Villa Danesh has often been the source of conjecture and I have seen articles, through a period of time, describing it as a curiosity of unknown origin. However, all we have to do is to refer to the man who built it.
Prince Mirza Reza Khan Daniche Arfa-od-Douleh Emir Nouyan, to address him by his full name and titles, as per his own description, has written the story of the conception and completion of his house in Monte Carlo in a book entitled: Poésie et Art Persans a Monaco (1910-1919), (the grammatical error in the title is as published). The copy in my library is dedicated by the author to Sir Percy Cox.
In the first chapter – Pourquoi j'ai construit Danichgah – he says that he built a house in a country that he had never visited and did not see the house until after completion. The design of the house is said to be copied from his house in Tabriz, which was also called “Danesh-Abad”. He says that he was accorded the name Danesh by “les savants persans”. The villa was named “Daneshgah” which renders the double meaning: first, it connotes a place of learning and, secondly, it describes the residence of a man called Danesh.
He moved in, with his family, towards the end of 1910. The was the work of an Italian called Tamagno. The house was full of antiques, both Persian and European, as well as a well-stocked library. Amongst these books was a volume by Philippe Casimir, which said that Cyrus, by annexing Phoenicia in 538 B.C., had also acquired Monaco. This fact drove Mirza Reza Khan to commissioning the Italian sculptor, Domenico Agliardi, to erect a monument to Cyrus on the terrace of the villa, a labour of three years with stone from Brescia.
He also arranged a “Peace Gallery” in a part of the house, as well as a monument to Darius, placed on a terrace, which took eight years' of the same sculptor's time. The villa was inaugurated by Prince Albert I of Monaco on 29 April 1918.
Some articles appeared in the French journal L'Union, giving descriptions of the works at the villa. Somewhere in my library lies a reminder to the sad demise of the villa, in the form of the catalogue for the sale at auction of the contents of the house. The family was involved in the foreign office of the Persian government. One brother, Bagha-ul-Saltaneh was in Cairo whilst another, Moffakham-ul-Saltaneh was Consul at Jeddah.
As for his own political role, Mirza Reza Khan started his diplomatic career as Second-Secretary at the Persian Consulate in Tiflis (an important outpost for Persia at that time), returning five years later (1891) as Consul, residing at his Villa Férouzi in Borjom.
He then moved on to being the Persian Minister at St.Petersbourg (1895), the Persian delegate to the Peace Conference at the Hague (1899) and then Ambassador at Constantinople for five years. His wife wrote a book in German, about their stay in Turkey. He was then called to Iran between 1912-1914 and for a time was in charge of Public Education. He wrote some twenty books, mostly poetry, the main one – “Perles d'Orient” – contains some 200 distichs and was published in Constantinople in 1904 (my copy has his photo with a dedication by him – see scan).
In this book, he states (in verse) that, after schooling in Tabriz, he was sent to Tehran, where he attended “L'Académie” and entered government service at the age of 25, obtaining the honorific 'Khan' and the rank of Colonel. He was a member of the frontier commission of Khorassan-Ahal (1884) headed by Soleiman Khan Saheb-Ekhtiar, and then became an aide-de-camp of Nasser-ed-din Shah, travelling in the Shah's entourage on the third royal visit to Europe.
On 26 April 1904 he was decorated by the Shah with the highest military order of Emir-Nouyan (Generalissimo). As Dr. Eskandari-Qajar has described, he was devoted to Ahmad Shah and was also his aide-de camp. There is an autographed photo of Ahmad Shah in his book.
It would be interesting if some scholar took on the task of writing a biography of Prince Arfa >>> See additional note
Farhad Diba is the author of “Mohammad Mossadegh: A Political Biography” (1983).