Iran presents the traveler with a lexicon of human history unrivalled in continuity by any other land on earth. Within its boundaries lie archaeological examples of some of the earliest settlements that merit the name civilization, and beneath its soil mineral deposits that continue to fuel what those civilizations have become. The intervening period has left material remains that superlatives are inadequate to describe, from monumental Achaemenian architecture at Persepolis, through to the minutely detailed decorational renderings in mosques and shrines scattered throughout the country. In terms of language, literature and the history of ideas, it is impossible to quantify how much of what is now held to be common knowledge originated in Iran, but the extent to which Iranians have contributed to human culture as a whole is undeniably enormous.
Such is the size of Iran that on a day in midwinter the temperature can range between a pleasant 25 degrees along the coast of the Persian Gulf and minus 20 in the north-western mountains of Azerbaijan. Only the visitor prepared to stay in Tehran can avoid constant reminders of the huge scale of Iran, and even there, the looming presence of the Alborz range to the north, into whose foothills the city inexorably grows, provides a perspective that is at once beautiful and unsettling to the European eye.
While the humbling experience of traversing hours of relentless desert is ultimately essential, travel within Iran is most conveniently undertaken by plane, and it is from a great height that some of the geographical fundamentals that have helped shape Iranian history become apparent. The high central plain that forms the Iranian heartland is ringed by formidable mountain ranges, making it at once defensible and desirable as a strategic centre from which to control both empires and the unending flow of east-west trade. Thus it has been that during the long sequences of recorded history and for untold millennia before that, successive waves of conquering armies have first subdued the people of the high plateau and then made them their homes among them.
When the attributes of the civilizations that have flourished in Iran are enumerated, it becomes clear that out of respect or simple necessity there has been a continuity that outweighs all the ferocity of conquest. This is most clearly visible in architecture, where devices from previous dynasties were elaborated and brought to new heights by their successors. Other skills, such as in the construction of gardens and orchards, can only have reached a state of such refinement by a similar process, assisted perhaps by the imperative to soften the rigorous environmental conditions that have dominated life in Iran. In Iran today, even the mildly observant visitor cannot help but stumble across cultural habits that must have passed down through centuries, and that are strongly upheld even when the obvious necessity for this to be so has seemingly passed. A good example is the special status enjoyed by the traveler, who, even though enjoying the facilities of oil powered travel, is still accorded such privileges as being able to eat publicly during periods of religious fasting.
A Quick look,
Location: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea, between Iraq and Pakistan
Total: 1.648 million sq km
land: 1.636 million sq km
water: 12,000 sq km
total: 5,440 km
border countries: Afghanistan 936 km, Armenia 35 km, Azerbaijan-proper 432 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 179 km, Iraq 1,458 km, Pakistan 909 km, Turkey 499 km, Turkmenistan 992 km
2,440 km; note - Iran also borders the Caspian Sea (740 km)
Mostly arid or semiarid, subtropical along Caspian coast
Lowest point: Caspian Sea -28 m
highest point: Kuh-e Damavand 5,671 m
Arable land: 8.72%
permanent crops: 1.39%
other: 89.89% (2001)
68,017,860 (July 2005 est.)
0-14 years: 27.1% (male 9,465,475/female 8,973,828)
15-64 years: 68% (male 23,556,970/female 22,701,065)
65 years and over: 4.9% (male 1,637,512/female 1,683,010) (2005 est.)
Population growth rate:
0.86% (2005 est.)
Persian 51%, Azeri 24%, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1%
Shi'a Muslim 89%, Sunni Muslim 9%, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, 2%
Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%, Luri 2%, Balochi 1%, Arabic 1%, Turkish 1%, other 2%
Legislative power is vested in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), with 275 members. The chief executive is the President, and both are elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term.
A twelve-member Council of Guardians ensures that legislation is in accordance with the constitution and Islamic precepts.
Conventional long form: Islamic Republic of Iran
conventional short form: Iran
local long form: Jomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran
local short form: Iran
Capital: Tehran. Population : 8,042,584(1994)
30 provinces (ostanha, singular - ostan); Ardabil, Azarbayjan-e Gharbi, Azarbayjan-e Sharqi, Bushehr, Chahar Mahall va Bakhtiari, Esfahan, Fars, Gilan, Golestan, Hamadan, Hormozgan, Ilam, Kerman, Kermanshah, Khorasan-e Janubi, Khorasan-e Razavi, Khorasan-e Shemali, Khuzestan, Kohgiluyeh va Buyer Ahmad, Kordestan, Lorestan, Markazi, Mazandaran, Qazvin, Qom, Semnan, Sistan va Baluchestan, Tehran, Yazd, Zanjan
Republic Day, 1 April (1979)
note: additional holidays celebrated widely in Iran include Revolution Day, 11 February (1979); Noruz (New Year's Day), 21 March; and various Islamic observances which change in accordance with the lunar-based hejira calendar