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General view of Iran

Iran and the Iranians

To visit Iranis a unique experience, the experience of being in the cradle of a civilization and culture that has had and continues to have its impact on the world for more than 2,500 years of written history -antiquity versus modernization.

Archaeological studies during the first half of the twentieth century indicate that as early as 10,000 BC, tribes lived on the southern shores of the Caspian, one of the few regions of the world which according to scientists escaped the Ice Age. They were probably the first men in the history of mankind to engage in agriculture and animal husbandry. It was they and others who spread out shortly afterwards along the Zagros mountains in central Iranand founded the first centers of civilization in the land.

Iran's former name - Persiatill 1935 - derives from the historical prominence of the province called Farsor Pars, at a time when the Greeks - who called it Persis - attempted to conquer the country. Practically speaking only the English talk about Persia. It is like them to do so, for in reality "Persia" is to "Iran" what "England" is to the "United Kingdom". And that is not the main connection between European civilization and Iran, for the word Iranis etymologically akin to the word Aryan, and throughout history has been intermittently applied to the people of Indio-European, that is, Aryan origin occupying the plateau, and to the plateau itself.

Persian (Farsi)using Arabic letters is the language used and understood by the whole nation. There are a number of other dialects and national languages - Turkic (Azarbaijani), Kurdish, Luri, Guilaki, Baluchi and Arabic - used by the corresponding provincial population for daily life purposes.

Iranis a highly diverse country from every point of view, not least in topography and climate. It is a large country, with an area of more than 1,648,000 sq. km in southwest Asia, roughly three times the size of France; or equal to a fifth of the United States of America, that is to say larger than the Belgiumand France, Hollandand Germany, Switzerlandand UKput together.

The country has many specific features of its own in its landscapes, inhabitants, arts and customs. But over and above this superficial image, the enchantment of a visit to Iranis the feeling of contact with a "different", but not incomprehensible world, with a country, which is both accessible, unusual and diverse. Iranis not a country like Spainor Britainthat stands theatrically distinct and complete.

There is nothing insular about Iran: it has always been a bridge-country. It has frontiers with Arabs, Afghans, Turks, Pakistanis, Azarbaijanis, Armenians and Turkmans; it has ancient connections with Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Mongols, the British and the Americans, plus newly established relations with many other independent nations of the world. Iranwas Alexander's ultimate enemy and his most dazzling conquest.

Physically, Iranis formidable. The shape of the land is a distorted square, as if it has been melted in a furnace, and allowed to set crooked. Down its western flank, from the Turkish frontier to the Gulfof Oman, run the Zagros mountains, so strong a barrier that some world strategists considered them to be a real boundary of the western world: however, Iranian historical monuments are scattered far away on both sides of the range. From the southern end of the Zagros range, Zard Kuh-e Bakhtiari, 4, 309 m as its highest peak, a blistered flat coastline runs toward the Indian Ocean.

Across the northern Iran, at he southern coastline of the Caspian, which is 28 m below sea level, runs a narrow but high mountain range, the Alborz, which receives more than 1,200 mm of annual rainfall, and looms away eastward to the Afghan frontier, with snow-capped peaks all of the year round. The highest of some of the peaks in the range are as follows: Damavand, northeast of Tehran, 5, 671m Sabalan, west of Ardabil, 4, 860m and Takht-e Soleiman, northwest of Tehran, south of Tonekabon, 4, 820m.

Natural pasture and forestlands exist over wide areas of this region. In provinces on the north of the Alborz most of the fertile land is used for cornfields, tea-plantations, and paddy fields. The timber resources of Mazandaran and Guilan provinces in the region are used through the wood processing and paper manufacturing factories of Asalem and Neka.

The Caspian shores with their sandy beaches and scenic views are among the most popular regions for relaxation and tourism in Iran.

Due to the presence of great quantities of limestone and other porous stones, many caves have been formed in Iranthat could be visited and investigated by the average tourists or speleologists as places of interest and study. The most famous of these caves are to be found in Azarbaijan, in Kurdestan, near Hamadan, EsfahanProvinceand in the Tehranarea.

The climatic diversity in Iranis such that some tourists can enjoy winter sports in the mountains while others can bathe in the warm waters of the southern shores; both within a few hours drive from the main cities.

In the heartland of Iran and within these natural barricades lies the high central Iranian Plateau, much of its salt desert and most of it more than 1,200 m high, including both the Dasht-e Lut with an area of over 200,000 and 166,000 sq. km, respectively. Both deserts, despite their vastness, are still considered to be the unknown and unexplored regions of Iran. Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut were traversed in the past by great trade caravans along the Silk Road carrying goods from the east to the west and vice versa. Fertile areas abound where water resources are adequate, such as the Esfahan basin, northern Khorassan, Fars, and the Qazvinand Varamin plains.

The climate of Iranis one of extremes, very hot and dry in summer and cold with some snow in winter. The lands of the Iranian fertile crescent in the northwest and west, including Lurestan, Kurdestan, and Azarbaijan, receive good and relatively reliable rainfall and, despite marked seasonal extremes of temperature, support large herds and prosperous dry farming.

The contrast in climatic conditions between the different regions has contributed to the scenic magnificence of the landscape as well. The long southern area of the country stretches from the plains of Khuzestan, along the narrow plains and hills adjacent to the Persian Gulf and into the MokranMountainsof Baluchestan. This suffers from a hot and debilitating climate with scanty rainfall. The plains of Khuzestan have extensive areas of good soil, which are cultivated whenever river water is made available for irrigation from many watercourses that feed down from the Zagros Mountainsto the north.

A practically effective method of combating the dominant dry climatic conditions of the Iranian Plateau for the past 2,500 years, has been the excavation of qanats(underground watercourses) to transmit underground water. The method, which has endured till the modern age, found its way from Iranto other parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and even Spain. Total length of Iranian qanatsamounts to nearly 40,000 km. Iran is also the land of the oldest dams in the world, most of which are in good condition even today.

However, Iranhas a good climate compared to other Middle Eastern countries. More than one third of the land surface receives rainfall of more than 250 mm on average each year, while the heavy winter snowfalls on the mountains which surround the central plateau provide a reservoir of water for irrigating spring crops. Ferdowsi, the famous Iranian epic poet, described the southern Caspian shores as an average region where spring prevails throughout the year.

Soil is deep and fertile over extensive areas although subject to chronic erosion in some areas. The Caspian coast lands the central plains and the valleys of the interior are all endowed with comparatively fragile but cultivable soil. Land and water resources are not used to the full. Only a fraction of total available land is used for agriculture, leaving scope for large-scale reclamation at the extensive margin and intensification of agricultural output on existing agricultural land through more widespread and effective use of water resources.

Statistically, about 20.7% of the total area of Iran is desert and uncultivable land, 54.9% natural range land, 7.6% forest land, and only the remaining 16.8% is potentially arable land, of which 11.6 million hectares go annually under cultivation and the rest lie fallow. Despite the fact that Iran is generally dry and mountainous, the tourist should know that the land is however, rich in terms of inland lakes and wetlands (which amount to 33 in number), some of the most important of which are: Lake Orumich (West Azarbaijan), 483,000 hectares; Lake Parishan (Fars) 4,200 hectares; Lakes Maharlu and Barimshur (Fars) 21,600 hectares; Neiriz Lakes (Fars), 98,000 hectares; and Hamoun-e Hirmand (or Jazmurian) around Kuh-e Khajeh (Sistan) 40,000 hectares.

Wetlands must not only be prized as the home of a multitude of valuable waterfowl, but also for their intrinsically high natural productivity, they're scenic beauty and the sport and recreation, which they provide.

The distance between Mount Ararat on the Turkish-Armenian-Iranian frontier and the southeastern extremity of the country near the portof Chah Baharon the Seaof Omanis longer than that between Parisand Athens. If Iranwere to be superimposed upon a map of Western Europe, the holy city of Mashladwould be over Budapest, Abadanwithin Sardinia, Tehranwould take the place of Venice, and Shirazthat of Naples! The vastness of the country is reflected in the different climates from north to south, from east to west. This contrast among the regions is increased by the contrast brought with each season: a scorching summer and piercing winter can invade the same place. In the five main tourist centers - Esfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran- winter is somewhat similar, except for Shiraz, which enjoys a milder temperature.

The visitor may be accustomed to this scale of distance. This is of great importance, because upon it depends the planning of his trip and part of his enjoyment. Laps are always long. Excursions around a central point rarely take less than one full day. Persepolis, for example, considered, as being "near" Shirazis 60 km away, and Pasargadae130 km! Notwithstanding such natural barriers, however, there have always existed close economic and social ties between the people of the coastal and internal areas.


When visiting Iran, one of the lasting impressions on you will be the enormous diversity of ethnic types. These are not to be found in one spot - the airport, for example - but will be seen during your tour of Iran. The majority of Iranian ethnic types are descendants of the Aryan tribes whose origins are lost in the antiquity. The Kurds, previously a fierce nomadic people, dwell in the western mountainous regions of Iran. Also inhabiting the western mountainous, regions are the semi-nomadic Lurs, thought to be aboriginal Iranians. Closely related and known as the Great Lurs until the 15thcentury, are the Bakhtiari tribes who live in the Zagros Mountains, west of Iran.

For several decades now these tribes have been introduced to settle down and the effects of this policy are to be felt in every part of the country, particularly in the emigration trend to towns or richer provinces.

Ways of life are changing. However, tribal dress, domestic tools, music, dances and handicrafts, are only some of the points of interest of the nomadic way of life for the foreigner.

In addition to ethnic diversity there is a variety of religions. The uninitiated tourist may be astonished by the spirit of tolerance prevailing in this Islamic country where more than 90% of the population are practically Shi'ites. The non-Muslim visitor is among the first to benefit from this tolerant outlook: churches and temples belonging to the world's major religions function freely. Mosques can usually be visited except on Fridays and at certain hours of the day devoted to prayers. Only a small number of sanctuaries in the holy cities of Qum, Mahshad, and Rey are out of bounds to non-Muslim visitors. The latter, however, are never subjected to any kind of ostracism.

In the same officially-sponsored spirit of tolerance, minorities are completely free to practice their religion: around Esther's tomb at Hamadan, a Jewish colony which settled in Babylonian times still lives there in full freedom. The Zoroastrians, who represent the astonishing survival of the early Aryans' faith, still perpetuate the teachings of Ahura Mazda and of great philosopher Zoroaster. Several "Towers of Silence" are set on the peaks of mountains between Yazdand Kerman, a region unfortunately remote and difficult to reach.

The Armenians, with a different ethnic heritage, have maintained their Indo-European linguistic identity. They are concentrated in Tehran, Esfahanand Azarbaijan, and are engaged primarily in commercial and technical pursuits. The Armenian Church and fortified monastery of St. Thaddeous in northern Azarbaijan are not only excellent places for excursions but also a rallying-point for thousands of Christian pilgrims (in July). There are more than two hundred thousand Armenians in Iran. Their biggest community is in the Julfa district of Esfahan which ahs fourteen parishes, a cathedral and an "AsianCatholicMuseum". Sunday Mass at St. Savior Cathedral is an unexpected event in the heart of a Muslim nation.

Nearly 20% of the nation speaks Azari, a Turkish-sounding language. These are Azaris, or Iranian Turks, who form the largest minority of the country. Apart from Azaris, other ethnic groups are the Qashqais in the Shiraz area to the east of the Persian Gulf, Kurds to the south of Azarbaijan in western Iran, the Turkmans occupying much of the east of Mazandaran and north of Khorassan provinces in the northeast, Lurs and Bakhtiaris in the west, and Baluchis in the southeastern part of the country.

Other ethnic groups such as Semites, including Jews, Assyrians, and Arabs constitute only a small percentage of the population. The Jews, like Armenians, have retained their ethnic, linguistic, and religious identity and have clustered in the largest cities. The Assyrians are concentrated in the northwest; and the Arabs live primarily in the Persian Gulfislands and Khuzestan.

You will also find that the harsh, but often equally cheerful practicalities of daily life overlay the fantasies and mysteries that the Western imagination has attached to the idea of Iran. On the whole, ethnic strife isn't too much of a problem in Iran, the government being a lot more tolerant of minorities than many in the region.

Iranis a land of different nationalities, peoples, tribes, and religions, with a multi-millennial history. But there is one Iran. Here you won't come across two feuding brothers; rather, you will see a deep relationship between brothers and sisters. That is why, after an eight-year heroic resistance Iraqi aggression of Iran in 1980-88 Irano-Iraqi War, Iranians are doing their best to modernize their country, and it is with this in mind that the foreign visitor is hoped to board a plane for Tehran. The fact is that when one looks at Iran's 7,000-year old history - or its modern newspapers - one will find that such diversities have always acted as a unifying factor and created an attractive national landscape as beautiful as the Iranian carpet designs.

Extraordinary changes are being carried out at an increasingly fast rate. The least well informed visitor is able to notice this for himself. Increasingly eloquent testimony of a new renaissance now supplement traditional tourist values: antique vestiges, monuments representing the great periods of artistic development and well-preserved crafts.

Tourism in Iranhas always centered on its towns. And the attraction of these towns is enhanced by the interest provoked by the discovery of a nation in full progress, building its own future.

Naturally it is in the cities that the movement is most noticeable. It is reflected by a proliferation of new buildings: factories, schools, universities, government offices, hospitals, highways, hotels, etc. Open spaces are being cleared by municipalities and town planners to improve the flow of modern traffic, to facilitate access to monuments, mosques and palaces. Flowerbeds and fountains appear at crossroads, gardens and parks are open to the public. At night, bridges, squares, palaces and minarets are floodlit. Roads are being improved: boulevards, avenues, and diversion roads are being built; new street lighting is being installed and existing lighting improved. As a sign of the times, paid parking lots are now being made available in most towns.

Tehran, the capital since 1795 AD takes the lead, but all provincial towns are also participating in the movement towards modernization. Although most buildings are utilitarian, this does not exclude aesthetic research. Harmonization with the surrounding landscape (based both on outline and color), the use of traditional decorative materials (bricks, mosaics), the choice of classical architectural motifs (cupolas, pointed arches, towers, etc.) often identify these new buildings as offshoots of the great periods of Iranian art and architecture. Recent regulations impose the observance of traditional styles. The Bandar-e Abbas Museum, the KermanTechnicalCollege, the Shiraz TV Building are, among hundreds of others, illustrations of the trend.

The visitor, having recognized the merits of modern Iran and admired its dynamism, is impatient to discover Iran's historical wealth, which he tried to visualize before he left for Iran: blue domes ornamented with intricate arabesques, minarets with balconies and lantern turrets which dart skyward in groups of four, five, and sometimes eight; the immense courtyards with apses at the four cardinal points; the deep and mysterious ivanswith the luminous glaze of the mosaics reflecting all the blue of Paradise.


There are about one and a half million Nomads in modern Iran, extending from the border of Turkistan to the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. Most of these tribes, the Kurds, the Lurs, the Bakhtiaris, the Guilaks (on the CaspianCoast), the Baluchis, are the original invaders who, in the first millennium BC, swept down from Central Asiaand settled in various parts of the Iranian Plateau. Most the tribes of central Iran are from pure Aryan stock,while other tribes such as the Arabs of Khuzestan and Khorassan, the Turkish tribes of Quchan, the Qashqai tribes, the Shahsevan and Afshar tribes of Azarbaijan and the Turkmans are remnants of races that have passed through Iran at various periods of history.

Traditionally, there has always existed a close link in Iranbetween the ruling dynasty and the domination of one particular tribe or ethnic group. In the 20th century, some governments have in vain attempted to carry out national integration, or Personalization, of this heterogeneous population (particularly during the reign of (Reza Shah), in the hope that tribal and Cultural distinctions would disappear with the economic and political development of the country.

There are many divisions and sub-Divisions for each of the main tribes and tens of smaller tribes. With the expansion of education and better communications the young generation of Iranian tribes has made great progress supplying very intelligent engineers, medical men, administrators, scientists and even women doctors to serve the country.

Today there are over a hundred different tribes, each with its own dialect, picturesque dress, dwelling-place and chief. The most important tribes are as follows:


Having arrived in Iranin two waves under the Seljuks and the Mongols in 11thand 13thcenturies, respectively, Afshars are pastoral nomads. They have their summer quarters on the slopes of the Sabalan mountain at 4, 860 meters (Azarbaijan), between LakeOrumiehand Qazvinand Hamadan, and their winter quarters are in the hot plains of Moghan, near the CaspianCoast. Some Afshar tribes are also scattered in areas between Kermanand Bandar-e Abbas in southern Iran. Today, an ever-increasing number of Afshars have settled down and became farmers.

Living in the northeastern Azarbaijan province, Shahsevans (renamed II Sevan after the victory of Islamic Revolution) were organized by Shah Abbas I in the 17thcentury as a militia from tribes of diverse origin. Mainly Turkish speaking, they were used to put down rebellions of other tribes. They were divided between Iranian Azarbaijan and the Russian or former Soviet Azarbaijan after the occupation of part of our country by the aggressive Russian forces during the Qajar Ka'ab. Tamim and Khamis. A small population of Arab tribes, descendants of early emigrants, lives in eastern Khorassan near Bojnurd and in some places in Fars.


They dwell in the high grounds of Zard Kuh mountain (Zagros range to the west of Esfahan) extending to the south of Esfahan, and around Shahr-e Kurd, with winter quarters in Khuzestan, particularly the kinder plains around Dezful, Susa, and Ramhormoz. They are divided into two main groups, the Haft Lang and the Chahar Lang, subdivided in turn into several tribes and sub-tribes or tayefeh.Most Bakhtiaris speak Persian or a Luri dialect, although part of the populations, concentrated in the towns and villages in the south of Khuzestan province, speak Arabic. Their clothing, with trousers extraordinarily wide, round hat and short tunic, is reminiscent of the Arsasid (Parthian) period, 200 BC-280 AD.


Originating in Khorassan, the northeastern provinceof Iran, they are scattered and live in the Mokran region far southeast of the country, a vast area from the Pakistanborder to the Iranian deserts. Their language is pure Persian. Nowadays mainly settled in urban centers such as Zahedan, the Baluch tribes consist of many different smaller tribes, making their living out of camel herding and agriculture.


These tribes are among the most original tribes of Iran, speaking a pure Persian dialect and dwelling in the maritime provincesof Iran. Their number is dwindling, but one can still see the remnants of these stoic tribes in Talish.


The Kurdish people of Iranoccupy a vast area from the northernmost borderline of Azarbaijan to the hot plain of Khuzestan. Descendants of the Indo-European tribes that arrived in Iranin the first millennium BC, they speak an old Persian dialect and regard themselves as the descendants of the Medes. Kurds are to be found mainly in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. In Iran, they consist of many tribes, of which the chief branches are:

  • The northern Kurds of Maku and northwestern Azarbaijan;
  • The Mahabad Kurds, dwelling in the area between LakeOrumiehand the mountains of Kurdestan proper and the Khorassan;
  • The Kurds of Sanandaj with subdivisions in Paveh, Saqqez, and the Iraqi border;
  • The Kurds of Kermanshah, from the Zagros mountainsto the Khuzestan plain.


They are probably the most intact tribes of Iran, retaining their robustness, virility, and tall stature. They are mostly cultivators and shepherds and occupy the high grounds of Lurestan, south of Kurdestan, and Kermanshahprovinces.

The Lursare thought to be a division of the ancient Kurds, both tribes being considered true descendants of the Medes. The Mamasani Lurs dwelling in western mountains of Farsform one of the most important clans.


These Turkish-speaking tribesmen representing a dominant ethno-linguistic The Lursare group, and historically the most important political leverage, dwell among the high mountains of Farsprovince. Traditionally, they wintered on pastures in the foothills of the Zagros to south and west of Shiraz, near the Persian Gulf, and moved north to the mountains in the spring. Their dress is almost the same as that of the Bakhtiaris, except for the hat, which resembles Napoleonic headgear.


They descend from the Mongols who arrived in Iranvery early on, in the 11thcentury AD, and are powerfully built, with high cheekbones and slanting eyes. They live in the northeast of the country, north of Khorassan and east of Mazandaran. They dwell on the vast flat lands of Turkmansahra, which is situated between the CaspianCoastand the southern mountains. Today, they constitute the most active agriculturists and fishermen of the region, and unlike the other ethnic groups, they are Sunni.



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