For many centuries, history books which marvel at the life and times of the oldest civilizations of the world have referred to the ancient wonders of Iran/ Persia. They have focused on a land where talented and deeply spiritual people have built a rich culture, a cradle of innovation and creative thinking in a natural paradise of extraordinary beauty. In fact, the geography is so diverse that one can find, in its different climates, the four seasons displaying their scenic grandeur at the same time. Iran is therefore not just a name attributed to specific geographic borders, no matter what the critical importance, of its geopolitical importance. Rather, Iran is, and has always been a home to fertile beliefs, dynamic astronomers, mathematicians, scholars and poets whose vigorous, inspirational cadences have, as Rene Grousset, the renowned orientologist once said ‘split over its borders and extended beyond its political and historical boundaries.’ The search for truth, unity, morality, and human dignity is a pillar of Iranian life and society. The works of Iranian artists from ancient times to the present show the modulations of this journey and the devotion to the search. No matter where the visitor casts his gaze upon ancient monuments and the prayer niches of mosques, upon popular handicrafts and beautiful inlaid mosaics – we see that the civilization of Iran- with all its dynamism and vigor has, simultaneously, always been part of an eternal devotion to monotheistic Godliness, stability, and permanence. Again, the history books tell us that Iran was the centre of the main routes of the old world, which connected the east to the west. The oldest trade route known as the ‘Silk Road’ and which was used by travelers, merchants, artists and warriors, crossed through this land. Iran, therefore, has been distinguished as a land of dialogue and interaction between civilizations since ancient times. Like all ancient civilizations, culture constitutes the focal point and heart of the Iranian civilization with historical and urban settlements dating back to 7000 BC. Iran’s art, music, architecture, poetry, philosophy, traditions, and ideology have made it an important nation in the global community throughout history. In fact, many Iranians believe their culture to be the one and only reason why their civilization has continuously survived thousands of years of plethoric calamities..
Capital: Tehran [7,352,000]
Total size: 1,648,000 km2
Land size: 1,636,000 km2
Water: 12,000 km2
Intl. calling code: +98
Currency: Rial (or Tuman which is equal to 10 Rials)
Iran is a southwest Asian country of mountains and deserts. Eastern Iran is dominated by a high plateau, with large salt flats and vast sand deserts. The plateau is surrounded by even higher mountains, including the Zagros to the west and the Alborz to the north. Farming and settlement are largely concentrated in the narrow plains or valleys in the west or north, where there is more rainfall. Iran's huge oil reserves lie in the southwest, along the Persian Gulf.
From 600 BC until 1935, the country was referred to in the West as Persia. It is situated in south-western Asia and borders the three CIS states, the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the Republic of Turkmenistan, as well as the Caspian Sea to the north, Turkey and Iraq to the west, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south and Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east.
A series of massive, heavily eroded mountain ranges surround Iran's high interior basin. Most of the country is above 1,500 feet, one-sixth of it over 6,500 feet high. In sharp contrast are the coastal regions outside the mountain ring. In the north, the 400-mile strip along the Caspian Sea, never more than 70 miles wide and frequently narrowing to 10, falls sharply from the 10,000 feet summit to 90 feet below sea level. In the south, the land drops away from a 2,000 feet plateau, backed by a rugged escarpment three times as high, to meet the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
The Zagros mountain range stretches from the border with the Republic of Armenia in the north-west to the Persian Gulf, and then eastward into hard, difficult to access, and populated largely by pastoral nomads.
The Alborz Mountain range, narrower than the Zagros but equally forbidding, runs along the southern shore of the Caspian Sea to meet the border ranges of Khorassan to the east. The highest of its volcanic peaks is the 18,600-foot, snow-covered Mt. Damavand. On the border of Afghanistan, the mountains fall away, to be replaced by barren sand dunes.
The arid interior plateau, which extends into Central Asia, is cut by two smaller mountain ranges. Parts of this desert region, known as dasht, are covered by loose stones and sand, gradually merging into fertile soil on the hillsides. Where fresh water can be held, oases have existed from immemorial time, marking the ancient caravan routes.
The most remarkable feature of the plateau is a salt waste 200 miles long and half as wide, known as Kavir (deserts). It remains unexplored, since its treacherous crust has been formed by large, sharp-edged salt mass, which cover mud. Cut by deep ravines, it is virtually impenetrable.
The vast deserts of Iran stretch across the plateau from the north-west, close to Tehran and Qom, for a distance of about 400 miles to the south-east and beyond the frontier. Approximately one-sixth of the total area of Iran is barren desert. The two largest desert areas are known as the Kavir-e-Lut and the Dasht-e-Kavir. Third in size of these deserts is the Jazmurian. It is often said that the Kavir-e-Lut and Dasht-e-Kavir are impossible to cross except by the single road which runs from Yazd to Ferdows, but in recent years, heavy trucks and other vehicles have traveled over long stretches of these deserts which contain extensive mineral deposits -chlorides, sulphates and carbonates - and it is only a matter of time before they are exploited.
Lakes & Seas:
The three major seas surrounding Iran are the Persian Gulf, Oman Sea and the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea, located in the northern part of the country, is the largest landlocked body of water in the world (424,240 sq. km.) and lies some 85 feet below the sea level. It is comparatively shallow, and for some centuries has been slowly shrinking in size. It abounds with fish, Caviar in particular. Its coasts do not offer any good natural harbors, and sudden and violent storms make it dangerous for small boats.
The Persian Gulf is the shallow marginal part of the Indian Ocean that lies between the Arabian Peninsula and south-east Iran. Its length is 990 kilometers, and its width varies from a maximum of 338 kilometers to a minimum of 55 kilometers in the Strait of Hormuz. More than 60% of the world’s imported energy passes this strategic Strait.
The Persian Gulf and the surrounding countries produce approximately 31 per cent of the world's total oil production and have 63 per cent of the world's proven reserves.
ThePersian Gulf area will remain an important source of world oil for a long period of time. The term Persian Gulf is often used to refer not only to the Persian Gulf but also to its outlets, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, which open into the Arabian Sea.
The Iranian southern shore is mountainous, and there are often cliffs, a narrow coastal plain with beaches, intertidal flats, and small estuaries border the Persian Gulf.
The coastal plain widens north of the city of Bushehr on the eastern shore of the gulf and passes into the broad deltaic plain of the Tigris, Euphrates and Karun rivers.
Drainage & Soil:
The few streams that empty into the desiccated central plateau dissipate themselves in saline marshes. There are several large rivers ranging around 500 to 900 kilometers, the only navigable one is Karun in the south western part of the country. All streams are seasonal and variable, and there is little water flow in the summer when many streams disappear. Water is however stored naturally underground, finding its outlet in subterranean water canals (Qanat), springs and being tapped by wells. Soil patterns are varied. The abundant subtropical vegetation of the Caspian's coastal region is supported by rich brown forest soils. Mountain soils are shallow layers over bedrock, with a high proportion of unweathered fragments. Natural erosion moves the finer textured soils into the valleys. These alluvial deposits are mostly chalky, and many are used for pottery. The semi-aired plateaus lying above 3,000 feet are covered by brown or chestnut-colored soil that supports grassy vegetation.
Urban and Rural Architecture:
Urban settlement has a long precedent in Iran. At present, over 70 percent of Iranians are urban settlers of which around 50 percent of the population live in large and medium-size cities. The largest city of all is the capital, Tehran. Other large cities are Mashhad, Shiraz, Rasht, Isfahan, Tabriz, followed by medium-size cities like Ahvaz, Saari, Kermanshah, Hamedan, Kerman, Yazd and others. Traditional architecture and town planning have undergone notable changes in the last few decades. Iran is famous for its vibrant and wide range of architecture designs. Ancient and traditional buildings are spread around the country, influenced by the depth of the Persian culture and civilization, giving a magnificent look to various cities. However, modern architecture, influenced by European designs has largely replaced local architecture in the capital, Tehran. Ancient buildings and traditional architecture can still be found in many small and medium-size cities, as well as several large cities including Isfahan, Shiraz, Kashan and Yazd. The rural architecture has followed the geographical and climate patterns of the country. Villages in plain plateaus follow an ancient rectangular pattern. High mud walls with towers from the outer face of the houses, which have flat roofs of mud and straw supported by wooden rafters. In the open centre of the village is a mosque, sometimes serving as a school, too. Mountain villages are situated on rocky slopes above the valley floor. They are surrounded by terraced fields, usually irrigated of grain and Lucerne. The houses are square, mud-brick, windowless buildings with flat or domed roofs. The stable is usually under the house. Caspian villages are completely different. Here, where there is an abundance of water, the scattered hamlets have two-story wooden houses, frequently built on pilings, with a gallery around the upper floor. Separate buildings (barns, hen-houses, silk worm houses) surround an open courtyard.
Four Season Climate:
Iran has a diverse four season climate. The temperature difference of two locations in Iran at one point in time reaches to 50° C. In winter, one may swim in an outdoor pool or in the southern shore of the Persian Gulf, while the other is skiing in Tehran or in the western mountains. In general, Iran has an arid climate in which most of the relatively scant annual precipitation falls from October through April. In most of the country, yearly precipitation averages 25 centimeters or less. The major exceptions are the higher mountain valleys of the Zagros and the Caspian coastal plain, where precipitation averages at least 50 centimeters annually. In the western part of the Caspian, rainfall exceeds 100 centimeters annually and is distributed relatively evenly throughout the year. In the northwest, winters are cold with heavy snowfall and subfreezing temperatures during December and January. Spring and fall are relatively mild, while summers are dry and hot. In the south, winters are mild and the summers are very hot, having average daily temperatures in July exceeding 38° C (100° F). The Persian Gulf (south) has a hot climate. Temperatures are high, though winters may be quite cool at the north-western extremities. Humidity is high and dust storms and haze occur frequently in summer.
Dishes and Food:
Iran is a country of a variety of dishes. All provinces of Iran have their own dishes and specialties. Northern dishes differ from the southern, not only in commonly used ingredients but also differences due to distinct climates and cultures. However, the national dish is rice prepared in several special ways with Kebab (lamb meat or chicken). Iranian rice from the rainy plains of Mazandaran and Gilan is considered by many - not only Iranians - to be one of the world's best. Dishes in Iran are cultural means to understand particularities of a location. Due to the climate, a variety of fruits are produced in different provinces and second to tea, seasonal fruits are another integral part of hospitality. Every province has its own specialty for making sweets, biscuits and candies.
Iranian New Year:
Iran’s calendar is based on the solar calendar. Norouz, (new day) which is the 20th of March, is the beginning of the Iranian year. It is a celebration of spring Equinox. It has been celebrated by all the major cultures of ancient Mesopotamia, Sumerians (3000BC), Babylonians (2000 BC), the ancient kingdom of Elam in Southern Persia (2000BC) as well as the Acadians. It is a uniquely Iranian tradition and is deeply rooted in the traditions of the Zoroastrian belief system.
Persian (or Fārsi), an Indo-European language, is Iran's national and official language. Although written with a modified Arabic alphabet, the two languages are not related. There are many local languages and accents in Iran such as Azeri, Gilaki, Kurdish, Arabic, Baluchi, Lori, etc.