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Iran was my favourite Middle East country until the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza in 1979, not only because of its millennial civilisation and refined culture but also for very personal reasons. I visited Tehran once in 1966 and three times in 1975, after the Arab Petroleum Congress in Dubai in March, on my way home from a business trip to Japan in May and as a member of a Quebec trade mission in October.
Sometimes I like to let my imagination run free to explore what my life could have been like if I had taken different decisions in the past. The cross-roads we traverse at every instant determine the orientation of all the remaining moments of our life. The person we become is moulded by all our past experiences. Some of these crossroads have more impact than the rest. For example, I would not be the man I am today if I had been selected in 1961 instead of a competing colleague for a job in Saigon with Exxon, or if I had married "T" instead of the woman I did, or if I had remained in Paris instead of coming back to Quebec in 1970, or if I had not retired early at 55, etc. Dreaming about life along the multiple branches of life's decision tree is more fun than reading science-fiction because of the infinite variety of situations that one can imagine. It's a pity that I forget most of these adventures when I wake up in the morning.
I did not take many pictures in those days. This one shows the Shahyad Monument built by the Shah to commemorate Persia's 2500th anniversary which has been renamed "Freedom Monument" by the ayatollahs.
The Tehran Bazaar is one of the most famous in all the Middle East. It is a city within the city economically and politically. Some of it is open like this street where a boy is selling Persian flat bread but much of it is covered to protect the shoppers from the ardent sun like the scene on the left below.
I have unfortunately forgotten the name of the mosque on the right below.
Persepolis, built by Darius the Great was the capital of the Persian Empire for two centuries before being destroyed by Alexander the Great in 323 BC.
This picture shows the elevated platform on which was built the huge Apadana audience hall where Persian Kings received their noble visitors in great pomp. These few columns are all that is left of the hall but the walls along the base of the platform are covered with superb bas-relief whose once vivid colours heightened the glorious aspect of this great hall.
Below, two sculpted gateways.
Mohammad Reza was pro-western and forward looking. Under his rule, women were emancipated, literacy was actively promoted, health services were developed and Iran was rapidly industrialised and modernised thanks to the huge oil revenues. The excesses of his openly corrupt government were however scandalous and shocking to all inside and outside Iran and all opposition was crushed by the repressive Savak secret police.
This photo shows the sumptuous "tent village" the Shah built to house visiting royalty and heads of state for one or two nights in Persepolis during the outlandishly extravagant celebration he organised for the 2500th anniversary of Persia in 1971.
On the left, a detail of the bas-relief on the base of the Apadana Hall.
On the right, the Prime Minister of Québec Robert Bourassa and his wife Andrée next to a 2500 year old griffin.
Beautiful Esfahan, was the capital of Persia during the Safavid Persian renaissance in the 16th and 17th centuries before it was moved to Shiraz in the south.
There used to be a polo field in the center of Shah Square (now called Imam Square) instead of this shallow reflecting pool. The fine building at the north end is the shoemakers bazaar.
From this huge pavilion of the Ali Ghapu palace on the western side of the square, the Persian royalty and their guests would observe the games and other activities in the square below.
At the southern end of the square stands the magnificent Shah Mosque (now renamed Imam mosque), whose pale blue tiles that contrast beautifully with the ochres of the desert have become the trademark of Esfahan. It was built by Shah Abbas in 1638.