Iran, also known as Persia and home to 77.45 million people, is the second largest nation in the Middle East. To the east it borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Turkey and Iraq to the west. Islam is the dominant religion, though prior to Iran’s Muslim conquest, most people practiced Zoroastrianism, which is still deeply rooted in the country’s ancient history. Iran is also the only country that has a Caspian Sea and Indian Ocean coastline, and the only one facing sanctions from the United Nations for its nuclear weapons development program. Such sanctions have negatively affected Iran’s economy and hurt its oil exporting, which is its number one prize possession. And even though most Americans associate Iran with nuclear weapons and terrorism, there is a lot more to know about the “Land of the Aryans.” Learn about Iran’s history with the timeline below; then read about the country’s rich culture.
Imagine living in a place famous for beautiful poetry, luxurious rugs, and luscious gardens, even though it is steeped in deep religious and ancient traditions that often restrict its general population. Iran today is the prime example of the ancient meeting the modern, the example of a flipped coin, where one side can represent the good and the other side, the bad, depending on who you ask.
Muslim woman wearing hijab and holding the Koran
In Iran, the head and chest of most females are draped in hijab once they leave their home. It is believed that this is done to protect their virtue or chastity. However, social status often depicts how “covered” a female can appear. For example, all women are required to wear loose fitting clothing, but students and government employees can be seen with maghnae, a “wimple- like head covering,” accompanied with colorful clothing that falls between fashion and state regulations. Additionally, males are faced with less restriction. They often have the leeway to dress as they choose. And in families that are not very religious, single males are allowed to date and are not subjected to arranged marriages.
In Iranian households, great emphasis is placed on the study of poetry and literature rather than on watching television or videos. Through poetry, the people gain an understanding of politics, philosophy, love, nature and social matters. The ability to write in verse was a requirement for almost every scholar, and today many people can recite the lines of “Shahnameh” (“The Book of Kings”), a national epic of Greater Iran.
Persian carpet (Famous traditional Iranian carpets and rugs)
Additionally, Persian rugs are also a major part of Iran’s culture. They are some of the most well woven, beautifully crafted, treasured and expensive rugs found around the world. However, this was not always the case.
Persian rugs started off as a basic need for nomadic people to keep warm from the cold and the damp. The weave was pure and simple. Fathers taught the craftsmanship to their sons, who handed them to their own offspring, making weaving a closely guarded family secret. However, when the rugs started to appear in the homes of kings and noblemen, they began to represent wealth, respect and admiration. And with the “Design Revolution” of the fifteenth century, the carpets became more elaborate with larger medallions serving as the primary pattern, accompanied by floral and animals designs of different shapes and sizes.
The world took notice. Handmade Persian carpets are now the highest source of foreign exchange earning in Iran, after oil.
SHIRAZ, IRAN – MAY 2, 2015: Zinat ol Molk House inner garden it is a private house turned into a museum.
Iran’s gardens, known as the Persian Gardens, has also become a staple part of Iranian culture, so much so that they made the World Heritage List. The word “garden,” hails from Persian roots and its creation symbolizes the Zoroastrian religion’s four elements of sky, earth, water and plants. Sunlight was also a factor during the construction of the gardens, as many structures were chosen for their ability to tackle light, in addition to trees and trellis.
Everything about Iranian culture is tied up in its ancient Persian history. From the cuisine of mostly bread, boiled riced, meat and vegetables, to its geometric architecture, its art and literature, Iran is a country that makes a name for its self that goes far beyond what’s it is commonly known for.
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