Last updated on September 8th, 2017
Iran is not well-known to Westerners as a tourist destination, but exploring its mystic mountains, hiking its beautiful rain forests and visiting the scenic deserts are all on Asian and European tourists’ agendas. With a cultural history and ancient sites that date back to as early as 4,000 BC, there are dozens of reasons to travel to this beautiful Middle Eastern country. Here are 55 interesting facts about Iran that cover its culture, history, economy, people, women, government, food and lots more.
Facts about Iran’s history
#1. Iran’s history is that of being one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations. Central Asians migrated to this land then from 530-330 BC Cyrus the Great founded the first Persian Empire. In its heyday it reached from Eastern Europe in the west to India in the east and was the largest empire in the world up until that time in history. It ended when conquered by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was built during this period. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
#2. From 323 BC, Iran was ruled by the Seleucid Dynasty and then the Parthian Empire. Then, under the Sassanid Dynasty, it became the Second Persian Empire for the next four centuries.
#3. When the Rashidan Arabs conquered the Empire in 637 AD, Islam became the state religion and the country and its people became major contributors to Islam’s Golden Age through their many scholars, artists, scientists and thinkers.
#4. In 1501 the rise of the Safavid Dynasty established the Third Persian Empire. Twelver Shia Islam was established as the official religion, forever changing Iranian and Muslim history. Modern day Iran is, as a result, the only official Shia nation in the world.
#5. The Qajars reigned for the next century and a quarter (1796-1925). Conflicts with Russia and territory occupation during World War I during those years led to significant losses of territory, tremendous demographic shifts, and erosion of national sovereignty. All the unrest lead to the establishment in 1906 of a constitutional monarchy, a legislative body and a Constitution that officially recognized all three major minority religions.
#6. By 1921, Reza Khan of the Pahlavi Dynasty ruled after the overthrow of the Qajar Dynasty. He had been Prime Minister and became the new Shah of Iran. In 1941 he was forced to abdicate to his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who established a massive supply route known as the Persian Corridor that would serve until the end of World War II. The Iran Crisis of 1946 dissolved two puppet states that Russia tried to establish in Iran and forced their withdrawal. Persia and Iran were used interchangeably as the name of the country, but in 1935 Iran chose to officially use only Iran.
#7. Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected Prime Minister and was enormously popular for nationalizing the country’s petroleum industry plus their oil reserves. Unfortunately, the United States and Great Britain enacted Operation Ajax to overthrow him and his government. They were rewarded by the Shah with 40 percent of the oil industry. The Shah and the U.S. entered a decades-long relationship while the Iranian people developed a distrust for the U.S.
#8. Publicly the Shah modernized Iran and tried to retain it as a fully secular state; secretly arrests and torture to crush any and all political opposition were carried out by the SAVAK, his secret police. One of those arrested was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was a very vocal critic of the Shah’s White Revolution and denouncer of the government. When released in 1964 he criticized the U. S. government and the Shah exiled him. He ended up in France.
#9. The 1973 spike in oil prices flooded the country with foreign currency, created high inflation, then economic recession with high unemployment. The people began to organize and protests were launched against the Shah’s regime. Eventually demonstrations and strikes paralyzed the country. The Shah fled and Khomeini returned to form a new government. In 1979 Iran officially became an Islamic Republic with a theocratic constitution.
#10. Uprisings began against the new government but it purged its non-Islamist political opposition. Thousands were executed. In November of 1979 a group of students seized the U.S. Embassy and took it and 52 Americans inside it hostage. They demanded the return of the Shah so he could be put on trial but the U.S. wouldn’t agree. The hostages were released on President Reagan’s inaugural day.
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#11. The 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War lead to millions of casualties and billions of dollars in damages and destruction with no real gains on either side of the conflict. It was started by Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein. It was ended by acceptance of U.N. Resolution 598.
#12. President Akbur Rafsanjani concentrated on rebuilding Iran’s economy after the war. Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989. In 1997 Mohammad Khatami became president and his government unsuccessfully attempted to make the country more democratic.
#13. Madmoud Nmadinijad was president from 2005-2013. His government was controversial for his position on nuclear development, human rights and the destruction of Israel. His views alienated him from both the Islamic and the Western world as a controversial figure. Student protests against his government were quickly and firmly suppressed.
#14. Hassan Rouhari became President of Iran in 2013. After years of negotiations, several leading countries reached a nuclear activity agreement with Iran in 2015.
#15. A serious rift with Saudi Arabia in 2016 led to a break in diplomatic relations. Economic sanctions the U.N. had held against Iran for years are lifted this year.
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Iranian culture facts
#16. Iran is a multicultural country comprised of various ethnic and religious groups. The majority of the population is Shia Muslims (85 percent). They are unified through the Iranian culture. Second and third in population are the Azerbaijanis and Kurds.
#17. The names Iran and Persia are still interchanged in cultural contexts but Iran is always used in political contexts. Persian, or Farsi, is the official language, though there are numerous other dialects spoken in different regions. Azerbaijani Turkish is the second most widely spoken language in Iran.
#18. The rich cultural legacy of Iran is indicated partly by its 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is the third largest number in any one country in Asia.
#19. About 90 to 95 percent of the population of Iran is Twelver Shia Islam, which is the state religion. Up to eight percent of the population is Sunni Muslims.
#20. The largest Jewish population outside of Israel in the Middle East lives in Iran. Judaism, Christianity, Sunni Muslims and Zoroastrianism are all officially recognized by the Iranian government and they have reserved seats in Parliament. The Bahá’í Faith, however, is persecuted and denied civil liberties and rights.
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#21. Before the Shah was driven out of power, Iranian culture was quite westernized. Now it is extremely religiously conservative. Under the Shah, Iranians loved Western films, especially American ones. Now they are banned by the ayatollah for glorifying that Western lifestyle but Iranians still watch them, creating a huge bootlegging industry that carries severe penalties is the perpetrator is caught. Satellite televisions are banned in all households for the same reason.
#22. Religious rules also dictate forms of dress. It is illegal for men to wear shorts and they are forbidden to wear neckties. Women can’t wear bathing suits when men are around. All females, native or visiting, over the age of nine must wear a hijab when in public.
#23. According to the country’s constitution, women are homemakers and mothers and must have the permission of the male head of their household if they want to work outside of it. Women and men are separated on city buses and in schools and females may not appear in public with a man unless the man is either a family member or her husband. Women do have some freedoms those in Saudi Arabia don’t: they can drive, vote and go to college.
#24. Girls are marriageable at the age of 13 and boys at 15. Iranians may vote at 15. Polygamy is legal in Iran but the limit is four wives. Once a girl is married, she may no longer attend high school.
#25. Education for Kindergarten through high school is supervised by the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Science and Technology supervises higher education. Iran’s adult literacy rate is 93 percent, up from almost 37 percent in 1976. Fesenjan is a gourmet dish of meat and beans with a walnut sauce served with fried onion on top. It is served with rice.
#26. Iranian cuisine benefits from the influence of all the different cultures and ethnic groups in its melting pot. Herbs are used for seasoning, along with fruits like as quince, plums, prunes, pomegranates, apricots, and raisins. Iranian is caviar is also famous. Iranians eat their meals on cushions on the floor; they have no tables and chairs.
#27. Iranians eat plain yogurt for lunch and dinner as it is dietary staple in the country. Many consider it a miracle food and refer to it as “Persian milk”. They use it to treat ulcers and relive sunburn. They also have a popular soft drink made from it.
#28. Poetry is very popular and special to the Iranian people. All can recite some portion of a favorite poem. Famous Western poets were influence by Persian poetry, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Wolfgang Von Goethe.
#29. Iranians have been known for their beautiful woven Persian rugs for more than 2,500 years. Weavers will often make an intentional mistake in the weaving to show their belief that “only God is perfect.”
#30. The Persian culture is famous for beautiful gardens. The word “paradise” comes from a Persian word that means “enclosed garden”.
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