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Iran Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Iran
Being one of the oldest continuously inhabited civilisations in the world, modern-day Iranian culture is enriched by centuries of tradition. Years of trade, conquest and invasion have created a distinct culture with myriad influences from far and wide, resulting in an overriding national identity and culture rich in symbolism. Religion plays an important part in many aspects of Iranian society - the legal and educational systems, dress, marriage, architecture, the arts and the media are all affected. As Iran is an Islamic nation, visitors can expect to see the hallmarks of Islam throughout Iran; mosques, the call to prayer, strict dress codes and the observance of Ramadan are the most easily noticed, although there is a complex network of rules, customs and traditions at play every day.
Although Iran's population is largely youthful and urban-centric, rich Persian artistic traditions are alive in contemporary Iran, with much of the elaborate architecture, cuisine, handicrafts and popular poetry of Iran having their origins in ancient Persia. Iranian hospitality is world-famous; guests are often touched by the sincerity, politeness and generosity of spirit of their Iranian hosts. Accepting tea and food is considered polite if offered, as is acting graciously and modestly while visiting someone's home.
According to the UNHCR, Iran hosts more foreign refugees than any other country (around 1 million, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan)
Geography and Environment of Iran
Sharing borders with Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan, Iran is located in the south-west corner of Asia. The Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman provide shoreline in the north and south, and while Iran lacks a major river system, there are several small rivers and streams throughout the country. Much of Iran’s terrain is mountainous, with most of the population living in the basins, plateaus and plains. The deserts of Iran are mainly uninhabited with the exception of a few oases, while the major cities are quite modern with well-developed infrastructure and housing.
History and Government of Iran
The country now known as Iran was known as Persia for hundreds of years and has been occupied by people for many centuries. Archaeological evidence suggests that people populated the land here as long as 7,000 years ago, with civilisations and societies developing as the surrounding nations and areas evolved. Persia's fate was very much tied up with the destinies of neighbouring countries, so as empires rose and fell (and leaders came and went), Persia was affected by invasions and confrontations with the Greeks, Mongols, Romans, Arabs, Turks and others.
Under the reign of Darius the Great and Cyrus the Great (during the Achaemenid Empire), the Persian Empire expanded to be the largest empire of the time. During this period, coins were first introduced as a form of currency, building works on Persepolis began and a system of far-reaching highways and canals were built. Islam was brought to Persia around 637 AD; the population slowly adopted the religion and by the 11th century, the majority of the population was practising Islam. Despite adopting the religion of the conquerors, Persian culture, style and art was largely preserved, which led to the 'Islamic Golden Age' - a time where Persian literature, philosophy, science and art blossomed (750-1258).
This time of creativity and prosperity was brought to an end by the Mongols, who invaded in 1219. This invasion proved devastating, with a monumental loss of culture occurring due to the widespread demolition of infrastructure, libraries and mosques. Famine and violence accounted for a steep decline in population, which was worsened by the arrival of the Plague during the 14th century. Persia was in better shape by the 16th century, with the Safavid Dynasty (1502-1736) establishing the modern nation-state of Iran.
The Great Persian Famine of 1870 and 1871 accounted for up to 2 million deaths in the region, but Iran's fortunes changed with the discovery of oil in 1908. This discovery also increased interest from other nations wishing to capitalise on this precious commodity. Iran endured many changes in leadership due to invasions and coups during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, leading to the Iranian Revolution. The Iranian Revolution (also known as the Islamic Revolution) took place between 1978 and 1979 and resulted in the birth of the Islamic Republic. Ayatollah Khomeini served as leader until his death in 1989, after enduring the Iran-Iraq war, which was waged between 1980 and 1988. The Iraqi use of chemical warfare during this time caused international fury and lead to the deaths of many of Iran's people. More recently, Iran has been lead by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since 2005.
Iran at a glance
- Tehran (population 7.2 million)
- 76.9 million
- (GMT+03:30) Tehran
- Type C (European 2-pin), Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)
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