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Iran is a country found in the Middle East. Currently it is not a recommended travel destination.

Known as Persia, until 1935, the Islamic Republic of Iran (known to the world simply as Iran) has always been a country of contrast, conflict and deep spiritual conviction. One of the oldest civilizations in world history, Iran has much of interest to offer the international traveler, but for many years has had a dangerous reputation for the ongoing war with Iraq.


Known as Persia, until 1935, the Islamic Republic of Iran (known to the world simply as Iran) has always been a country of contrast, conflict and deep spiritual conviction. One of the oldest civilizations in world history, Iran has much of interest to offer the international traveler, but for many years has had a dangerous reputation for the ongoing war with Iraq.


Early evidence of civilization in Iran dates back several thousand years BCE. Human evidence (various tools and artifacts) has been found dating back to the Lower Paleolithic period (as recent as 120,000 years ago). The Zagros Mountain region has preserved evidence dating to the Middle Paleolithic era as well.

Agricultural evidence suggests a highly developed tradition making early Iran part of what has come to be known as the Fertile Crescent (also known as the Cradle of Civilization), where the roots of agriculture were developed.

Around the 2nd millennium BCE, a division formed creating the distinct cultures of the Indo-Iranians and the Proto-Iranians, out of which modern Iranians have descended. Several distinct cultures )including the Zayandeh Rud, Ganj and the Elam) evolved, some of which lasted into the sixth or fifth century BCE. By the 1st Millennium, the world saw the rise of the Medes and Persian cultures, the latter of which would soon conquer most of the eastern cultures.

During the early centuries, however, Persia and Medes (as well as other cultures) were subordinate to Assyria. It is believed that when the Assyrian capital of Nineveh fell around 612, the Medes founded the nation of Iran.

Out of this nation came the Cyrus Cylinder (discovered in 1879), which contained a passage that is widely considered the first declaration of human rights ever written (dating to 539 BCE.) in a sort of early time capsule. Slavery was banned throughout the Persian empire.

The powerful but young Persian empire continued to expand, conquering much of the known world and instigating sweeping reforms. Roads were modernized and the world’s first coins were minted under Darius I the Great.

Under the rule of these two great kings (Cyrus and Darius), Persia became the most powerful empire mankind had ever known, becoming the world’s first true superpower. Under Darius, Persia began the first of several attempts to take Greece, which continued under the rule of his son Xerxes I. The great army of Persia met remarkable resistance in the Greek warriors, notably by the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae (popularized in the recent historically slanted yet blockbuster film 300), and defeat at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BCE.

Persia would finally be defeated in 333 BCE under Alexander the Great, Greek King of Macedon. A little more than a century later, Iran would be ruled by the Parthian empire, which would last into the early second century AD. Parthia continued to expand its influence, conquering much of the modern Middle East. Parthian crafts have recently been found as far as Arabia.

In 114 BCE, the Han Dynasty of China developed strong trade relations with Persia, leading to the formation of the now legendary Silk Road, connecting East Asia as far as the China coast and Java (in South East Asia) with India, Persia, Arabia, Egypt and parts of Europe. The foundations of international trade having already been laid, the Silk Road led to a great migration of ideas and techniques, heavily influencing the life and culture of all nations involved, and would last until the early 1400s.

Parthian rule came to an end in 224, marking the beginning of the Sassanid Empire. Considered the Second Persian Empire, the era was characterized by extensive cultural development, raising the Sassanid Empire to the level of equals in the eyes of the then dominant Roman Empire.

The Sassanid Empire gave rise to Zoroastrianism, the state religion, characterized in the philosophy "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds”. Zoroastrianism recognizes one creator god as well as human free will, and so encouraged an active pursuit of good deeds.

In spite of these good heart philosophies, the Sassanid Empire was drawn into war with the Roman empire, continuing a conflict that began with the Parthian empire around 92 BCE. The war raged on for seven centuries, finally coming to an end in the early 600s, when Sassanid king Kavadh II sued for peace. Following the death of Kavadh II, Persia entered a period of dynastic conflict, which unfortunately opened the door for the growing forces of Islam (modern day Iraq).

In what has come to be known as the Islamic Conquest of Persia, the Sassanid Empire finally met defeat. Following two decades of war, King Yazdgerd III was murdered (for the reward offered for Yazdgerd‘s life) in the city of Merv (near the modern city of Mary, Turkmenistan), now a World Heritage Site. The king’s death brought to an end the long standing Sassanid Empire.

By the turn of the 8th century, most of Iran had adopted the Islamic traditions, letting go of Zoroastrianism. Fortunately for historians, much of Iran’s native culture blended with the incoming Islamic culture, such as the minting of coins. The new Umayyad dynasty Arabic became the official language.

By the mid 700s, Islam was drawn into civil war. The Umayyad dynasty came to an end with the Battle of the Zab in 750, replaced by the Abbasid dynasty led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. The following century saw further blending of Arab and Iranian culture and the restructuring of governmental policies characterized by constantly changing political rulers. After several short lived dynasties, the Samanids established a rule that would last into the turn of the first millennium AD. Under the rule of Saman Khuda, an Iranian of noble ancestry, the traditions of the Islamic faith spread while at the same time the Persian culture was restored.

The Nizamiyya, a medieval institutions of higher education, were founded in the 11th century by Abu Ali al-Hasan al-Tusi Nizam al-Mulk. Nizam ul-Mulk was murdered on a journey to Baghdad around the turn of the 12th century, but the institutions he founded produced some of the brightest minds of the day.

The unstable political nature of Iran once again led to several new dynasties, with increasing influence by Turkish factions which came to dominate the middle east into the 14th century.

By the early 13th century, Islam had been largely taken over by Ala ad-Din Muhammad II, a Turk who claimed the title of Shah of Iran (the traditional title of Iranian monarchs). When Shah Muhammad’s army was decimated by a snow storm in the Zagros Mountains, however, his power was severely weakened. In 1218, Mongol warlord Genghis Khan sent several emissaries to meet with the Shah, but they were executed for their efforts.

The Great Khan raised an army of 200,000 and marched against Shah. By 1221, Muhammad had been defeated, and died and died of disease on an island in the Caspian Sea.

The invading Mongol forces destroyed many important sites, and began replacing Islamic mosques with Buddhist temples. By the mid 13th century, however, the Mongol forces came to adopt Islamic traditions and Iranian culture. Iran would be ruled by Mongol interests for the next century. After the death of Abu Said (a direct descendant of the Great Khan) in 1335, Iran fell into a period of civil war.

Peace was established under the rule of Timur, who founded a government that would rule over a unified Iran into the mid 1400s.

Persia prospered during the ensuing peace, enjoying growth in philosophy, medicine and the arts. The blossoming Muslim civilization laid foundations that would influence the world of technology and science as well. The subsequent century is considered the birth of modern Iran.

In 1502, 15 year old Ismail I became the Shah of Iran, founding the Safavid dynasty, lasting until 1736. Under Safavid rule, the unified Iran conquered Afganistan and Iraq, and established tourism and commercial trade with England and the Netherlands. By the end of the Safavid dynasty, much of Iran’s current boundary was established. The last decades of the Safavid Dynasty were beset with conflict and war. Turkish warrior Nâder Shâh Afshâr rose to the challenge, bringing peace to the nation and the end of the Safavid Dynasty. Nader became Shah in 1736. Nader Shah, known for his military genius, has often been compared to Napoleon I and Alexander the Great.

Unfortunately, the later years of his reign were characterized by greed and illness. Many times his subjects rose against heavy taxation to finance military campaigns they felt unnecessary, but were soundly defeated (it is said that Nader Shah built pillars out of the remains of these victims. In 1747, the Shah was murdered while asleep by Salah Bey, his captain of the guards, possibly under the order of Nader’s nephew, who ascended the throne following Nader’s death.

The following decade was wrought with struggles for the throne. Persia lost the territory that would become Afghanistan, and Karim Khan assumed control of the nation in 1760, founding the Zand Dynasty. The ancient city of Shiraz (dating back to around 2,000 BCE) became the capital, and trade with Europe was strengthened. Iran prospered.

Following Khan’s death in 1779, Iran once again fell into civil war. The Zand Dynasty came to an end with the death of his grand-nephew.

Peace was restored under the Turkic Qajar Dynasty, which would rule Iran until 1925. Led by Mohammad Khan Qajar, who became Shah in 1796, the Qajar dynasty brought Iran into the modern age. In the early years of the 19th century, Iran began invading Russia. The Russo-Persian war would last until 1813, but resulted largely in defeat of Iranian forces. Under the Treaty of Gulistan, signed in 1813, Russia took control of Georgia and much of the Caucasus region. A second war between 1820 and 1828 ended with even greater losses to the Russian forces.

The fall of the Qajar Dynasty began with the occupation of Iran during the First World War. The Qajar would cling to power until 1925, when Ahmad Shah was deposed.

In its wake, Reza Shah Pahlavi established the Pahlavi Dynasty, ruling for nearly two decades. Persia began to adopt Western influence through British interests. With the onset of the Second World War, however, Iran sided with Germany, leading to occupation by British, Indian and Russian forces. Reza Shah abdicated in 1941, succeeded by his son Mohammad. Post war Iran suffered political instability.

The early 1950s saw increased interest in securing oil interests that were at the time under British control. Iran enlisted the aid of the United States in defending its nationalization of the oil industry, furthering the political upheaval.

An “international consortium” was founded granting British, American, French and Dutch companies control over the industry for the next 25 years. By the early 1960s, Iran began instigation sweeping social and economic reforms now known as the Shah’s White Revolution. The era is known for increasing violence, and international relations suffered.

The Arab Oil embargo of 1973 further worsened the international rift, when Iran chose to raise oil prices rather than to take part in the embargo.

The 1970s proved to be turbulent times. Extravagant spending, rising inflation, economic imbalance and rapid westernization of the country led directly to the Islamic Revolution.

The revolution moved the nation from a Shah led monarchy to an Ayatollah led republic. The revolution brought an end to the Pahlavi dynasty, replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader until his death in 1989.

The new nation prospered as it returned to its roots. Further Westernization was banned. International relations were once again strained, however, with the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which lasted from November 1979 through January, 1981. Several Iranian students stormed the American embassy, taking 52 hostages in an attempt to undermine American influence. After at least one failed rescue attempt (Operation Eagle Claw), the hostages were finally released into US custody. The event garnered much support of Iranian nationals and strengthened the Ayatollah’s rule.

The situation afforded Iraq the opportunity to invade, but after several early victories, the invading army was forced back into their homeland. The war with Iraq would dominate the Iranian landscape through the 1980s, until a truce was signed in 1988, with the aid of the United Nations.

Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, succeeded by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Though peace ensued, Iran was once again embroiled in war in 1990. While the country did not actively participate in the Gulf War, Iran publicly denounced the actions of the United States.

The 1990s were a time of social unrest, predominantly because of economic inequity. The social challenges continue into the new millennium, as the government attempts to quash dissident uprisings.

There are plenty of things to do in Ancient Iran.

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Capital: Tehran

Climate: The climate of Iran varies dramatically, ranging from arid to subtropical along the northern coast of the Caspian Sea. The northern coastal region is fairly humid, and temperatures can drop close to the freezing mark in the evenings. Western locations endure colder temperatures, especially in the region of the Zagros Mountains. Winters in the Zagros Basin can be extremely cold, with below zero temperatures. The eastern regions are more arid, with much less rain, and the occasional drought. The plains along the southern coastal regions of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman enjoy a more mild winter and humid summer.

Languages: The official language is Farsi (Persian). There is “constitutional status” afforded to Azerbaijani and Kurdish (Turkish dialects), with some Arabic spoken near the Iraq border. Although it is not an official language, English is becoming more common.

Power: 230 V, 50 Hz

Currency: Iranian Rial

Time Zone: UTC + 3:30






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