Tehran’s Qajar-Era Elephant House Damaged by Fire

A fire has damaged a landmark building that once housed elephants during the reign of Qajar King Nassereddin Shah (1884– 1896), ILNA (the Iranian Labor News Agency) has reported, citing Delavar Bozorgnia, the director of Tehran Province’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.

“The historic elephant house was severely damaged by fire in late December, before we could register it as a national heritage site,” Mr. Bozorgnia said. “Flames also destroyed some of the exquisite interior and exterior mouldings, millwork, and stucco. The building is currently in bad shape.”

The elephant house is a two-story building located at the end of Khayyam Street in Tehran. It has three sections:  a Tekyeh (place of mourning during the holy month of Muharram), a courtyard and a caravanserai (an inn for travelers.) At least one or two elephants were kept there at all times and used for royal events and ceremonies. Nassereddin Shah’s daughter Esmat-al-Dowleh (1855-1906) was carried on the back of an elephant to her husband’s house on their wedding day. Every Friday, the public got a chance to see the elephants when their keepers took them outside the building.

Bozorgnia explained: “Parts of the elephant house had crumbled over the years and needed extensive repair. We have not assessed the damage yet. However, the firefighters put out the flames before they could wreck the building entirely. Some members of the Tehran City Council have visited the elephant house, and there is a good chance that the city will be able to repair and renovate the building.”

Bozorgnia noted: “An increasing number of owners of historic homes have shown interest in renovating and reusing these buildings. Many others, however, do not care about preserving these structures.  For whatever reason, they do not seem to care if these buildings are demolished.”


Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi