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ILLA and a unique Persian Garden in Geneva


By Syma Sayyah, Tehran1

ILLA (named after a heroine in Ferdowsi's Shahnameh - The Epic of kings) is an organisation that was founded in 2005 in Geneva, Switzerland, to promote Iranian Art and Artists. Their most long term and biggest project is to build a Persian Garden in the City of Geneva and the group has been working on this for the past year and a half.

In their words, the group is a "non-profit, non-political cultural association whose objective is to promote Iranian culture and Iranian artists living both inside and outside of Iran. ILLA works primarily with European-based centers of art, museums, cultural organizations and film and music festivals. ILLA does not serve as an agent for artists. ILLA is an independent, privately-funded and privately-sponsored association".

This association is committed to the promotion of Iranian culture and artists within Europe in the form of multi-disciplinary activities featuring music, photography, theatre, lecture series, debates, videography, film and the fine arts. The group believes that "organizing cultural events on a regular basis will help foster a deeper understanding of Iran outside of its borders". The activities include bringing musicians; staging theatre; screening films, documentaries and videos, and hosting debates and conferences on Iranian literature, serving as an essential preparatory step to the establishment of a European Iranian Festival of Arts.

The ILLA founder and present chair is Ms. Mojgan Endjavi-Barbé, and the board members are: Novine Berthoud-Aghili (vice chair), Mina Ulmann (treasurer), M. Djahanguir and Afsaneh Firouz Ardalan plus a large group of well known names. Please see their website for more information.

ILLA has organized many artistic and cultural events, and they have a regular shabeh jomeh where they gather the Iranian professional community and university students and retired people on the last Thursday of every month in a hotel in Geneva. They assist university students to get summer training or to help them get jobs when they finish. They organized a concert by Rozaneh, a group of women singers and musicians in 2005 and a concert by Pari Zanganeh in April 2007. They have held conferences such as the Splendor of the Persian Empire in November 2006 and Iranian Cultural Guide in Feb. 2007. Their next event is a Siyyah bazi which will take place in February in Geneva.

They believe that the Persian Garden is a unique project and the positive image that will bring to the rich Iranian culture and heritage will be welcomed. Cyrus Meshkat, Maryam Fakher-Brandt and Bill Bouldin in Geneva are the architects in charge of the project.


The group representatives including Mr Cyrus Meshkat and Ms Mojgan Endjavi-Barbé went to see Manuel Tornare, Mayor of Geneva who was in charge of green spaces. He liked the idea (2006 was the year of gardens in Europe) and accepted their proposals. The city allocated 1900 square meters to the association in one of the cities parks in the right bank, on condition that they find the resources to construct the garden. The city will ensure the upkeep of the garden, which is a considerable amount. ILLA has construction permission now and has had no opposition from anyone about building such a project. The estimated cost for this project is 1,000,000 Swiss Francs (about $900,000), which they plan to raise by dedicating part of the park in the names of people who make donations based to their contribution (from 500 CHF to 100,000 CHF). The board besides Mr Meshkat has the architects on its advisory board for this project; Reza Moghtader-Architect (Paris), Farokh Derakhshani, Director, Aga Khan Award for Architecture (Geneva), Behrouz Bayat (Tehran - Nakhshe Jahan architects) and Yaghoub Daneshdost (architect, Mashhad - who has restored many gardens in Iran before).

Mojgan Endjavi-Barbé

No other western country has a Persian garden. ILLA plans to have dance, poetry recital and concerts in the garden once it is completed. Many other cultural dimensions will stem from this garden as well.

Pari Zanganeh

Rozaneh in concert


ILLA hope that all "culture loving" Iranians around the world will come together to help make this project take place (despite all the negative coverage about Iran) to show that Iran and Iranians are gentle, caring and peace loving members of this global village of ours, who have had and still have a very rich and enjoyable heritage.

24 Chemin de Sous-Caran, 1245 Collonge Bellerive, Switzerland
Tel +41 79 670 36 93
Fax +41 22 789 48 81
Email for more details or see the website


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