Louvre inks historic deal with Iran to cooperate on archaeological digs, exhibitions and exchanges

A French team could return to sites like Susa, where the museum uncovered the Code of Hammurabi

The Louvre signed an historical agreement with Iran on Thursday, 28 January, that clears the way for renewed cultural and scientific cooperation with France. The deal, which has not yet been publicly announced, came during a state visit to France by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that was otherwise dominated by economic talks. Vice President Masoud Soltanifar, who heads Iran’s cultural heritage and tourism organisation, visited the Louvre’s galleries on Thursday—although no statues were veiled for the occasion, the museum says.

The agreement, signed at the presidential Elysée Palace, lays out a framework for cooperation up to 2019, including plans for exchanges of exhibitions, publications, scientific visits and training sessions, as well as archeological digs. The two countries will also work together to stop looting and trafficking. The agreement follows France’s general diplomatic policy to maintain balanced relationships with all countries in the Middle East; the Louvre has already pledged to help Iraq and Syria protect their cultural heritage, and is building an outpost museum in Abu Dhabi.

The first project will be an exhibition on the Qajar Dynasty (1789-1925), due to open in the spring of 2018 at the Louvre’s satellite museum in Lens, northern France. This is an important symbolic choice since that period comes under regular attack from clerics in Iran. The country has a unique collection of photographs and film from the time that have been recently restored, says Yannick Lintz, the head of the Louvre’s Islamic Art Department, who specialises in Persian history and visited Tehran last summer.

The Louvre may also join in archeological research at Nishapur in the northeastern province of Khorasan, which could be linked to earlier digs led by the museum in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and other sites along the Silk Road that were part of the greater Sassanid empire. The medieval Islamic city of Aveh, on the central plateau, was mentioned as another potential site for study. The idea was also discussed of a team returning to the ancient site of Susa in the Zagros Mountains, where France worked for more than 80 years until the Iraq-Iran war in 1980 and made important discoveries such as the Code of Hamurabi, the Babylonian king’s rule of law that was inscribed on a seven-foot stone stele and clay tablets.