Ibex on Social Media

An Iranian in Nineteenth Century Europe

The Travel Diaries of Haj Sayyah 1859-1877


HAJ SAYYAH (1836-1924) catches wanderlust and decides to travel. He sets off west and returns eighteen years later. His wanderings take him throughout all of Europe, America. he is the first Iranian to become an American citizen and the Orient. Later he becomes a major player in the Constitutional Revolution. These diaries recount his European adventures.


"is endowed with a special, almost poetic beauty, that of a work which comes from a good heart, will, as European cities are seen through the eyes of an Iranian of the last decades of the nineteenth century, and seen with no hint of prejudice, or the narrator’s personal intrusion, also learn something of the refinement of the Iranian character when it is at its best. It is a book that seems on first sight to move slowly, but which has a rhythm of its own that gives it lightness and quickness. It has a quality no discerning reader can fail to appreciate, while, for the specialist, it should provide pleasure as well as another work to be added to those relevant to the history of the Iranian awakening of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. "

-- Peter Avery


We can say that it is the best and the most meaningful travel diary that has ever been written by an Iranian during the last two centuries.

-- Ali Dehbashi


Haj Muhammad Ali Sayyah (1836-1924), was born in Mahallat, Iran, to a peasant family. As a child he grew up in Tehran, where he started studying traditional Islamic sciences. Later, with the financial support of his uncle, he was sent to the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in Iraq to continue his studies. There he not only mastered Islamic sciences but also became familiar with the advanced civilizations of the time through his meeting a number of Middle Eastern thinkers acquainted with the West. After completing his studies, he returned to his native Mahallat where he found the disruptive conditions of his homeland very disappointing. His father, Mulla Muhammad Reza, decided that his son was educated enough and ready to start life; he sent him to Muhajiran to live with his rich uncle. There Haj Sayyah realized that his family?s plan was for him to marry his cousin. He was not pleased with the idea of staying in Muhajiran for the rest of his life and living off his wife, he vowed to free himself from the confines of family life. In 1859, at the age of twenty-three, at a time when travelling abroad was not easy and few people ventured it, he left Muhajiran with meager means and without informing his family. Haj Sayyah was married in his forties and had three sons and one daughter. He died in Tehran at the age of ninety-two.

Tell a Friend