Iran

Iran , also known as Persia officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia It is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and Azerbaijan; with Kazakhstan and Russia across the Caspian Sea; to the northeast by Turkmenistan; to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman; and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Comprising a land area of 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), it is the second-largest nation in the Middle East and the 18th-largest in the world. With 78.4 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 17th most populous nation It is the only country that has both a Caspian Sea and an Indian Ocean coastline. Iran has long been of geostrategic importance because of its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz.

 

History

Prehistory

Iran (also known as Persia) is an old country which has experienced countless ups and downs throughout its long history granting it, in addition to various and numerous tangible heritage, a repertoire of intangible elements including narratives and exciting stories.Our knowledge regarding pre-historical periods of Iran is neither ample nor completely accurate. Archaeologists have found the traces of Neolithic human settlement in Zagros and Alborz mountains. Many ancient Teppes and archeological remains in places like Sialk (in Kashan), Shahr-e Soukhte (in Sistan and Blouchestan),Jiroft civilization (Kerman) indicate several thousand years of settlement in Iran.     

 

The Elamites

According to current archeological and historical evidence, the first institutionalized settlement in Iran belongs to the Elamite who lived and reigned in 3th millennium BCE in Southwest Iran (present Khouzestan). The Elamite was neighboring rivals of Sumerians and other Mesopotamia city-states and had direct impact on the invention of writing and other subsequent advances in the region. During three millenniums, they have been either in war or in trade with other city-states, especially of Mesopotamia. With the rise of the Achaemenids in the mid-first millennium BCE, they were completely absorbed into new emerging world power. The most significant structure remained from this civilization is the Chogha Zanbil ziggurat which is located nearby ancient city of Shush (Susa).      

 

 

The Aryans

It is believed that a group of Aryan people entered Iran 3500 years ago. Of course, before Aryans other peoples had lived in Iran but reliable information is not available with respect to their origins and life ways. It seems that Aryans came to Iran from Central Asia and settled in three different regions. Parthians stayed in Northeast of the country, Persians chose to settle in the South (Present Fars Province) and Medians moved to the North and Northwest of the country. These tribes led a nomadic life of looting and conflict with native inhabitants, but through centuries they gradually gained their dominance and absorbed the natives.  

 

 

Medes and Achaemenids

Medes (550-678 BCE), under the leadership of Diocese, founded the first Aryan kingdom in Iran and ruled over some parts of Iran and Mesopotamia for more than a century. Medes, together with Babylonians managed to annihilate the almighty Assyrians (2500-605 BCE) for good.Nevertheless, the first Aryan empire in Iran, or perhaps the world, emerged with the provincial rule of Cyrus II (later known as Cyrus the Great) in Anshan (present Fars province and neighboring areas). As legend goes, Cyrus was the grandson of Astyages, the Median king, and the ruler of Anshan. He called himself the king of Iran after defeating Astyages in the Pasargadae war and founded the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BCE). Then, he annexed other regions and expanded upon his newly founded empire and turned it into one of the most glorious empires ever existed.   

According to historians, Cyrus was different from his former and later conquerors. He had a great respect for the religion and traditions of the subjugated nations and allowed them to freely practice their faith. Even after seizing Babylon, Cyrus freed the Jews from the shackles of slavery and allowed them to either live in Persia or return to their homeland, Jerusalem. He was killed in war with Massagetes (Northeast of Iran) and buried in Pasargadae. Then, his eldest son, Cambyses, came to throne and conquered Egypt but shortly after died mysteriously.The next great king is Darius the Great who was a relation to Cyrus the Great. Darius suppressed the rebels who were against his rule and extended the Achaemenid territory from Indus valley in East to Danube River in Europe and Egypt in Africa. He ordered the construction of magnificent Persepolis Palace. This Palace was a ceremonial venue that had been built to display the greatness and magnificence of the empire. This mighty empire was vanquished by Alexander the Great in 220 BCE. Pasargadae and Persepolis are two outstanding monuments left from this era.     

 

 

 

    

Alexander the Great, Seleucids and Parthians

Alexander the Great marked the demise of a great empire. He burnt down Persepolis and conquered the whole territory once under Achaemenid rule. After Alexander died in Babylon, his empire was divided among his generals. Persia was fallen under the control of The Seleucids. It took almost 65 years for Iranians to reinstate their own rule. Parthians who live in Northeast rebelled against the Seleucids and eventually ended their reign in Iran. Though Parthians (247 BCE- 224 CE) didn’t enjoy the authority of Achaemenids, they were even superior to them in terms of architecture, design and art. They were always engaged in struggle with Romans over Armenia and Syria. War with Romans, on one hand, and nomadic tribes’ constant invasions in Northeast, on the other, undermined their rule so that they were overthrown by another Persian tribe, the Sassanids . 

 

The Sassanians

The religious Sassanians (224-651 CE), who ruled in South in the time of Parthians, became patron of Zoroastrianism and uprooted the feudalism of Parthian Era. Like Parthian, they were in constant war with their eastern rival, Roman (Byzantine) Empire. As a religious empire, they often didn’t allow other religions to propagate their faith. It took 1000 years from Iranians to repeat the golden days of Achaemenids. Khosrow Parviz (590-628 CE), the last great king of Sassanians, stretched the borders of Iran to include Egypt, Jerusalem, and Levant countries. After the death of Khosrow Parviz, the decline of this dynasty began which paved the way for the invasion of Muslims. The defeat of Iranians from Muslims in 637 CE was an epoch-making event that brought great changes. Takht-e Soleiman, Taq-e Bostan, Bistoun, Shushtar Hydraulic System, some parts of Arg-e Bam are among the most outstanding remains of this era.       

  

 

Islamic Era

Caliphate rule

Gradually, Muslims took control of all Iran and had Zoroastrianism replaced by their own faith, Islam. Only in some parts of the country like Yazd, Kerman and Mazandaran, people resisted against the change! Muslims adopted Sasanian Knowledge, art and architecture. The Arab Caliphs advanced more into Iran territories and reached Central Asia. After the disintegration of Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 CE) in Damascus and the rise of Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 CE) in Bagdad, local powers, such as Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids emerged in different parts of Iran, especially in East and Northeast. 

 

Other invasions

Turks are among other foreign peoples who came to Iran either peacefully or non-peacefully. Ghaznavids founded the first Turkic local state in the East of Iran. The second great Turkic invasion was of Seljuk’s (1037- 1194 CE) that in their heyday subdued the entire Iran and minor Asia. Seljuks contributed a lot to the progress of science, art and architecture of Iran. Their powerful empire was weakened and once again other local states emerged. These states, like other nations of the time, were torn apart by the Mongol Empire (1206-1368 CE). Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan founded Ilkhanate dynasty in the eastern territories of the Empire and chose Tabriz as his Capital. Soltaniye dome belongs to this period.                  

To rule better and easier, Mongols converted into Islam. Since they felt sorry for the havoc they had wreaked, they usually would decide to become a patron of the art. After the demise of Ilkanate dynasty, another conqueror tormented the newly recovered nation. Tamerlane (1370-1405 CE), tracing his lineage to Genghis Khan, with his fierce army seized India, Iran, minor Asia and even parts of Europe. Though he was a bloodlust, he supported art, architecture and culture. After his death once again Iran was caught into feuds among different warlords and it took almost 200 years until our country was reunited under one rule. One of the greatest architectural feats left behind from Tamerlane successors in the East of Iran is Goharshad Mosque in Mashhad.     

 

 

 

The Safavids

It was not until the early 16th century that Iran again rose to power and the third Iranian great empire began to flourish. Shah Ismail, a descendant of Sheikh Safi, dominated over Iran gradually and established the Safavid dynasty (1501-1736). Shah Ismail introduced a great change into Iranian society. He chose Shia as the official religion in Iran. This change had a great impact on the relationship of Iran with other Muslim states which were mostly Sunni, particularly Ottoman Empire. The nature of this relationship was mostly hostile. The Safavids reached their highest power with Abbas I (the Great) who transferred the capital from Qazvin to Isfahan. He ordered the construction of the most magnificent works of Islamic architecture in the Isfahan and turned Isfahan into one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities of the time. Naqsh-e Jahan Square along with its surrounding monuments is the most prominent heritage of Shah Abbas I era.

In this era, the doors were opened for European visitors and envoys to visit Iran for the political, commercial and even religious purposes. After Shah Abbas, week kings took the throne that resulted in the collapse of the dynasty by the Afghans who ruled over Iran for seven years until Nader Shah (r. 1736-1747), the last great Asian conqueror, push them out. Nader Shah chose Mashhad as his capital and invaded India several times and had the Ottoman and Russian armies retreat and evacuate the usurped territories of Iran. He was assassinated in 1747 and was buried in Mashhad. You can visit his mausoleum in Mashhad.

 

 

 

The Zands

Karim Khan Zand, a General of Nader Shah and a lord, vanquished his rivals to the throne and became the sole ruler of the country after Nader Shah. He chose Shiraz as his capital and called himself ‘Vakil-o Roaya’ (the one who represents people). He, unlike other kings, had no interests in waging war. Arg- Karim Khan (Karim Khan castle) is a one of his legacies. This dynasty (r. 1750-1794) was short-lived too and it was disintegrated by the Qajars. Aqa Mohamad Khan, the head of Qajar tribes, gradually took control of the whole country and slayed the last leader of Zand dynasty (Lotf Ali Khan) to establish Qajar dynasty (1794-1925).  

 

 

 

The Qajars

It is commonly believed that Qajar dynasty sank the country into an abyss not to rise anytime soon in the future! In this period, European countries, especially Brittan and Russia, competed to control the political arena in Iran. Russians even annexed a great part of northern territories of Iran including the present Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Dagestan. The Qajar kings were mostly playful and emptied the treasury to meet their epicurean desires. This led to more influence and interference of foreign states in the internal affairs. In the time of Mozaffar al-din Shah, the fifth king of the dynasty, for the first time in the history of Iran, a national parliament was formed. His son, Mohamad Ali Shah, bombarded the Parliament and dissolved it, but people all over the country revolted and forced Mohamad Ali Shah to abdicate. This is how Iran became a constitutional monarchy. The last Qajar king was Ahmad Shah who was young and inexperienced. During his reign, which coincided with First World War, an ambitious military, Reza Khan, came into fame and subtly rose to power.           

 

The Pahlavis

Reza khan was a soldier who became commander-in-chief of the army, then prime minister and finally the king. He was progressive and established Pahlavi dynasty which was in power from 1925 to 1979. Developing infrastructure, introducing modern schools and health system, urbanism along with establishing regular army and fighting Islamic dressing code was among his plans to modernize the country that were not welcomed by the traditional society of Iran. In the World War II, Iran was occupied by allied troops and Reza Khan was forced to abdicate. His 22 year-old son, Mohamad Reza Shah, took the power and remained as Iran’s monarch until 1979 when Islamic revolution ended monarchy in Iran. It is worth mentioning that Reza Khan change the name of the country from Persia into Iran (Iran means the land of Aryans).  

 

 Ethnicities in Iran

As for the spoken languages, the ethnic group composition also remains a point of debate, again, mainly regarding the largest and second largest ethnic groups, the Persians and Azerbaijanis, due to a lack of Iranian state censuses based on ethnicity.  The CIA World Factbook has estimated that around 79% of the population of Iran are a diverse  Indo-European ethno-linguistic group that comprise the speakers of the  Iranian languages,with  Persians  constituting 61% of the population, Kurds10%, Lurs 6%,Balochs2%,Peoples of the other ethnicities in Iran make up the remaining 21%, with  Azerbaijanis constituting 16%, Arabs 2%, Turkmens and Turkic tribes2%,and others 1%.

The Library of Congress  issued slightly different estimates: Persians 65% (incl. Mazandaranis, Gilakis and Talysh),  Azerbaijanis16%,Kurds7%, Lurs6%, Baluchi2%,Turkic tribal groups such as Qashqai 1%,and Turkmens 1%; and non-Iranian, non-Turkic groups such as Armenians ,  Georgians, Assyrians, Circassians, Arabs  less than 3%. It determined that Persian is the first language of at least 65% of the country's population and is the second language for most of the remaining 35%.

 

Demographics

Iran is a diverse country, consisting of many religious and ethnic groups that are unified through a shared Persian language and culture Iran's population grew rapidly during the latter half of the 20th century, increasing from about 19 million in 1956 to around 75 million by2009. However, Iran'sbirth rate has dropped significantly in recent years, leading to a population growth rate—recorded from July 2012—of about 1.29 percent. Studies project that Iran's rate of growth will continue to slow until it stabilizes above 105 million by2050.

 

 

The official language of Iran

The majority of the population speaks the Persian language , which is also the official language of the country. Others include the rest of the Iranian languages belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages, and the languages of the other ethnicities in Iran.

In southwestern and southern Iran, the Luri and Lari languages are spoken. In northern Iran, mostly confined to Gilan and Mazandaran, the Gilaki and Mazandarani languages are widely spoken, which, depending on author, are classified as either a dialect of Persian or a different Iranian language. They both have affinities to neighbouring Caucasian languages. In Kurdistan Province and nearby areas, Kurdish is widely spoken. In Khuzestan, many distinct Persian dialects are spoken. Furthmore, in parts of Gilan, Talysh is widely spoken, which stretches up to neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Turkic languages and dialects, most importantly the Azerbaijani language which is by far the most spoken language in the country after the official language of Persian,[259] are spoken in different areas in Iran, but is especially widely and dominantly spoken in Iranian Azerbaijan. Arabic is also spoken by the Arabs of Khuzestan, and the wider group of Iranian Arabs.

Notable minority languages in Iran include Armenian, Georgian, and Neo-Aramaic. Circassian was also once widely used by the large Circassian minority, but, due to assimilation over the many years, no sizable number of Circassians speak the language anymore.

Percentages of spoken language continue to be a point of debate, as many opt that they are politically motivated, most notably regarding the largest and second largest ethnicities in Iran; the Persians and Azerbaijanis. According the CIA World Factbook, the percentages are for native speakers; Persian 53%, Azerbaijani 16%, Kurdish 10%, Mazandarani and Gilaki 7%, Luri 7%, Arabic 2%, Turkmen 2%, Balochi 2%, and the remainder 2% Armenian, Georgian, Neo-Aramaic, and Circassian.

 

Currency

Most of the foreign travelers in Iran face some problems using Iranian currency. It is because Iranians tend to use two different currencies which are Rial and Toman. The value of 1 Toman is equal to 10 Rials.

Of course, knowing a simple rule can help you. Rial is the Iranian official currency which is used in formal financial transactions, but Toman is used in informal ones.

Iran mints 6 kinds of bills and 5 kinds of coins. The amount of money is mentioned in terms of Rial on all of the bills and coins. Understanding the amount of money printed on bills is quite easy for the foreigners because the number is written in both Persian and English. But with respect to coins, the amount is printed only in Persian.

When you go shopping or when you want to pay taxi fare or museum entrance fee, the amount of money quoted is in terms of Toman.

Unfortunately, using international credit cards such as Master Card or Visa Card and cashing checks belonging to non-Iranian banks is not possible, and you have to bring enough cash to cover your expenses during the trip.

 

Religion

Today, the Twelver Shia branch of Islam is the official state religion, to which about 90% to 95% of Iranians officially are. About 4% to 8% of Iranians are Sunni Muslims, mainly Kurds and Balochs. The remaining 2% are non-Muslim religious minorities, including Christians, Jews, Bahais, Mandeans, Yezidis, Yarsanis, and Zoroastrians.

Zoroastrians are the oldest religious community of the nation, with a long history continuing up to the present day.

 

Dressed in Iran

According to the Islamic and social beliefs in Iran, it is necessary for women to be modestly covered & wearing ahead scarf.

 

Duty Free

The import of following goods into Iran is strictly prohibited: Alcohol, narcotics, guns and ammunitions, radio apparatus, fashion magazines and obscene publications, and filmed, recorded or printed material carrying views contrary to those held by the Islamic regulations. Each passenger leaving the country is permitted to take his/her own personal luggage as well as Persian handicrafts, Gelims and one carpet (not bigger than 3 sq meters) as long as they are not antiques. Export of all antiques such as gems, coins, and hand written manuscripts is prohibited. To export musical instruments, a permit is required from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

 

 

Transportation

Though Iran is not as advanced as developed countries in terms of transportation infrastructure, you can travel between its cities fairly easily, with low cost and in different ways. You can travel over air and ground.You can use the public or private transportation systems for intra-city transport (important only in big cities).Tehran's public transport system includes buses, subway and taxicab. Bus system is efficient and covers almost all parts of the city. Buses are also divided into two categories: ordinary and BRT (Bus Rapid Transportation). BRT buses use exclusive lanes and they do not get stuck in the traffic. They cover major south-north and west-east routes of the city, but they are usually crowded during rush hours. You can pay a little money (maximum of 5,000 Rials) as the fare, or you can purchase electronic tickets.

 

Cuisine

The cuisine of Iran is diverse, with each province featuring dishes, culinary traditions and styles unique to their region. The main Persian cuisines feature combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. Herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins.

Iranians usually eat plain  yogurt  with lunch and dinner; it is a staple of the diet in Iran. To achieve a balanced taste, characteristic flavourings such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes. Onions and garlic are normally used in the preparation of the accompanying course, but are also served separately during meals, either in raw or pickled form. Iranian cuisine has greatly inspired its neighbors.

Iran is also famous for its caviar

 

Tourism in Iran

Although tourism declined significantly during the war with Iraq, it has subsequently recovered. About 1,659,000 foreign tourists visited Iran in 2004 and 2.3 million in 2009 mostly from Asian countries, including the republics of Central Asia, while about 10% came from the European Union and North America The most popular tourist destinations are Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz In the early 2000s the industry faced serious limitations in infrastructure, communications, industry standards and personnel training The majority of the 300,000 tourist visas granted in 2003 were obtained by Asian Muslims, who presumably intended to visit important pilgrimage sites in Mashhad and Qom Several organized tours from Germany, France and other European countries come to Iran annually to visit archaeological sites and monuments. In 2003 Iran ranked 68th in tourism revenues worldwide According to UNESCO and the deputy head of research for Iran Travel and Tourism Organization Iran is rated among the "10 most touristic countries in the world Domestic tourism in Iran is one of the largest in the world. Weak advertising, unstable regional conditions, a poor public image in some parts of the world, and absence of efficient planning schemes in the tourism sector have all hindered the growth of tourism.