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

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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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Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Flag of Iran

Flag of Iran
Flag of Iran

Iranian culture facts

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Related: facts about Afghanistan

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.

Fact 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.”

Fact 30. The Persian culture is famous for beautiful gardens. The word “paradise” comes from a Persian word that means “enclosed garden”.

Fact 31. Polo was created in Iran and played as training for the cavalry as early as the 6th century BC. Soccer is the most popular sport and Iran’s national team ranks as the number one team in Asia. Freestyle wrestling is traditionally regarded as Iran’s national sport and Iranians have won many Olympic medals.

Fact 32. Because the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) banned the hijab in 2007, the women’s soccer team from Iran couldn’t play in a qualifier game for the Olympics in 2012.

Fact 33. The first day of spring is a festive day with huge feasts. Mothers eat one hard-boiled egg per child to represent their children. They set the table with seven items that begin with the letter “s” in their native Farsi.

Fact 34. Because the Iranian hospitality or civility practice of T’aarof, which is quite different in terms of anything Westerners are used to, can be a source for awkward situations in a social setting, it is important for visitors to learn something about it before traveling to Iran. For example, because Iranians pretend they don’t want payment for their wares, you always have to insist on paying in restaurants, for taxi rides, and in shops.

Fact 35. Once you are accustomed to it, you will find the Iranian people to be quite friendly, warm and generous to a fault.

Geographical location of Iran

Iran on map with neighboring countries
Iran on map with neighboring countries

People

Fact 36. Almost 70 percent of the population of Iran is under 30 years of age.

Fact 37. Short term marriages are available in Iran. They are called Sigheh and may last from several hours to several years. They were instituted to serve the function of dating and solve the problem of protecting women for marriage if practicing pre-marital sex. Loss of virginity otherwise makes a woman practically unmarriageable.

Fact 38. Education has always been important in the Persian culture and it is important in Iran. Many people have PhDs. Around 70 percent of science and engineering students are women. It is believed the lack of available entertainment and censorship of the Internet leaves education as the mind’s only outlet.

Fact 39. Iranian girls use a lot of makeup and everyone pays a lot of attention to noses. In fact, nose operations are quite common.

Fact 40. Iran is home to many nomadic people groups, although no one knows exactly how many are roaming the country. The last census taken of nomadic peoples was 30 years ago and at that time they numbered over 1 million.

Related: facts about Iraq

Facts about economy

Fact 41. The unemployment rate of women is nearly double that of Iranian men.

Fact 42. The U. N. sanctions against Iran, although recently lifted, have deeply affected its economy over the last decade or more.

Fact 43. Despite the official ban on alcohol, smuggled alcohol is an industry that brings in around $700 million annually. There is also a huge domestic bootleg industry. Drinking has become such a problem that in 2015 the political system opened 150 treatment centers for addressing the growing problem.

Fact 44. Economically unemployment, inflation, and shortages in housing are keeping people from marrying until they can get enough money to afford it. To assist and fight this trend, a $720 million fund has been created to provide marriage loans to help people marry sooner.

Fact 45. The unemployment rate of women is nearly double that of Iranian men.

Interesting, Weird, Unique and Intriguing Facts about Iran

Fact 46. Even though homosexual sex carries the potential of being punishable by death in Iran, sex change operations are legal and often state-funded. Iran is second only to Thailand as the sex change capital of the world.

Fact 47. The Persian cat is from ancient Persia and is one of the world’s oldest breeds. They came from the high plateaus where their long fluffy fur protected them from the cold. They were brought to Europe by Italian traders in the 17th century where they quickly became an exotic status symbol.

Fact 48. Iran has an acute problem with air pollution and water pollution in its towns and cities.

Fact 49. One of the tribes of the Medes in 6th century BC Iran was the Magi, who were Zoroastrian priests. The most famous of them were the three Magi who visited the Christ child in the nativity story. Marco Polo claimed he visited their graves in what today is Tehran.

Fact 50. Also buried in Iran are Queen Esther and Daniel, also from stories in the Bible.

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Fact 51. Iran is the only country that has both an Indian Ocean coastline and a Caspian Sea one as well.

Fact 52. For 30 years the largest airport in Iran had a Star of David embedded in its roofed undiscovered. Then it was spotted by Goggle Earth.

Fact 53. The Hashishin was an elite group of killers in the 11th and 12th centuries that believed killing their enemies’ prominent members was better than going to war where thousands would be killed. They killed only their targets and no innocent bystanders. The term “assassin” in English came to refer to a person who only committed high profile killings.

Fact 54. The Treasury of National Jewels in Tehran houses some of the most extravagant, expensive and unique pieces of jewelry in the world. A complete appraisal of the value of all the collection has never been completed due to the rarity of so many of the gemstones.

Fact 55. Though the Internet is censored in Iran, the youth of the country have found a way to blog away anyway. There are more than 700,000 Persian blogs with most of them based in Iran and that makes Persian the second most popular language in the international blogosphere.

Iran is a country of ancient history and modern surprises. Investigate it for yourself and you’ll discover wonders, surprises and hundreds more facts about Iran for yourself.

Iran facts – country at a glance

Capital CityTehran
35°41′N 51°25′E
Largest CityTehran
35°41′N 51°25′E
Total area1,648,195 sq km
Population81,824,270 (July 2015 est.)
Official LanguagePersian
BordersIraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
CurrencyRial (﷼) (IRR)
ReligionIslam and others
Life expectancy71.15 years (2012)
Life expectancy at birth indicates the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life.
Climatemostly arid or semiarid, subtropical along Caspian coast
Terrainrugged, mountainous rim; high, central basin with deserts, mountains; small, discontinuous plains along both coasts
Natural resourcespetroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur
Agricultural land30.1%
Birth rate17.99 births/1,000 population (2015 est.)
Death rate5.94 deaths/1,000 population (2015 est.)
Sex ratio1.03 male(s)/female (2015 est.)
National symbollion; national colors: green, white, red
National anthem"Soroud-e Melli-ye Jomhouri-ye Eslami-ye Iran" (National Anthem of the Islamic Republic of Iran)
Industriespetroleum, petrochemicals, gas, fertilizers, caustic soda, textiles, cement and other construction materials, food processing (particularly sugar refining and vegetable oil production), ferrous and nonferrous metal fabrication, armaments
Exports$78.99 billion (2015 est.)
petroleum 80%, chemical and petrochemical products, fruits and nuts, carpets, cement, ore
Imports$70.63 billion (2015 est.)
industrial supplies, capital goods, foodstuffs and other consumer goods, technical services
GDP - per capita (PPP)$17,300 (2015 est.)
Time ZoneUTC + 03:30
Internet country code.ir
Internet users36.07 million
percent of population: 44.1% (July 2015 est.)
Calling Code+98
Drives on theRight

References:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taarof
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