Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary

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Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary
Queen-Shabanu Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari, Tehran 1953.jpg
Queen consort of Iran
Tenure12 February 1951 – 15 March 1958
Born(1932-06-22)22 June 1932
Isfahan, Iran
Died26 October 2001(2001-10-26) (aged 69)
Paris, France
Mohammed Reza Shah
(m. 1951;div. 1958)
Full name
English: Soraya
Persian: ثریا
Father Khalil Esfandiary Bakhtiary
MotherEva Karl
Occupation Actress (1965–1998)

Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary (Persian:ثریا اسفندیاری بختیاری, Sorayâ Esfandiyâri-Baxtiyâri; 22 June 1932 – 26 October 2001) was the queen consort ( Shahbanu ) of Iran as the second wife of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whom she married in 1951.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subdivision of the Indo-European languages. It is a pluricentric language predominantly spoken and used officially within Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in three mutually intelligible standard varieties, namely Iranian Persian, Dari Persian and Tajiki Persian. It is also spoken natively in the Tajik variety by a significant population within Uzbekistan, as well as within other regions with a Persianate history in the cultural sphere of Greater Iran. It is written officially within Iran and Afghanistan in the Persian alphabet, a derivation of the Arabic script, and within Tajikistan in the Tajik alphabet, a derivation of Cyrillic.

A queen consort is the wife of a reigning king, or an empress consort in the case of an emperor. A queen consort usually shares her husband's social rank and status. She holds the feminine equivalent of the king's monarchical titles, but historically, she does not share the king's political and military powers.


Shahbanu was the title for queen consort in Persian and other Iranian languages. The two Persian Sassanian empresses regnant, Purandokht and Azarmidokht, c. 630, were the last two that carried the title before Farah Pahlavi, the wife of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran (Persia), assumed the title on being crowned queen in 1967 for the first time since the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th century.


Their marriage suffered many pressures, particularly when it became clear that she was infertile. She rejected the Shah’s suggestion that he might take a second wife in order to produce an heir, as he rejected her suggestion that he might abdicate in favour of his half-brother. Being half German Catholic, she was mistrusted by Muslim clerics; she was also resented by the Shah’s possessive mother. In March 1958, the Shah wept as he announced their divorce. The British Ambassador claimed that Soraya was the Shah's only true love.

After a brief career as an actress, and a liaison with Italian film director Franco Indovina, Soraya lived alone in Paris till her death.

Early life and education

Soraya in childhood with her mother SorayaBaby.jpg
Soraya in childhood with her mother

Soraya was the elder child and only daughter of Khalil Esfandiary Bakhtiary (1901–1983), [1] a Bakhtiari nobleman and Iranian ambassador to West Germany in the 1950s, and his German wife Eva Karl (1906–1994). [2]

Khalil Esfandiary Bakhtiary Persian ambassador

Khalil Esfandiary Bakhtiary, was an Iranian politician and diplomat. Bakhtiary was Iran's Ambassador to West Germany from 1952 to 1961. He was the father of Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary, the second wife of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran.

Bakhtiari people ancient southwestern Iranian tribe

The Bakhtiari are a southwestern Iranian tribe. They speak the Bakhtiari dialect, a southwestern Iranian dialect, belonging to the Lurish language.

West Germany Federal Republic of Germany in the years 1949–1990

West Germany was the informal name for the Federal Republic of Germany, a country in Central Europe, in the period between its formation on 23 May 1949 and German reunification on 3 October 1990. During this Cold War period, the western portion of Germany was part of the Western Bloc. The Federal Republic was created during the Allied occupation of Germany after World War II, established from eleven states formed in the three Allied zones of occupation held by the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Its (provisional) capital was the city of Bonn. The Cold War era West Germany is unofficially historically designated the Bonn Republic.

She was born in the English Missionary Hospital in Isfahan on 22 June 1932. [1] [3] She had one sibling, a younger brother, Bijan (1937–2001). Her family had long been involved in the Iranian government and diplomatic corps. An uncle, Sardar Assad, was a leader in the Persian Constitutional Revolution of the early 20th century. [4] Soraya was raised in Berlin and Isfahan, and educated in London and Switzerland. [3]

Isfahan City in Iran

Isfahan, historically also rendered in English as Ispahan, Sepahan, Esfahan or Hispahan, is a city in Iran. It is located 406 kilometres south of Tehran, and is the capital of Isfahan Province.

Persian Constitutional Revolution

The Persian Constitutional Revolution, also known as the Constitutional Revolution of Iran, took place between 1905 and 1911. The revolution led to the establishment of a parliament in Persia (Iran) during the Qajar dynasty.

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with Potsdam, Brandenburg's capital. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.


In 1948, Soraya was introduced to the recently divorced Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, by Forough Zafar Bakhtiary, a close relative of Soraya's, via a photograph taken by Goodarz Bakhtiary, in London, per Forough Zafar's request. At the time Soraya had completed high school at a Swiss finishing school and was studying the English language in London. [4] They were soon engaged: the Shah gave her a 22.37 carat (4.474 g) diamond engagement ring. [5]

A finishing school is a school for young women that focuses on teaching social graces and upper-class cultural rites as a preparation for entry into society. The name reflects that it follows on from ordinary school and is intended to complete the education, with classes primarily on deportment and etiquette, with academic subjects secondary. It may consist of an intensive course, or a one-year programme. In the United States it is sometimes called a charm school.

Soraya married the Shah at Marble Palace, Tehran, on 12 February 1951. [6] Originally the couple had planned to wed on 27 December 1950, but the ceremony was postponed due to the bride being ill. [7]

Marble Palace (Tehran) Iranian national heritage site

The Marble Palace is one of the historic buildings and royal residences in Tehran, Iran. It is located in the city centre, but the location was a quiet quarter of Tehran when the palace was erected.

Tehran Capital and largest city of Iran

Tehran is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With a population of around 8.7 million in the city and 15 million in the larger metropolitan area of Greater Tehran, Tehran is the most populous city in Iran and Western Asia, and has the second-largest metropolitan area in the Middle East. It is ranked 24th in the world by the population of its metropolitan area.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, King of Iran, with Queen Soraya on their wedding day Shah Reza with Shahbanu Soraya, 1951.jpg
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, King of Iran, with Queen Soraya on their wedding day

Although the Shah announced that guests should donate money to a special charity for the Iranian poor, among the wedding gifts were a mink coat and a desk set with black diamonds sent by Joseph Stalin; a Steuben glass Bowl of Legends designed by Sidney Waugh and sent by U.S. President and Mrs. Truman; and silver Georgian candlesticks from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. [8] The 2,000 guests included Aga Khan III.

Joseph Stalin Soviet leader

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Georgian revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). Initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, by the 1930s he was the country's de facto dictator. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin formalised these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies are known as Stalinism.

Steuben Glass Works was an American art glass manufacturer, founded in the summer of 1903 by Frederick Carder and Thomas G. Hawkes in Corning, New York, which is in Steuben County, from which the company name was derived. Hawkes was the owner of the largest cut glass firm then operating in Corning. Carder was an Englishman who had many years' experience designing glass for Stevens and Williams in England. Hawkes purchased the glass blanks for his cutting shop from many sources and eventually wanted to start a factory to make the blanks himself. Hawkes convinced Carder to come to Corning and manage such a factory. Carder, who had been passed over for promotion at Stevens and Williams, consented to do so.

Sidney Waugh American sculptor

Sidney Waugh was an American sculptor known for his monuments, medals, etched and moulded glass, and architectural sculpture. Waugh was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. His father, Frank Waugh, was a landscape architect and professor of horticulture and landscape gardening at Massachusetts State College.

The ceremony was decorated with 1.5 tonnes of orchids, tulips and carnations, sent by plane from the Netherlands. Entertainment included an equestrian circus from Rome. [9] The bride wore a silver lamé gown studded with pearls and trimmed with marabou stork feathers, [10] designed for the occasion by Christian Dior. [11] Of all the Shah's many women, it is generally believed that Soraya was the "true love" of his life as she was the one he loved the most. [12]

Soraya later wrote about herself and Iran: "I was a dunce. I knew next to nothing of the geography, the legends of my country; nothing of its history, nothing of the Muslim religion". [12] Soraya's upbringing had been entirely German and Catholic, which left her with a mixed identity, and made her the object of much distrust in Iran with Muslim clerics saying the Shah should not marry this "half-European girl" who was not raised a Muslim. [12] Soraya wrote: "The feeling of being both Christian and Muslim, but at the same time of being neither one nor the other has engraved in my flesh two divergent poles between which my existence has unfolded. The one is methodically European, the other savagely Persian". [12]

Queen of Iran

Following the marriage, Soraya headed the family charity in Iran. [13] Soraya's marriage was troubled as Mohammad Reza's mother and sisters all saw her as a rival for his love just as they had with his first wife Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt, and continually snubbed and inflicted petty humiliations on her. Soraya hated Ernest Perron, the Shah's best friend and private secretary. [12] Soraya called Perron a "homosexual who detested women, all women" and who "spread poison around the palace as well as our own quarters". [12] She wrote that Perron was a "cunning, perfidious and Machiavellian" man who "roused hatred, stirred gossip, reveled in every intrigue". [12] Much to her disgust, Mohammad Reza was "fascinated with this diabolical Swiss" who professed to be a "philosopher, poet, and a prophet"; the two men met every morning to discuss all the affairs of state in French as Perron was the man whose advice the Shah valued the most, and, as Soraya soon learned, other matters were discussed as well. [12] Much to her revulsion, Perron visited her and made a series of what she called very "lewd" remarks and vulgar questions about her sex life with the Shah, which led her to throw him out of the Marble Palace in her fury. [12]

During the confrontation with Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh of the left-wing National Front, Mohammad Reza was often depressed, being in her words "somber and distressed" to the extent he even stopped playing poker with his friends, which had been one of his main passions. She stated that only sex could lift Mohammad Reza out of his depression, and she often invited the Shah into her bed to keep his spirits up. [12] Several times, Soraya advised Mohammad Reza "to screw up his courage to the sticking point". [12]

In August 1953, Soraya followed the Shah when he fled to Rome, and complained the Iranian ambassador to Italy failed to arrange for a place for them to stay while the royal couple were constantly harassed by the paparazzi. [14] On 19 August 1953, Soraya remembered how a glum Mohammad Reza was talking about moving to the United States when he received a telegram announcing that Mosaddegh had been overthrown, leading him to shout with joy. [15]

Queen Soraya in 1956 Soraya Pahlavi 1956 (cropped, retouched).jpg
Queen Soraya in 1956

After the 1953 coup overthrew Mosaddegh, the Shah's spirits picked up. [12] One of Mohammad Reza and Soraya's favorite activities was masked balls, although Soraya complained the Shah always wore a lion costume (the symbol of royalty) while her attempts to appear as Madame de Pompadour were vetoed under grounds this was inappropriate for a queen, and she forced to appear as Joan of Arc instead. [12] About her husband, Soraya always praised him when he displayed "European" personality traits while criticizing him for "Oriental" behavior. [12] Soraya wrote despite his first marriage and "in spite of countless mistresses he had before me, Mohammad Reza was extremely shy with women . . . he did not like to show his feelings" while praising his eyes as "expressive. Dark brown, almost black, shining, at times hard, at times sad or gentle, they exuded charm and reflected his soul". [12]

As Soraya was brought up in Europe, Iran was a strange country to her, which the Iranian-American historian Abbas Milani argued explained her attitudes towards ordinary Iranians, which he called borderline racist. Europe was always the model for excellence in everything for her. [12] Soraya described as Queen having to visit "hospitals, orphanages, charities, the people's quarters with their djoubs open to the sky, with streams of dirt water which supplied their dwellings, having first served washerwoman, tramps and dogs. Poverty and squalor. Children with rickets, ravaged women and starving old men, the filth of the alleyways where the houses are no longer houses, where poverty, real poverty prevailed". [12]

In contrast to the emphasis on the "filth" of Tehran, Soraya wrote with open admiration about how Paris "dazzled" her. [12] Soraya described her time in Paris as "everyday my heart was filled with sunshine. Life was light... it was wonderful to be able go to the cinemas, to drink a glass of lemonade on the terrace of the brassie... a pleasure hitherto forbidden." [12] Soraya wrote about her joy at attending school in Europe, unlike the Iranian schools with "the grey uniform, the stove which smoked and polluted the classroom, lessons, homework, work to the point of exhaustion". [12]

Soraya and Shah in 1953 Mohammadreza pahlavi and soraya esfandiary.jpg
Soraya and Shah in 1953

In October 1954, Mohammad Reza told Soraya he was concerned about the fact that she had not given him an heir, and suggested that they visit the United States to seek the help of American fertility doctors. [16] In 1954-55, the Imperial couple paid a lengthy visit to the United States, leaving on 5 December 1954. [16] In New York, Soraya visited doctors who assured her that an inability to bear a child was due to the "shocks, upsets and vexations of the last two years", which reassured her, but in Boston, the doctors told her she was infertile and could never have children. [17] Much of the length of their trip was due to the Shah's efforts to do something to console Soraya who took the news that she was infertile very badly. [17] Unaware of what the doctors had revealed to Soraya, Newsweek sarcastically wrote "even the Shahanshah (King of Kings), Vice Regent of God, Shadow of the Almighty and Center of the Universe deserves a vacation....They [the imperial couple] have spent this winter in a private visit to the U.S...physical check-ups in New York hospitals, sight-seeing in San Francisco, dancing the mambo in Hollywood, skiing in Sun Valley, water-skiing in Miami Beach". [17]

Soraya who was fascinated with Hollywood and enjoyed meeting American film stars during her stay in Los Angeles. [17] During her time in Los Angeles, Soraya met her favorite stars who were Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall, Bob Hope, Esther Williams, and Humphrey Bogart. [17] A photograph of Queen Soraya water-skiing in Miami while wearing a bikini become extremely controversial in Iran. [17] Soraya was widely condemned for her "immorality" for her swimsuit, which was not considered a proper dress for a Muslim, and the photo was banned in Iran in attempt to silence the criticism of the ulema . [17]

On 12 February 1955, the imperial couple left the United States for the United Kingdom on the famous liner, the Queen Mary. [18] In London, Mohammad Reza and Soraya had dinner at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II; the Prince Consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; the Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and the Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden. [18] In the final part of their trip, the imperial couple visited Cologne where they stayed with Soraya's parents. [18] The Shah's daughter by his first marriage, Princess Shahnaz, who was studying in Belgium, also went to Cologne to see her father, which caused a jealous Soraya to throw what was called an "embarrassing tantrum", demanding that her husband show love only to her, which finally led to the Shah to tell her to shut up. [18] On 12 March 1955, the Shah and the Shahbanu returned to Tehran, where they were pleased that, despite the fact it was raining, thousands of people had come out to welcome them back. [18] The Shah, who disliked his prime minister, General Fazlollah Zahedi, was well pleased that Zahedi who was suffering from gout was visibly uncomfortable standing out in the rain to welcome him back at the Tehran airport. [18]

Later in 1955, the Shah resumed the persecution of the Baha'i minority, razing their temples. The British diplomat Denis Wright protested to the Shah's minister Asadollah Alam, only to be told that Mohammad Reza had to do something to appease the ulema after the photograph of Soraya in a bikini appeared, which had enraged Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi, a key ally of the Shah. [17]


Shah lighting cigarette for his wife Soraya Shah lighting cigarette for his wife Sorraya.jpg
Shah lighting cigarette for his wife Soraya

Though the wedding took place during a heavy snow, deemed a good omen, the imperial couple's marriage had disintegrated by early 1958 owing to Soraya's apparent infertility. The Shah's only child, his daughter Princess Shahnaz, had married Ardeshir Zahedi, the son of the former Prime Minister, General Fazlollah Zahedi, a man whom Mohammad Reza despised and had dismissed in 1955. [19] The Shah told Soraya that "a Zahedi could not continue the dynasty of the Pahlavis", and that she had to give him a son so the House of Pahlavi could continue. [20] She had sought treatment in Switzerland and France, and in St. Louis with Dr. William Masters. [21] The Shah suggested that he take a second wife to produce an heir, but she rejected that option. [22]

In an attempt to save her position as Queen, Soraya told the Shah that he should change the constitution of 1909 to allow one of his half-brothers to succeed him, which Mohammad Reza told her would require "the approval of the Council of the Wise Men" first. [20] Soraya, who had never read the constitution, did not know that there was no "Council of Wise Men", which was the Shah's way of putting off a difficult decision by lying. [20] Mohammad Reza had already amended the constitution twice, so he must have known there was no clause calling for a "Council of Wise Men" to approve amendments. [20] The Shah's domineering mother hated Soraya and was pressuring him to divorce her, telling him it was his duty to father a son to continue the House of Pahlavi. [20] Mohammad Reza persuaded Soraya to leave Iran while he promised he would call the "Council of Wise Men" to change the constitution. [20] Despite this promise, Soraya sensed her husband had turned against her, and before she left Iran one courtier remembered she had "systematically put her house in order". [20]

She left Iran in February and eventually went to her parents' home in Cologne, Germany, where the Shah sent his wife's uncle, Senator Sardar Assad in early March 1958, in a failed attempt to convince her to return to Iran. [23] Soraya rejected the offer that she remain queen while the Shah would take a second wife, writing in her memoirs that Mohammad Reza was "fundamentally an Oriental", drawing an unfavorable contrast with the Duke of Windsor "who sacrificed his throne for love", writing that only "Orientals" sacrificed love for their thrones. [20] On 5 March, Mohammad Reza phoned her to tell she would have to accept him taking a second wife or else he would divorce her. [24] On 10 March, a council of advisers met with the Shah to discuss the situation of the troubled marriage and the lack of an heir. [25] Four days later, it was announced that the imperial couple would divorce. In a press statement issued by the Iranian government, it was announced that Soraya had agreed to the divorce while Soraya later claimed she had last heard from her husband on 5 March and she had not been informed beforehand. [24] It was, the 25-year-old queen said, "a sacrifice of my own happiness". [26] She later told reporters that her husband had no choice but to divorce her. [27] The British Ambassador to Iran reported "Soraya was the Shah's only true love" and he was "a man at an emotional cross-roads", who was happy to be able to marry again while unable to "bring himself to face it" that he had just divorced Soraya. [24]

Soraya at Noordwijk beach after her divorce in 1959 Ex keizerin Soraya in Noordwijk, vlnr Prins Byra , Prinses Soraya en haar mo, Bestanddeelnr 910-5690.jpg
Soraya at Noordwijk beach after her divorce in 1959

On 21 March 1958, the Iranian New Year's Day, a weeping Shah announced his divorce to the Iranian people in a speech that was broadcast on radio and television; he said that he would not remarry in haste. The headline-making divorce inspired French writer Françoise Mallet-Joris to write a hit pop song, Je veux pleurer comme Soraya ("I Want to Cry Like Soraya"). The marriage was officially ended on 6 April 1958. According to a report in The New York Times, extensive negotiations had preceded the divorce in order to convince Queen Soraya to allow her husband to take a second wife. The Queen, however, citing what she called the "sanctity of marriage", decided that "she could not accept the idea of sharing her husband's love with another woman." [22]

In a statement issued to the Iranian people from her parents' home in Germany, Soraya said, "Since His Imperial Majesty Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi has deemed it necessary that a successor to the throne must be of direct descent in the male line from generation to generation to generation, I will with my deepest regret in the interest of the future of the State and of the welfare of the people in accordance with the desire of His Majesty the Emperor sacrifice my own happiness, and I will declare my consent to a separation from His Imperial Majesty." [26] Soraya was well rewarded for the divorce with the Shah buying her a penthouse apartment in Paris that was valued at $3 million US, paying her a monthly alimony of $7,000 US (that continued to be paid until the Islamic Revolution overthrew Mohammad Reza in 1979), together with various luxuries such as a 1958 Rolls-Royce Phantom IV, a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, a Bulgari ruby, a Van Cleef & Arpels brooch and a Harry Winston platinum ring with a 22.37-carat diamond that after her death was sold at the estate auction for $838,350 US. [24]

After the divorce, the Shah, who had told a reporter who asked about his feelings for the former Queen that "nobody can carry a torch longer than me", indicated his interest in marrying Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, a daughter of the deposed Italian king Umberto II. In an editorial about the rumors surrounding the marriage of "a Muslim sovereign and a Catholic princess", the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano , considered the match "a grave danger". [28]

Career as actress

Soraya in 1953 Court Portrait by SAKO of Queen Soraya 1953.jpg
Soraya in 1953

After her divorce, Soraya moved to France. She launched a brief career as a film actress, for which she used only her first name. Initially, it was announced that she would portray Catherine the Great in a movie about the Russian empress by Dino De Laurentiis, but that project fell through. [29] Instead, she starred in the 1965 movie I tre volti (The Three Faces) [30] and became the companion of its Italian director, Franco Indovina (1932–72). [31] She appeared as a character named Soraya in the 1965 movie She . [32]

After Indovina's death in a plane crash, she spent the remainder of her life in Europe, succumbing to depression, which she outlined in her 1991 memoir, Le Palais Des Solitudes (The Palace of Loneliness).[ citation needed ]

Later years in Paris

During her last years Soraya lived in Paris on 46 avenue Montaigne. She occasionally attended social events like the parties given by the Duchess de La Rochefoucauld. Her friend and event organizer Massimo Gargia tried to cheer her up and make her meet young people. Soraya was a regular client of the hairdresser Alexandre Zouari. She also enjoyed going to the bar and the lobby of the Hotel Plaza Athénée located opposite her apartment. She was often accompanied by her former lady-in-waiting and loyal friend Madame Chamrizad Firouzabadian.

Another friend was Parisian socialite Lily Claire Sarran. In 1979, Soraya wrote to Mohammad Reza as he was dying of cancer in Panama, saying she still loved him and wanted to see him one last time. [33] Mohammad Reza was greatly moved by her letters, and wrote back to her saying he also still loved her and wanted to see her one last time as well, but said Empress Farah could not be present, which presented problems as she was constantly by the former Shah's bedside as he lay dying. [33] In 1980, it was agreed that Soraya would visit Mohammad Reza in Cairo, but he died before she could make the trip, which led Milani to comment that Mohammad Reza and Soraya were truly "star-crossed lovers". [33] Soraya did not communicate with the Shah's third wife, Farah, even when both lived in Paris.


Grave of Soraya Esfandiary Bakhtiari in Munich, 5th Grave in Quarter Nr. 143 in front of the Quarter Nr. 149 Soraya-Mutter Erde fec.jpg
Grave of Soraya Esfandiary Bakhtiari in Munich, 5th Grave in Quarter Nr. 143 in front of the Quarter Nr. 149

Soraya died on 26 October 2001 of undisclosed causes in her apartment in Paris, France; she was 69. [34] [35] Upon learning of her death, her younger brother, Bijan, sadly commented, "After her, I don't have anyone to talk to." [36] [37] Bijan died one week later. [38] [39]

After her funeral at the American Cathedral in Paris on 6 November 2001 – which was attended by Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, Prince Gholam Reza Pahlavi, the Count and Countess of Paris, the Prince and Princess of Naples, Prince Michel of Orléans, and Princess Ira von Fürstenberg – she was buried in the Westfriedhof Quarter Nr. 143, in a cemetery in Munich, Germany, along with her parents and brother. [40]

Since her death, several women have come forward claiming to be her illegitimate daughter, reportedly born in 1962. According to the Persian-language weekly Nimrooz none of the claims have been confirmed. [41] The newspaper also published an article in 2001 which suggested, without proof, that Princess Soraya and her brother had been murdered. [42] Her belongings were sold at auction in Paris in 2002, for more than $8.3 million. [43] Her Dior wedding dress fetched $1.2 million.[ citation needed ]


Though her husband's title, shahanshah (King of Kings), is the equivalent of emperor, it was not until 1967 that a complementary feminine title, shahbanu or shahbanou (equivalent of empress), was created to designate the consort of a shah. Farah Pahlavi was the only woman to have this title. Until then, wives of shahs (including Soraya) bore the title Malake (which is comparable with that of queen), though in the popular press they frequently and incorrectly were called "empress".

Upon the divorce, Soraya ceased being a queen.


Princess Soraya wrote two memoirs. The first, published in 1964 and published in the United States by Doubleday, was Princess Soraya: Autobiography of Her Imperial Highness. A decade before her death, she and a collaborator, Louis Valentin, wrote another memoir in French, Le Palais des Solitudes (Paris: France Loisirs/Michel Laffon, 1991), which was translated into English as Palace of Solitude (London: Quartet Books Ltd, 1992); ISBN   0-7043-7020-4.


Statue of Soraya, by Renato Signorini in 1955 Soraya Esfandiary Bakhtiari (cropped).JPG
Statue of Soraya, by Renato Signorini in 1955

Soraya's divorce from the Shah inspired French songwriter Francoise Mallet-Jorris to write "Je veux pleurer comme Soraya" (I Want to Cry Like Soraya). [2] [35] A French rose grower, bred a sunflower in the former queen's honor, which he called "Empress Soraya". [44]

An Italian/German television movie about the princess's life, Soraya (a.k.a. Sad Princess), was broadcast in 2003, starring Anna Valle as Soraya and Erol Sander as the Shah. [45] French actress Mathilda May appeared as the Shah's sister, Princess Shams Pahlavi. [46]


Film and Television
1953Zwischen Glück und KroneHerselfArchive Footage
1965 I tre volti Herself/Linda /Mrs. Melville
1965 She Soraya
1998 Legenden HerselfEpisode: "Soraya"

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Princess Shams Pahlavi was the elder sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. During her brother's reign she was the president of the Red Lion and Sun Society.

The Iranian Monarchy was overthrown following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 with the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi going into exile.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Last shah of Iran

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as Mohammad Reza Shah, was the last King (Shah) of Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979. Mohammad Reza Shah took the title Shahanshah on 26 October 1967. He was the second and last monarch of the House of Pahlavi. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi held several other titles, including that of Aryamehr and Bozorg Arteshtaran ("Commander-in-Chief"). His dream of what he referred to as a "Great Civilisation" in Iran led to a rapid industrial and military modernisation, as well as economic and social reforms.

Farah Pahlavi Empress of Iran

Farah Pahlavi is the widow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the former shahbanu (empress) of Iran.

Gholamreza Pahlavi Persian royal

Shahpur Gholamreza Pahlavi was an Iranian prince and a member of the Pahlavi dynasty, as the son of Reza Shah and half-brother of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran.

Fatimeh Pahlavi Iranian entrepreneur

Fatemeh Pahlavi was Reza Shah Pahlavi's tenth child and half-sister of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She was a member of the Pahlavi dynasty.

Azadeh Shafiq Iranian politician

Azadeh Shafiq was an Iranian royal and a member of the Pahlavi dynasty, being daughter of Ashraf Pahlavi. Following the Iranian revolution that toppled her uncle, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, she exiled in Paris and involved in opposition activities to the Islamic regime in Iran.

<i>The Enigma of the Shah</i> film

The Enigma of the Shah is an Iranian historical drama directed by Mohammad Reza Varzi. The story focuses on Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, and the events leading up to the 1979 Iranian revolution which led to the abolition of the monarchy.

Ernest Perron

Ernest Perron was a Swiss courtier in Iran during the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The Shah is a 2011 book by Abbas Milani, published by Macmillan. It is a biography of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the final Shah of Iran.


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Iranian royalty
Title last held by
Fawzia of Egypt
Queen consort of Iran
Title next held by
Farah Diba