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About Iran

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Iran is a fascinating mix of modern and ancient, of East and West, the exotic and the mundane. While the rich and ancient Persian culture will ensure that the visitor is treated well, it also provides, a stunning architectural and archeological backdrop. The wonders of Persepolis, Esfahan and Yazd are the big-ticket items, but wandering through labyrinthine bazaars, shopping for carpets or just sitting, sipping tea and chatting with ordinary Iranians are just as memorable. From a practical point of view, Iran is one of the cheapest countries in the Middle East, and, despite its size, transport is both cheap and efficient.



Iran 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 Seas 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. The total area of Iran is 1,648,195 sq km, of which water covers only 12,000 sq km, while the rest (1.636 million sq km) is land.


Iran is hot and dry in summer and cold and dry in winter. In the desert and along the Gulf coast, summer temperatures regularly top 40°C and the humidity is draining. In midwinter, places such as Tehran, Mashhad and Tabriz are quite cold and snow is common in the higher regions, particularly, the northwest. However, the rest of the country is usually quite pleasant – clear skies and about 15°C during the day.
The best times to visit Iran are mid-April to early-June, and late September to early November.



Iran is the only Shiite Muslim regime on earth with official figures saying about 89% of the population is Shiite. About 10% is Sunni. The other 1% comprises Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. Iran is the center of Zoroastrianism, and followers are found mainly in Yazd, Tehran and Kerman.



Persian (Farsi) is a member of the Indo-Iranian sub-family of the Indo-European languages, and the official language of the government and public instruction and is the mother tongue of more than half the population. It is used and understood by nearly all Iranians and millions of Persian-speakers in the neighboring countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkmanistan, and so on.
s part of the Indo-European family of languages, Farsi is distinctly related to Latin Greek, the Slavic and Teutonic languages and English. This relationship can be seen in such cognates as baradar (brother), madar (mother), and pedar (father). It is a relatively easy language for English-speaking people to learn compared with any other major language of the Middle East.

Population and Ethnic Composition


Iran’s population is around 72 million. More than 60% of inhabitants can be classified as Persians, descendents of Aryans who first settled in the central plateau of Iran in about 2000 BC. About 25% of the population are Azerbaijanis, who live in the northwestern most region of Iran. Other inhabitants include Turkmen (2%), the Lors (2%), Kurds (5%) and Arabs (4%).



Iran is an Islamic Republic established following the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Under the Constitution of Nov 1979 all cultural, social, political, and economic institutions of Iranian society are to be based on the Islamic principles and norms.
All government policies are supervised and correlated with Divine decrees through the Vali-e Faqih (Jurisconsult or the Supreme Leader). According to the Constitution he is responsible for this concordance before God and the people during the time when the 12th Imam is in occultation. The legislative wing of the State, Majlis-e Shura-ye Eslami (Islamic Consultative Assembly) consists of 270 representatives elected by the direct vote of the people for a term of four years. The Constitution has also provided for a constitutional council of sages known as the Council of the Guardians of the Constitution (Shura-ye Negahban-e Qanun-e Assasi) which has the power to either approve or vote out the Assembly's resolutions. The Assembly of Experts (Majlis-e Khebregan), is another Islamic body responsible for the choosing of a Leader in the event of the present leader's demise, or to replace him with another one if required.

Administrative Division


The country is divided into 25 Ostans (provinces) ruled over by an Ostandar (governor-general).

Time Zone


Iran’s Standard Time is 3.5 hours ahead Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+3.30). Iran operates Daylight saving Time between 1 Farvardin (March 21) and the 1 Mehr (September 23) when the time is 4.5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+4:30).

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


The official unit of currency is the rial (IR), but in conversation Iranians almost always refer to the toman, a unit of 10 rials. It is essential when asking the price of anything to think in tomans – that way you won’t find yourself in a situation where the vendor is demanding 10 times more than you thought you had agreed on.
Iran is a cash economy; no credit cards, no travelers cheques, just cash, preferably in US dollars or euros. You can change cash in ssome bank branches but it’s easier and rates are the same in money changing shops, jewelers, carpet shops or on the street. There is no currency black market.

Capital City


Tehran, population 7,160,094 (metropolitan: 14,000,000), and a land area of 658 square kilometers, is the capital city of Iran and the center of Tehran Province. Tehran is the social and economic heart of Iran, with more than half of the country's industry based there. Industries include the manufacturing of cars, electronics and electrical equipment, military weaponry, textiles, sugar, cement, and chemical products. It is also a leading center for the sale of carpets and furniture. There is an oil refinery nearby.
Tehran is a sprawling city at the foot of the Alborz mountain range with an immense network of highways unparalleled in western Asia. It is also the hub of the country's railway network. The city has numerous large museums, art centers, palace complexes and cultural centers.




Airports and Public Transportation


There's a vast network of flights between Iran and Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Most flights land in Tehran, either at the older Mehrabad airport, or the new Imam Khomeini International Airport, 35km south of the city. You can also fly into Shiraz, Esfahan and Mashhad, usually from other cities in the Middle East.
Regular buses and trains link Iran and Turkey, and less frequent buses run to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.
Iran has 2410km (1470mi) of coastal boundaries, but there are only a few ways to enter or leave Iran by sea. In the Persian Gulf, there are ferries from Sharjah and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and from Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. It's also possible to travel across the Caspian Sea on an irregular cargo boat between the Azerbaijan capital of Baku and Bandar-é Anzali.

Traditional Cuisine


Iranian food varies considerably from the Middle Eastern norm. The standard Iranian meal starts with a prefabricated green salad, pink dressing and soup, usually pearl barley. It is often served with kebabs, which are tasty, healthy and cooked over hot charcoals. Kebabs, which come in great variety, from minced meat to lamb and marinated chicken, are usually sprinkled with spicy sumach and accompanied by raw onion and a bowl of delicious yogurt. Also keep an eye out for for zereshk polo ba morq (chicken on rice made tangy with barberry fruit), ghorme sabzi (stewed beans, greens and mince); khoresht (any kind of meaty stew with vegetables); bedemjun (aubergine served in various styles); and the divine fesenjun (a sauce of pomegranate juice, walnuts, aubegine and cardamom served over roast chicken, duck or goose).
Sweets are an important Iranian institution with many cities or provinces having their own particular type of sweet, usually available from shops in the bazaar. Probabaly the best known is gaz, a type of nougat with pistachio, from Esfahan.
Drinking in Iran inevitably involves chaj (tea). Delicious fresh fruit juices and shakes are also widely available.

Brief History


In 550 BC 29-year-old Cyrus the Great defeated the Medians and within a century he and his successors, Darius I and Xerxes, had made the Achaemenid Empire (550-331 BC) into the greatest the world had seen. The Persians expanded their rule all the way to India in the east and the Aegean sea in the west, but Xerxes’ defeat by the Greeks at Marathon began a slow decline. The end came in 330 BC when Alexander the Great invaded Persia and sacked the greatest of all Achemenid monuments, Persepolis.
After Alexander’s death his empire split, with Persia being controlled by the Macedonian Seleucids who gradually introduced a Hellenistic culture. The Partheans, under King Mithridates, took over in the 2nd century BC and in turn were replaced by the Sassanids, a local dynasty from the Fars provinces. The Sassanids ruled from AD 224 to AD 638 but suffered continuing conflict with the Roman and, later, the Byzantine Empires.
Weakened by this scrapping, the Persians, whose religion was Zoroastrianism, fell easy prey to the spread of Islam and the Arabs. Persia was controlled by an assortment of rulers before the Turkish Seljuk dynasty established itself in the 11th century, heralding a new era of Persian art, literature and science marked by such thinkers as mathematician-poet Omar Khayyam. The Seljuk era ended abruptly in 1194 when Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes swept into Persia devastating all before them. At the end of the 14th century the Mongols’ crumbling Ilkhanid dynasty were themselves routed, this time by bloodthirsty Tamerlane after he rode in from the East.
Beginning in 1502, the Safavid era heralded a great Persian renaissance. Under the rule of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629) foreign influences were purged from the country, and architectural works such as those in Imam Sq in Esfahan have left a permanent reminder. The Safavid decline was hastened by an invasion from Afghanistan in 1722. A few years later Nader Shah, a tribal leader from the northeast, threw out the Afghans and went on to antagonize Persia’s neighbors until he was assassinated in 1747.
The brief Zand period, in which Karim Khan-e Zand ruled from Shiraz, was followed by a longer period of decline under the corrupt and incompetent Qajar rulers (1779-1925). It ended in 1925 when Reza Khan Pahlavi, an officer in the imperial army, founded the Pahlavi dynasty. Foreign influence – and oil – soon became an important element in Iran’s history. During WWII, Iran was officially neutral, but Reza Khan was exiled to South Africa because he was thought to be too friendly with the Axis powers. His 22-year-old son, Mohammed Reza, succeeded him. The government of Shah Mohammed Reza was repressive, but Iran was rapidly modernized. Illiteracy was reduced, women emancipated, land holdings redistributed, health services improved and a major industrialization programme embarked upon.
Since the early days of the Pahlavi era there had been a smoldering resistance that occasionally flared into violence. Student wanted faster reforms, devout Muslims wanted reforms rolled back, and everybody attacked Pahlavis’ conspicuous consumption. As the economy deteriorated following the 1970s oil-price spike the growing opposition made its presence felt with sabotage and massive street demonstrations. The shah introduced martial law, and hundreds of demonstrators were killed in street battle sin Tehran before the shah fled in January 1979. he died a year later.
Exiled cleric Ayaatollah Khomeini returned on 1February 1979 and was greeted by adoring millions. His fiery brew of nationalism and fundamentalism had been at the forefront of the revolt, and he achieved his goal of establishing a clergy-dominated Islamic Republic (the first true Islamic state in modern times) with brutal efficiency. Opposition disappeared, executions took place after meaningless trials and minor officials took the law into their own hands.
In 1980 Saddam Hussein, looking to take advantage of the post-revolutionary chaos, invaded Khuzestan, in southwest Iran, on the pretext that the oil-rich province was historically part of Iraq. The resulting war lasted until 1988 and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives as trench warfare and poison gas were used for the first time since WWI.
Khomeini died in 1989 leaving an uncertain legacy to the country he had dominated for a decade. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei succeeded him as Iran’s Supreme Leader, but inherited little of his predecessor’s popular appeal.
In 1997 moderate cleric Mohhamed Khatami was elected president by a huge majority, most voters hoping he could liberalize some of the social restrictions of the Islamic Republic. Virtually overnight Iran became a different, far more liberal place, and in 2000 the reform movement won a sizeable majority in the Majlis (parliament). However while the religious police disappeared and couples could be seen courting openly, the public wanted more. The reformers were keen to deliver, but about a third of all the legislation passed during their 2000 and 2004 term was subsequently vetoed by the Guardians Council, a hardline body appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini.
People began to feel that the reformers were impotent and during the 2004 Majlis elections many voters stayed away. The result was a conservative victory and Khatami served his last 16 months as virtually a lame-duck president. The 2005 presidential election shocked not only the world but many Iranians too. Outsider mahmoud Admadinejad, the hardline mayor of Tehran, came out of the blue to win a clear majority from voters interested as much in rejecting what was perceived as a network of political elites as a vote to turn back reforms. Economic progress and a reduction in the high unemployment rates are what most Iranians now want.