In a country where education and literacy was limited to a very few and took place in the backstage of mosques and cleric’s houses with mainly the subject of religious thoughts and morality, only a true reformer could save a country in chaos.
Mirza Taghi Khan Farahani, born in 1852, also known as Amir Kabir was once the saviour of a nation that thanked him by his demise. For 3 years he had become the chief minister of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (Shah of Persia at the time). The young Shah’s confident had lead him the responsibility of Iran’s whole army and granted him his appointment as prime minister of Persia (what is now called Iran). One that was taken away rather soon.
His diplomatic trips to Russia and the Ottoman empire had him realize that only education was going to save the country from the mess it was in. So he advised the Shah into building the first university of Persia and so Darolfonun was built. Designed by Abbas Mirza who had studied architecture of forts and military constructions back in Britain, the school was ready for inauguration by 1851. Only that Abbas Mirza’s influence of British architecture had lead him into designing a courtyard that resembled the Union Jack from above!! To this day Darolfonun has been going under reconstructions and renovations, but the Union Jack ironically stays right in the heart of Tehran! Perhaps because no one really sees it, until they’re told.
Initially purposed to train officers and civil servants, the school quickly expanded into teaching subjects such as medicine, surgery, pharmacology, natural history, mathematics, geology, and natural science. Professors were brought from Vienna to teach and Darolfonun soon became the Shah’s flag to show off modern Persia.
Right when all the hard work was about pay off, Amir Kabir was dismissed from all his appointments. The Queen mother and other influential figures whose pensions and salaries were cut down by Amir Kabir’s financial reforms and were backed by foreigners whose influence has been greatly diminished, saw him as a threat and formed a coalition to have him removed. The coalition turned out to be a success and Amir Kabir was sent to Kashan where he was executed shortly after while taking a bath in the famous Fin Bathhouse.
Darolfonun continued working for years until it became part of the newly established University of Tehran. Today the sight is under renovations to become the treasury and documentation center of the ministry of Education, yet visits are allowed through the secondary entrance.
Darolfonun stays unvisited and quiet to most tourists and even Iranians. While most of the current building is not how it was at the time of Amir Kabir – apart from the courtyard and the iwan – it’s mosaic-coated entrance, bricked walls and small, yet sublime garden is a mistake to miss.
Inspirational verses from Persian poets are displayed on Persian blue mosaics that adorn the walls of the courtyard. The long living history of Darolfonun and the magnificence of the hero behind it echoes in every room and corridor and gives the impression that time has stopped right in the heart of Tehran, just before the brutal honking of Taxi drivers in one of the most traffic jammed streets of Tehran brings you back to life!