I slowly stepped down into the dungeons of the Central Bank, past a counter where one can purchase a small guide and a set of post-cards depicting the most striking pieces of the collection. Then onward and further downwards, until we reached a small anti-chamber, at the end of which stands the famed „Peacock Throne“ (Takht-e Tavous), or rather what many believed it to be. In truth, this throne (penultimate page) is an entirely different specimen to the famous piece that was brought back by Nadir Shah in 1739 from one of his expeditions to India, where he took the piece from the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah. After Nadir Shah’s assassination in 1747, this original Peacock Throne disappeared from the records. This is where one turns right into the safe of the Central Bank – a walk-in strong box that contains all the remaining treasures of the Shah and whose content is still used to back the country’s monetary system.

There is little available that prepares one for this experience. On an area not much bigger than an average living room, nearly 40 showcases display items of the greatest splendour imaginable. From crowns and diadems to swords and daggers, royal robes to household items such as decanters and pill boxes, there is practically nothing there that is not encrusted with jewels on every free square centimetre. In fact, the impression is so overpowering that after a while, it completely dulls one’s senses.

The artistry needed to produce all these items was probably at its summit during the 18th century. Later, more and more European influence is tangible in the pieces. Indeed, what with the turbulent history of Iran, it is astonishing that so many pieces have survived the tides of time.

Once I had completed the tour that goes around the room either clock-wise or anti-clockwise – depending on the mood of the day (and only one tour is allowed!) – I realised the most amazing fact: that many glass cases still contain piles and piles of diamonds, rubies, emeralds etc. that the artisans have not found necessary to turn into pieces of art. The heaps of jewels just gives one the sense of what Aladdin must have felt when he looked into the cave for the first time.

As it seemingly is not possible to obtain the photo guide to the Treasury ahead of time anywhere in Tehran, I have made the effort to reproduce it here for use of any future traveler to Iran. As the items are fairly poorly marked, this guide will hopefully be helpful for prospective visitors to familiarize themselves with the Treasures ahead of the trip there.

The information contained in this booklet is taken from the official guide that can be purchased once inside the Central Bank, and thus are reproduced here without any guarantee for accuracy. For further information on the National Treasury of Iran, refer to