The Grave of Princess Soraya of Iran

The Grave of Princess Soraya of Iran
Photo by Moniek Bloks

Text by Brittani Barger

Born on 22 June 1932 in the English Missionary Hospital in Isfahan, Iran, Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary was the elder child and only daughter of Khalil Esfandiary-Bakhtiary and his German wife, Eva Karl. Soraya was introduced to the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in 1948. The Shah had recently divorced his first wife, Princess Fawzia of Egypt.

She married the Shah on 12 February 1951 in Tehran’s Marble Palace with the bride in a Christian Dior gown and heavy snow outside. Their marriage was an unhappy one, and a divorce later occurred due to her lack of providing an heir. 25-year-old Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiary would flee to her parents in Cologne, Germany, to be with her family as the union was so unhappy. The Shah would attempt to convince her to return to Iran via her uncle, Sardar Assad, in early March 1958. It was unsuccessful, and the Shah demanded she return home and allow him to take a second wife. If she did not agree, he would file for divorce. On 14 May, it was announced that the couple were divorcing.

(public domain)

It was a week later, on 21 March, that a crying Shah of Iran addressed the people to tell them of the divorce. As part of the divorce, the Shah bought her a $3 million penthouse in Paris and provided her with a $7,000 monthly alimony until his overthrow. She was also referred to as Her Imperial Highness Princess Soraya of Iran.

Soraya, who had returned to the Catholic faith, began a short-lived film career while in France. Going by only her first name, she was in the films I tre volti (The Three Faces) and She (1965) – in the latter, her character’s name was Soraya. She was also supposed to portray Catherine the Great in a film by Dino De Laurentiis, but that project never happened. In 1964, she appeared as an uncredited belly dancer in The Saint and a nightclub dancer in She in 1965. In 1975, she appeared in one episode of The Two Ronnies and in 1991, she appeared in one episode of Doctor at the Top.

The former Queen of Iran wrote a memoir in 1991 called Le Palais Des Solitudes (which was translated into English as The Palace of Loneliness), where she admitted that she had suffered from depression since the Italian’s death. This was her second autobiography after Princess Soraya: Autobiography of Her Imperial Highness.

Her last acting credit was in 1998 when she appeared as herself on the television show Legenden.

On 26 October 2001, at the age of 69, Soraya died in her Parisian home.

Photo by Moniek Bloks

The cause of death was never determined. Her death devastated her younger brother, who died just one week later. The funeral took place on 6 November 2001 in Paris at the American Cathedral with the Shah’s twin sister, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi and half-brother, Prince Gholamreza Pahlavi, in attendance. Soraya was buried alongside her parents, as was her brother, in the Westfriedhof in Munich.

About Moniek Bloks 2732 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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