Another Kind of Harem: Surrounded by 100 Women with Mustaches - History Key

Another Kind of Harem: Surrounded by 100 Women with Mustaches

Yes, we know. When you think about a harem, everything you have in mind would be gorgeous. The same for us, but we had the chance to discover that this kind of expectation is not a strict rule and that some strange exceptions could redefine the harem concept.

Our today’s story is connected to a special harem. We must say that every man has his own tastes when it comes to women, but we must say that some of those preferences are easier to accept than others. Usually, a harem is not related to ordinary people, so let us unlock for you the story of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, the king of Persia from 1848 to 1896.

Naser al-Din Shah Qajar
Naser al-Din Shah Qajar © Image Source:

The lucky man?

Naser al-Din Shah was almost a reformer for the Iranian monarchy, considering that he was the first Iranian royalty to formally visit Europe, during his kingdom that lasted for almost 50 years. In fact, king Naser was a sensible soul. He was very interested in arts, being a talented painter and a skilled ink pen drawer. He also wrote poetry and was interested in history and geography.

The Iranian King had also another interest, something that is directly related to the harem story: photography.

Naser was extremely interested in photography. He had the occasion to take some pictures while he was a child and to better discover and understand the photographic process during his visits to England. So he considered a must to practice photography also back home, in Iran. Considering that King Naser was also a patron of arts, he decided to establish a photography studio, the first one in Persia, located in the Golestan Palace.

In order to achieve his goal, King Naser turned to Antoin Sevruguin, a Russian photographer who had a photo-atelier in Tehran, recently opened in 1870. Shortly, Sevruguin became the “photo-man” from the Gulistan palace, gaining the “court photographer” position and covering all sorts of subjects. The Russian photographer did a great job by creating a collection of images coming out of Iran, and for that, he was awarded with an honorary title.

Now, with a court photographer at his disposal, King Naser only had to order some pictures. The Russian photographer could only shoot King Naser or his male relatives because to photograph women’s faces was strictly forbidden.

King Naser and Russian photographer Antoin Sevruguin preparing a photo-shoot
King Naser and Russian photographer Antoin Sevruguin preparing a photo-shoot © Image Source:

Being a king, you can change the rules

Considering that Naser was a king and a photography passionate, he took a unique decision: he allowed the court photographer to photograph his harem, which consisted of about 100 women. Everything seems legit. If you are a ruler you can also break the rules, right? This special concession, made possible the first glimpse into a king’s harem, a special one.

The court photographer, Antoin Sevruguin, started to shoot portraits and scenes depicting part of the harem, revealing King Naser’s tastes and preferences related to women.

Besides being a gesture of power, breaking the Shiite law related to photographs depicting women’s faces produced a very important document, considering that before this situation there was not another record of that type.

On the right, Anis al-Doleh, Naser's wife
Anis al-Doleh
On the right, Anis al-Doleh, Naser’s wife © Image Source:

From the pictures, we can note how a harem looks like, and observe that the relations between the women seem to be friendly and relaxed. Several scenes are recorded, a picnic or daily activities, and in all the photographs we are able to see that the women are well treated and taken care of, far away from being slaves or something like that.

Part of King Naser's harem
Part of King Naser’s harem © Image Source:

Also, another aspect could be observed, a more aesthetic one: almost all the women forming the harem have a mustache or facial hair. We can state if that was some sort of tradition or just King Naser’s preference.

Anis al-Doleh
Anis al-Doleh © Image Source:
© Image Source:

Ballet tutu

In some of the pictures, the women are wearing some sort of ballet tutus, which would be most likely unusual for the Iranian customs, but there is an explanation for that.

In 1873 King Naser visited St. Petersburg, following the invitation of Alexander II, he had the occasion to see the ballet, which seems to have impressed him very much. Once back home, he introduced the tutus in the daily life of his harem, so that’s why some of the pictured women are wearing an adapted version of the ballet tutu.

Part of King Naser's harem wearing ballet tutus
Part of King Naser’s harem wearing ballet tutus © Image Source:

Some say that the ballet thing would be more likely a legend, but what we know for sure is that Naser himself printed the photos realized by Antoin Sevruguin. He kept the resulted images in dedicated albums, which are still located in the Golestan Palace, which became a museum.

After almost 50 years as king, Naser al-Din was assassinated while he was praying in the shrine of Shah-Abdul-Azim. His killer was Mirza Reza Kermani, a follower of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, an opponent of King Naser. The gun used in the assassination was a very old and rusted revolver. If Naser al-Din had worn a heavy overcoat or if been shot from a longer distance most likely he would have avoided death. After being shot and shortly before his death, King Naser declared that ”he would rule differently if he will survive”.

He was buried in the shrine where he was assassinated, in Rayy, Tehran. The funeral was scheduled six months after his death and it was a very important event, lush in many aspects. His tombstone was made in marble, reporting Naser’s full effigy and considered a sculpture masterpiece from the Qajar period. The tombstone is kept in the Golestan Palace Museum in Tehran.

Naser al-Din Shah's Tomb Stone
Naser al-Din Shah’s Tomb Stone © Image Source:

(Article was written using references from,

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