Farah Pahlavi Biography

(Queen Consort of the Shah of Iran)

Birthday: October 14, 1938 (Libra)

Born In: Tehran, Iran

Farah Pahlavi is the former “Shahbanu” (“empress”) of Iran and the widow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Though born into an affluent family in Tehran, Farah faced difficult times after her father’s death. While studying in Paris, she met Reza, who was on an official visit to the city. They got married in 1959. She gave birth to Reza’s heir in 1960. Farah was a patron of the arts and bought back several precious Iranian artifacts from foreign collectors. She focused on work related to healthcare, culture, and education. However, the political revolution in Iran later led them to flee the country and travel to places such as Egypt, Morocco, and Mexico, in search of permanent asylum. After Reza’s death, Farah settled in the U.S. She has won numerous honors for her work, from across the world.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Farah Diba

Age: 85 Years, 85 Year Old Females


Spouse/Ex-: Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ​ ​ (m. 1959; died 1980)

father: Sohrab Diba

mother: Farideh Ghotbi

children: Ali-Reza Pahlavi, Farahnaz Pahlavi, Leila Pahlavi, Reza Pahlavi

Born Country: Iran (islamic Republic Of)

Empresses & Queens Iranian Women

Height: 1.74 m

Notable Alumni: École Spéciale D'Architecture

Ancestry: Iranian American, Iranian French

City: Tehran, Iran (islamic Republic Of)

More Facts

education: École Spéciale D'Architecture

Childhood & Early Life

Farah Pahlavi was born Farah Diba, on October 14, 1938, in Tehran, Iran, into an upper-class family. She was the only child of Captain Sohrab Diba and Farideh Ghotbi.

Farah's father was of Iranian Azerbaijani descent. Her mother was of Gilak origin (of Lahijan).

Farah’s grandfather was a famous diplomat and had been the Persian ambassador to the Romanov Court of Russia. Her father served as an officer in the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces and had graduated from the French Military Academy at St. Cyr.

However, Farah’s family fortunes declined following her father's death in 1948. The family thus had to shift from their family villa in northern Tehran to an apartment that they shared with one of Farah’s maternal uncles.

Farah initially attended Tehran's Italian School and then transferred to the French Jeanne d’Arc School. She studied there till 16. She then moved to the Lycée Razi.

She was a talented athlete and had also been the captain of her school basketball team. After graduating from the Lycée Razi, she joined an architecture course at the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris. There, she studied under Albert Besson.

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Marriage to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

Countless Iranian students studied abroad through scholarships back then. Thus, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, often met such Iranian students during his visits to foreign countries. Farah met Reza at one such event at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, in 1959.

After moving back to Tehran in the summer of 1959, Reza began courting Farah Diba. The relationship, many believe, was encouraged by Princess Shahnaz, Reza's daughter. On November 23, 1959, Farah and Reza announced their engagement.

They got married on December 20, 1959. Farah was 21 back then and became the queen of Iran. She wore a wedding gown designed by Yves Saint Laurent and a tiara adorned with the Noor-ol-Ain Diamond.

Incidentally, Reza’s first two wives had not been able to produce a son. Thus, when Farah gave birth to Reza’s only heir, Crown Prince Reza, on October 31, 1960, the people of the kingdom were overjoyed.

The couple had three more children later: Princess Farahnaz Pahlavi (born on March 12, 1963), Prince Ali-Reza Pahlavi (born on April 28, 1966), and Princess Leila Pahlavi (born on March 27, 1970).

Life as the Empress of Iran

Farah Pahlavi was initially not allowed to take over a political role. However, she became the first “Shahbanou” (“empress”) of modern Iran at the coronation ceremony held on October 26, 1967. Reza declared her as the official regent who could rule in case he died or became invalid before the Crown Prince turned 21.

Over the years, Farah used her husband’s influence to work for causes such as women's rights and cultural progress. By 1978, she was associated with various initiatives and organizations, such as the Organization for Family Well Being (which promoted nurseries for kids of working mothers, encouraged education among women, offered professional training, and provided family planning suggestions), the Organization for the Fight Against Cancer, the Imperial Institute of Philosophy, the Tehran Cinema Festival, the Asiatic Institute, the Iranian Folklore Organization, and the Academy of Sciences.

She established the Pahlavi University, to boost the education of Iranian women. It was the first American-style university in the country, Prior to this, Iranian universities followed the French style.

Farah soon began managing 40 assistants and presided over 24 educational, cultural, and health institutions.

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She was a patron of traditional Iranian arts (such as singing, weaving, and poetry) and Western theater. She organized the Shiraz Arts Festival, which was held annually from 1967 to 1977 and featured performances by both Iranian and Western performers.

Her personal library consisted of 22,000 books, mainly consisting of works on Western and Eastern art, religion, and philosophy.

Many of the Iran’s most artistic artifacts had been taken away by foreign museums and private art collectors. Thus, Farah reclaimed (bought back) such pieces of art. Farah then established many national museums and started an Iranian National Trust.

Some of the cultural centers she built were the Negarestan Cultural Center, the Khorramabad Museum, the Glassware and Ceramic Museum of Iran, the Reza Abbasi Museum, and the National Carpet Gallery.

She also bought almost 150 works by artists as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, and Andy Warhol, through the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Revolution in Iran and Reza’s Death

By 1978, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with Reza’s rule in Iran. Later that year, a lot of violent protests were held against the monarchy.

By the end of the year, there were riots. The protests reached their peak in January 1979. The government introduced martial law in most big Iranian cities.

Amid violent protests, Mohammad Reza and Farah Pahlavi flew out of the country on January 16, 1979.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and his wife, Jehan Sadat, were close friends of Reza and Farah. Sadat invited them to stay in Egypt. By then, the Revolutionary Government in Iran had ordered the arrest of the royal couple. The government was also trying to bring them back to the country and get them executed.

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The chaos made them leave Egypt soon. For the next 14 months, they looked for permanent asylum and traveled through many countries. Their next stop after Egypt was Morocco, where they were guests of King Hassan II.

Later, they got temporary asylum in the Bahamas. They were then granted refuge in Mexico, where they lived in a rented villa in Cuernavaca, near Mexico City.

Reza had been keeping ill since the couple left Egypt. He was suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The couple also traveled to the United States for medical treatment, in between. However, this escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran, leading to an attack on the American Embassy in Tehran (the Iran hostage crisis).

The couple thus had to leave the U.S. and move to Latin America, eventually traveling to Contadora Island in Panama.

However, fearing extradition, they appealed to return to Egypt. Their request was granted, and they moved to Egypt in March 1980. They continued to live there until Reza's death on July 27, 1980.

Life after Reza’s Death

Following Reza's death, Farah Pahlavi remained in Egypt for about 2 years. She served as the regent in pretence from July 27 to October 31, 1980.

President Sadat allowed Farah and her children to use the Koubbeh Palace in Cairo. After Sadat’s assassination in October 1981, Farah and her family left Egypt. President Ronald Reagan then invited her to the U.S.

Farah initially moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts, and then to Greenwich, Connecticut. Following the death of her daughter Leila in 2001, she moved to Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.

Farah now hops between Paris and Washington, D.C. She supports an annual fundraising event for patients of Alzheimer’s disease, held in Paris.

She has three granddaughters through her son, Ali-Reza.

Other Achievements

In 2003, Farah Pahlavi wrote an autobiography, An Enduring Love: My Life with the Shah.

The 2009 documentary The Queen and I, by Persian–Swedish director Nahid Persson Sarvestani, was about Farah Pahlavi's life.

She has received numerous honors, such as the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor (France), the Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the Look! Women of the Year Hope Award (Austria), the Honorary Citizen of Bruges-Capbis-Mifaget (France), the Steiger Award (Germany), the National Museum of Women in the Arts Award for International Cultural Patronage (U.S.), and the Tel Aviv University Peace Prize (Israel).

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