This grand country which is located between the Oman Gulf and the Persian Gulf was known as Persia. Iran turned into an Islamic republic in the year 1979 ensuing the exile of the Shah of Iran and has maintained an Islamic theocracy ever since. The official language is Farsi (Persian). Iran translates to “Land of the Aryans” in Farsi.
This country shares national border with turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan.
Iran’s population is not just the ethnic groups of Persian.
For example, the province of western Azerbaijan is populated by both Azerbaijani and Kurdish groups.
The northwestern area of Azerbaijan however, is host to a massive population of people with Turkish lineage, both ethnical and linguistic.
Other areas of Iran are populated by Kurdish and Baluchi groups. Also Iran is populated by large numbers of Arabs, Jews, and Armenians.
- In fact, Iran holds the greatest number of Jewish population throughout the Middle East after Israel.
Religion in Iran
It is known that the main religion in Iran is the Shia Islam.
However, there are a few smaller religious groups. For example the Sunni Islam is the religion undertaken by the Kurdish, the Turkmens, and the Arabs.
Apart from these, there are also a handful of faith groups around the country; the distinguished ones for example are Christianity, Bahai’at, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
Then, couple of centuries later, the Macedonian tyrant Alexander the great overpowered all of the Persian Empire.
Later on, it was the Arabs who took control of the Persian empire during the spread of the Islam religion.
The Islamic revolution
In the year 1979, a revolution began which ended with the triumph of Islamic factions and the exile of the Shah of Iran.
Many creeds and factions were involved in this upraise such as the Tudeh party.
These factions were led by Ayatollah Khomeini.
The initial branches of Islam are Shia and Sunni.
The origins of this divide are known to be after the prophet Muhammad’s passing away. The followers split into two sections.
The ones that would have the prophet’s main followers as their next leader and the ones that wanted his family to rule (his son-in-law Ali).
The first group was the Sunni, and the second group was the Shia. Nowadays the official religion of Iran is Shia, but Sunni is still relevant in places.
The diversity of Iran’s climate is major. Basically, Iran possesses a dry climate.But basically, Iran possesses a dry climate. Iran has a hot, dry climate characterized by long, hot, dry summers and short, cool winters. January is the coldest month, with temperatures from 5°C to 10°C, and August is the hottest month at 20°C to 30°C or more.
In most of the country’s regions, there is an expectation of an average of 25 centimeters of rain each year, though areas such as Zagros valleys receive an average of 50-100 centimeters yearly.
In most of the areas, summers are warm to hot with virtually continuous sunshine, but high humidity on the southern coastal areas of the Persian Gulf. Daily Temperatures can be very hot; on some days temperatures can reach easily 40°C or more, especially along the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea which causes a danger of heat exhaustion.
Iran’s landscape includes a variety of mountains, deserts and jungles. The highest mountain in Iran is the peak of Mount Damavand, which is located at an altitude of 5.6 kilometers.
Iran has two very vast deserts in its midst that fill up the majority of the central part of Iran.
- Dasht-e Lut is mainly filled with sand and rocks,
- Dasht-e Kavir is filled salt.
The Lut Desert is a large salt desert in Kerman and Sistan and Baluchistan Province, Iran and is the world’s 25th largest desert. In 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, Dasht-e Lut was hottest land surface spot on Earth. The hottest part of Dasht-e Lut is Gandom Beryan, a large plateau covered in dark lava.
Kavir Desert is a great salt desert in north-central of Iran. It is located in southeast of Alborz Mountain and is distinguished by its salt crust, caused by the almost rainless climate and intense surface evaporation. About million years ago, this area was occupied by a salt-rich ocean that surrounded a small piece of continent in what is now central part of Iran. As the ocean dried up, it left behind a layer of salt as much as 6 to 7 kilometers thick.
These deserts are completely inhospitable due to their hot climate and unfertile soil.
Zagros is located on the patch stretching from the north-west area all the way to the Persian Gulf.
The Alborz mountain range is spread from the southern part of the Caspian all the way to the border lines of Khorasan.
Mount Damavand is known as the highest mountain in Iran and volcano in the Middle East. It is located in the central part of the Alborz mountain range (central Alborz), and in the south of the Caspian Sea, in the Larijan district of Amol. Climbing to the summit of Damavand is the desire of many professional climbers and hikers all around the world.
Near 10% of Iran is covered by forests, and the majority of this is in the Caspian region. These woods are occupied by trees such as beech, walnut, elm, oak, hornbeam, ash, and so on.
Though every city in Iran is remarkable in their own way, we list only nine of the more notable ones.
Tehran is the lively and beautiful capital of Iran. Tehran’s population is about 8.8 million people. It is located 10 Kilometers north of the ruins of the ancient city of Ray. After the Mongols destroyed Ray in 1220, many of the people were attracted to the village of Tehran by its rich soil and good climate.
Before Tehran, this city was the capital of Iran. It possesses magnificent bazaars, dazzling architecture and green, tree-filled inner city. This city is the most popular tourist destination after Tehran. An Old Persian saying goes “Isfahan, Nesf-e Jahan” which literally means “Isfahan is half of the world”.
The largest city of the eastern region of Iran. The city possesses a very important mosque which is the shrine and the tomb of Imam Reza.
Also a previous Persian capital. This city was home to many of the famous Persian poets such as Haafez and Saadi. The city is located not too far away from the ruins of Persepolis. Shiraz is famous for its beautiful, unique gardens.
A city with desert surrounding, wind towers and underground water channels. The city dates from the 5th century and was described as the “noble city of Yazd” by Marco Polo.
A historically famous capitals of Iran. Nowadays it is the capital of east Azerbaijan. Tabriz is famous for its massive bazaars.
One of the most ancient cities of Iran and the world. Some of its features are remnants of the Medes.
This city is the center of medical care located in the western part of Iran. Like Hamedan, this is one of the oldest cities of Iran with remarkable anthropological origins.
Known as the jewel of Iran, Qom is one of the holiest and most religious cities of the middle east.
Other Destinations to Visit as a Tourist
A symbol of Persian nationality, Persepolis was crafted and built near 2500 years ago. It is located near the town of Marvdasht and Shiraz. This grand structure was set aflame by the Macedonian tyrant. Later on, the Arabs laid waste to it and ruined much of the remains. It is called Takhte-Jamshid, meaning “Throne of Jamshid”.
- Kish Island
This island is one of the free zones of trade and commerce in Iran and is regarded “a consumer’s paradise”.
It is located near the Persian Gulf and is filled with a great number of shopping centers, malls, tourist attractions, fancy hotels and a wide range of entertainments.
Among the hotels of this island is Darius Grand hotel, which is not only one of the magnificent resorts in Iran, but one of the top ten best hotels throughout the Middle East.
- Qeshm Island
Preceding Kish Island, this island is the largest of the Persian Gulf.
Its nature is a perfect tourist attraction, for example the Hara marine forests. Environmental experts believe that near 2% of the world’s birds and 25% of Iran’s inborn birds migrate to these forests. Hara forests are the first national geo park of Iran.
- Azadi Tower
Azadi Tower is a monument from 1970s that was built to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the first Persian Empire. Since then it’s become the symbol Tehran.
- Milad Tower
Milad Tower is a multi-purpose tower in Tehran, Iran. It is the sixth tallest tower and the 24th tallest freestanding structure in the world. Dominating the skyline of Tehran’s western suburbs, Milad Tower is 435 meter high, including 120 meter of antenna.
- Nature Bridge
Nature or Tabiat Bridge is the largest pedestrian bridge built so far in Iran. Located in north of Tehran, it connects two public parks (Taleghani Park and Abo-Atash Park) by spanning over Modarres highway. Tabiat Bridge in Tehran was named one of the six winners of the 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
Known for its iconic carpet designs and water channels (Qanat), this small city is located at the edge of the desert.
It is located approximately 100 kilometers north of the city of Ahvaz. It is one of the most ancient cities of Iran.
It is one of the most famous skis and snow sports resorts in the world. Dizin’s located about two hours north of the capital of Iran, Tehran.
Considered one of the most beautiful and breathtaking desert town of Iran. It is located near Isfahan.
This is the very first capital of the Achaemenid Empire and later on, the tomb of King Cyrus the great.
- Hegmatane (or Ekbatana)
This city was the capital of the ancient Medes (now known as Hamedan).
- Sialk Mound
Its antiquity exceeds 6000 years. This mound is the world’s most ancient ziggurat, located on the outskirts of Kashan.
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
This museum hosts a splendid collection which is worth 2.5 billion dollars and is considered one of the most notable museums of the world.
- Ali Qapu Palace
Standing with an altitude of 48 meters and seven stories, this castle is located at Isfahan. It is filled with spiral staircases leading each floor to another.
It is known for its beautiful, graphic paintings on the walls depicting animal and bird designs.
- Chehel Sotoon Palace
Chehel Sotoon means “forty pillars” in Persian. Located in Isfahan, this monument is a pavilion in a park following a pool.
It was built by Shah Abbas the second as a center for his entertainment.
- Saadabad Palace
This palace was used as a vacation home by the last Shah of Iran and his family. It is located in Tehran.
- Golestan Palace
The Golestan Palace is a 19th century royal residence in Tehran, built by the Qajar dynasty. It combines traditional Persian architecture with western influences. This Palace is one of the oldest groups of buildings in Tehran that became the seat of government of the Qajar family.
*Many of the palaces in Iran have been turned into museums.
Squares and Streets
- Naqsh-e Jahan Square
This significant site is one UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Round the square is decorated by numerous buildings from the time of Safavid reign. It is also known as the Shah square. Naqsh-e Jahan is one of the largest squares in the world.
Tombs of famous people
- Cyrus the Great in Pasargad near Shiraz.
- Avicenna in Hamedan.
- Prophet Daniel in Susa (Shush).
- Mordechai and Esther in Hamedan.
- Ebn-e-hosam who is a famous poet, in Khousf (near Birjand)
- Khayyam in Neyshaboor (near Mashhad).
- Saadi and Hafez famous Persian poets in Shiraz.
- Imam Reza an ornate shrine to the eighth of the Shiite imams in Mashhad.
- Norooz Eve: this festival marks the beginning of the spring and the Persian New Year (20th/21st of March).
- Chahar-Shanbe Suri: it is customary to build bonfires and jump over them while chanting a certain rhyme on the last Wednesday of the year.
*For more information, check the “new year” heading of the page.
- Nimeyeh Shaaban: this occasion marks the birthday of the last Shia Imam.
- Golabgiri: This is a custom festival mostly performed in Kashan. It takes place during the spring. In this period, people go there and buy the local rose water (Golab). This substance has a very nice and unique aroma and also has many uses in making traditional beverages.
Souvenirs have important role in Iran’s culture. When you travel from cities to cities, you will find many different and interesting souvenirs.
- Carpets: Persian carpets are among the favorite souvenirs from Iran. The Persian carpet is considered to be the finest in its own category. Iran is the world’s largest producer and exporter of handmade carpets, producing three quarters of the world’s total output.
- Minakari: Minakari is the art of painting and coloring the surface of metals, mostly copper and is one of the oldest forms of art in ancient Persia and in modern Iran.
- Giveh: Giveh are traditional footwear common in the mountainous areas of the Kermanshah province. These handmade shoes consist of leather sole and white woven cotton upper.
- Khatam: Khatam is made up of putting wooden or bone-made polygons together with special glue. Objects made of Khatam are mainly practical such as pen holder, jewelry box, clock and chess board therefore they can be very useful souvenirs.
- Ghalamkari: Ghalamkari or Qalamkari is derived from the Persian words ghalam (pen) and kari (craftmanship), meaning drawing with a pen. Ghalamkari is defined as the art of designing and painting on the cloth. These pieces of cloth are mainly used for making tablecloths, clothes, purses.
- Ghalam Zani: Ghalam Zani is the art of carving designs on various metals such as copper, brass, silver and gold. Ghalam Zani patterns are usually trees, human, animal, and detailed miniature shapes. The work is usually used for plates, trays, vases.
- Ceramics and pottery: Pottery has had a long history in Iran and dates back even before the Persian Empire. Decorative objects made in typical Persian forms like pomegranates, horses, and birds would be great souvenir from Iran.
- Turquoise: Iran is famous for the high quality of its Turquoise. Persian Turquoise comes from a number of mines in modern day Iran. The stones from all mines show a great color variation.
- Termeh: Termeh is a cloth that is handmade with silk thread and usually used as a tablecloth which is woven since Safavi era in Iran. It is expensive because of its quality and special yarn and perfect design. Termeh is one of the oldest traditional arts in Iran.
- Gaz: Gaz is a type of Persian nougat which originated from Isfahan. This sticky white substance is formed of honeydew combined with other ingredients including pistachio or almond kernels, rosewater and egg white and is sweet and tasty.
- Pistachio: The Iranian Pistachios (also called “Pesteh” in Farsi), is known worldwide due to its quality.
Currency and Economy
Iran’s economy is characterized by the hydrocarbon sector, agriculture and services sectors, and a noticeable state presence in manufacturing and financial services. Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves. Economic activity and government revenues still depend to a large extent on oil revenues and therefore remain volatile.
Although the currency used in iran is rial, prices are usually offered in tomans. Ten rials equals one toman.
The interesting thing is that while our people verbally use toman in their conversations and transactions, the prices of merchandise are still regularly written in rials.
Iranians are amongst the most hospitable people of the world.
Though this trait is seen in many of the countries in the Middle East, Iranians often exceed their neighbors.
They are unselfish, kind, warm-hearted and giving people.
They also show great interest in foreigners of different cultures (hence the hospitality).
Iranians are not Arabs. Their main is Persian and their origins are the ancient Persian empire.
If you were to call the Iranian people “Arabs”, it will most certainly annoy them. Iranians are prideful of their glorious ancestry and nationality and are very touchy on this subject.
This may have been amplified since Persians and Arabs have been rivals throughout the history.
The Persian Gulf
The Iranian government authorities are extremely sensitive when it comes to this subject. They claim (by good rights) that this is the name for the massive body of water located south of their country.
It would without a single doubt anger and provoke them if one were to call it the “Arabian Gulf” or “the Gulf”.
Around Tehran, you’ll find a good number of ski resorts such as:
- Shemshak .
The lengthiest resort would definitely be the Dizin slope, and it would also be the more modern one.
The Shemshak resort, however, is more professional.
Because of this, its slope is where many national and international competitions and tournaments are held. All of Iran’s ski resorts can be found in a radius around Tehran, reachable in an hour or two.
One of the most popular locations for shores and water sports is Kish Island.
This island’s beach is known for its glorious sunshine, various water entertainments and very comfortable vibe.
Desert trekking and desert excursions
If one seeks deserts in Iran, they should visit the eastern regions of Iran, since the north is completely covered by beautiful rain forests.
The east, however, contains magnificent desert lowlands and plains including Dasht-e Kavir which is the most massive desert of this country, and a little bit higher on the map would be Dasht-e Lut.
What is a tarof?
Tarof is an authentic style of courtesy which is indigenous to very few countries.
Iran is amongst the countries in which this action is witnessed daily. It is used to show things such as self-respect and social position.
This custom covers a large amount of social norms and manners. Some examples would be someone showing politeness through holding a door open for someone else, or a number of friends standing ceremonially in front of the door that’s size can only allow one person to pass at a time and urging the senior of the pack to break the standstill by passing through first.
One of the most famous sorts of Tarof is seen in shops.
The owner might refuse to name the price of an item at first (the famous “Ghaa-bel Na-daa-re, which means this does not deserve you).
The customer insists on paying out of custom, maybe even a couple of times, and then the owner names a price and then they start their transaction.
Tarof is also used largely in parties and guest visits.
The host offers the guest numerous things that he/she may desire (food, drinks, etc) and the guest is obligated to refuse this offer out of respect. This conversation can go on for a few times until both sides finally understand if the offers and answers are real or just out of politeness.
There is a twist on Tarof:
one might ask the other not to tarof (the famous “Tarof mikonid?” which means are you refusing out of Tarof) but then, this phrase itself is considered an indirect Tarof!