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A Persian Paradise Exhibition at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Pieces of Persepolis
Pieces of Persepolis | © National Trust images/James Beck

Revealing the travels and inspirations of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson to 1920s Iran.

14 October - 24 March 2024 | 11am - 3:30pm

Focussing on the period 1925 to 1927, 'A Persian Paradise’ will tell the story of how Persia, now modern-day Iran, inspired Vita and Harold, from the design for Sissinghurst’s world-famous garden and interiors to their writing and personal relationships.

Displays include untold stories, unseen photos and personal mementoes across two indoor spaces.

Standard admission includes access to both parts of the exhibition.

The Collection

Vita and Harold were two of the most high-profile cultural figures of their generation. They wrote vividly about their experiences in the mid-1920s, their responses channelling a growing fascination for all things ‘Persian’. They witnessed a time of change as Persia became Iran and Vita’s travelogues in particular offer glimpses of this time.

The exhibition immerses visitors in the sights, sounds and scents of Iran, displaying a variety of fascinating objects across two transformed indoor spaces. Featuring contemporary projected films of the region, colourful ceramics, letters, photographs taken at various historic sites and more.

Upcoming Workshops

Miniature Painting at 'A Persian Paradise': Art and Tradition Unveiled (Fri 9 Feb 2024)
Journey into the enchanting world of Persian Miniature painting with artist Yasmin Hayat and curator Nicci Obholzer, and create your own masterpiece in the heart of 'A Persian Paradise'. This event promises a one-of-a-kind experience, commencing with an exclusive private tour of the exhibition, guided by its curator, Nicci Obholzer, before our standard opening hours.Book your tickets here
Vita Sackville-West and 'Mouse' in Malamir, Iran
Vita Sackville-West and 'Mouse' in Malamir, Iran | © National Trust Images/Richard Holttum

Both held a lifelong affection for the region and took many vivid photographs of people and sites. These are now a fascinating record of a country on the cusp of great change.

A quote by Nicci Obholzer Lead Curator of A Persian Paradise and Senior Collections & House Officer at Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Love gifts from Vita Sackville-West

Keepsakes from Vita to Harold, at Sissinghurst, and to her lover Virginia Woolf at Monk’s House, are reunited and displayed together for the first time in nearly a century including two pieces of sculpture found by Vita in the ancient ruins of Persepolis.

Dozens of photographs of the couple’s travels not displayed in public before, including their time at Tehran Embassy and the Coronation of the Shah, are among the exhibition's highlights.

Also reunited for the first time since the 1920s, is a blue ‘cog’ dish, bought by Vita in an assortment at a bazaar in Tehran and given to Virginia. Usually displayed at Monk’s House, it will be exhibited alongside similar dishes from the group kept in Vita’s Writing Room at Sissinghurst.

Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf's Cog Dishes Reunited
Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf's Cog Dishes Reunited | © National Trust Images/James Beck

Garden inspirations

Outside of the exhibition, visitors can glimpse influences from Iranian gardens in Sissinghurst Castle's own formal garden.

Research for this exhibition allowed the property teams to discover more botanical connections between Sissinghurst and Iran, from the Persian Ironwood outside the South Cottage and the sunken garden with lion's head, to the Thyme Lawn resembling a woven Persian rug.

Through thoughtful planning, Vita enriched the planting at Sissinghurst with colourful inspirations taken from the Iranian gardens and ruins she dearly loved and had visited.

Sunken 'garden' and pond in the lower courtyard at Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Sunken 'garden' and pond in the lower courtyard at Sissinghurst Castle Garden | © National Trust Images/Chris Davies

We’ve made some exciting discoveries at Sissinghurst that show the impact on Harold and Vita of their Iranian travels. The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to open a window on British-Iranian encounters in the 1920s.

A quote by Lindsay Allen Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at King's College London


A Persian Paradise is generously sponsored by The British Institute of Persian Studies and the Iran Society.

For the exhibition research, the National Trust has worked with Kings College London and University College London, the University of Cambridge and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Vita's desk in the newly conserved Writing Room in the Tower at Sissinghurst

Exploring the buildings at Sissinghurst Castle Garden 

Climb the Tower at Sissinghurst for views of the whole garden, peruse thousands of books in the Long Library and explore the South Cottage, a retreat at the centre of the garden.