30 interesting facts about Iran

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From one of the oldest continuous civilisations to the nose job capital of the world, these are the most interesting facts about Iran.

Masjed-e Jameh in Iran
Interesting facts about Iran include its many historical sites (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Islamic Republic of Iran
Capital city: Tehran
Population: 84,923,314
Area: 1,648,195 sq km
Major languages: Persian Farsi, Azeri and Turkic dialects, Kurdish, Gilaki and Mazandarani, Luri, Balochi, Arabic
Major religions: Islam
Time zone: UTC+3:30 (Iranian Standard Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Iran

1. Iran is a country located in the Middle East and Asia, that was known as Persia for thousands of years until 1935.
– Source: BBC News

2. Archaeological evidence suggests humans have inhabited Iran since the prehistoric period, circa 100,000 BC.
– Source: Britannica

3. The Iranian nation is one of the world’s oldest continuous civilisations, with communities and settlements on the Iranian plateau dating back to 6000 BC.
– Source: Encyclopedia.com

Map of Iran seen through a magnifying glass
Iran is located in the Middle East (Shutterstock)

4. Persia was one of the greatest empires of the ancient world with the First Persian Empire, known as the Achaemenid Empire, initially founded by Cyrus the Great around 550 BC. It united three early human civilisations under one government: Mesopotamia, Egypt’s Nile Valley and India’s Indus Valley.
– Source: History Channel

5. At its height, under Darius the Great, the First Persian Empire stretched from present-day Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine to the Indus River Valley in northwest India and south to Egypt.
– Source: History Channel

6. The ruined city and UNESCO World Heritage Site of Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. 
– Source: UNESCO

The ruined city of Persepolis
The ruined city of Persepolis (Shutterstock)

7. To date, Iran has 24 properties inscribed on the World Heritage List, with a further 56 properties on the Tentative List (properties intended to be submitted for nomination).
– Source: UNESCO

8. At certain stages, Persia was occupied by Alexander the Great of Macedonia circa 330 BC as well as Genghis Khan of Mongolia around 1220 AD. Arab invaders brought Islam to the region in 636 AD.
– Source: History Channel, BBC News

9. Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown in a revolution. Islamic clerical leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to rule Iran after 14 years in exile.
– Source: New York Times

Ruhollah Khomeini with crowds of people in Iran
Ruhollah Khomeini (Public Domain)

10. Later that year in 1979, Iranian revolutionaries seized control of the US embassy in Tehran and took 66 embassy workers hostage. They demanded the extradition of the former Shah, who was receiving medical treatment in the USA, in exchange for the hostages. 14 hostages were released relatively quickly, but 52 of them spent 444 days in captivity. They were finally released after the Shah died in Egypt and the USA agreed to unfreeze his assets.
– Source: CNN

11. The Iran-Iraq War was fought between the two neighbouring countries from 1980 to 1988. During the war, an estimated 1 million Iranians and between 250,000-500,000 Iraqis died.
– Source: The Guardian

12. Iran is home to one of the hottest places on Earth, the Lut Desert. The UNESCO-listed site once registered a record temperature of 70.7°C (159.3°F) in 2005.
– Source: NASA

The Lut Desert in Iran
The Lut Desert in Iran (Shutterstock)

13. One of the most surprising facts about Iran is that, despite its record temperatures, it is possible to go skiing there. The Alborz mountains, in northern Iran, have a number of high-altitude and popular ski resorts with excellent snow ideal for skiing.
– Source: The Telegraph

14. The thumbs-up sign (a common indication of satisfaction) is offensive in Iran. It is the equivalent of the middle finger “up yours” and should never be used.
– Source: Burke et al. (2013) Iran Travel Guide. Lonely Planet: London

15. Iran has been nicknamed the “nose job capital of the world”, with as many as 200,000 people receiving cosmetic surgery for a nose job every year.
– Source: Public Radio International (PRI)

Two Iranian women
Iran is the “nose job capital of the world” (Shutterstock)

16. In 2007, Iranian officials detained 14 squirrels for spying. Allegedly, the squirrels were wearing small recording or radio devices that were used for espionage.
– Source: National Geographic

17. By area, Iran is the second-largest country in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia and the 16th-largest in the world.
– Source: World Bank

18. The game of polo originates in Iran dating from around between 600 BC to 100 AD. The game was initially a training military cavalry unit that played with as many as 100 participants per side. It would later develop into a national sport.
– Source: Museum of Polo

A tile featuring a Persian painting depicting polo players
Persian painting depicting polo players (Shutterstock)

19. Iran is the largest producer of saffron. The country produces over 90% of the 250 tons of spice produced worldwide every year. Costing as much as $65 per gram, saffron can be more expensive than gold, and is the most expensive and sought-after spice in the world. As such, it is commonly referred to as “red gold”.
– Source: CNN

20. The hijab – or headscarf – has been compulsory for Iranian women since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Recently there have been campaigns to relax the law.
– Source: BBC News

21. The critically endangered Asiatic Cheetah can only be found in Iran. It is believed that fewer than 50 are left in the wild.
– Source: The Guardian

22. Esfahan is Iran’s top tourist destination. The city is home to the UNESCO-listed central square of Meidan Emam. It was built by Shah Abbas I the Great in the 17th century and is bordered on all sides by grand and ornate architecture.
– Source: Lonely Planet, UNESCO

A mosque at Meidan Emam
A mosque at Meidan Emam (Shutterstock)

23. Iran is one of the world’s top refugee host countries, hosting over 3.4 million people.
– Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

24. Iran is one of the world’s largest oil producers. It has the world’s fourth-biggest oil reserves and second-largest gas reserves. Its oil reserves account for over 13% of the world’s total.
– Source: BBC News, OPEC

25. Iran’s flag is horizontally striped green-white-red with a coat of arms in the centre and Arabic inscriptions along the edges of the stripes. The colours represent the Islamic faith of the country along with peace and valour.
– Source: Britannica

The flag of Iran

26. The inscription on the flag reads “Allāhu akbar” (“God is great”) and is repeated 22 times, honouring the date of the revolution: 22 Bahrām in the Iranian calendar.
– Source: Britannica

27. Iran is part of an area known as the Fertile Crescent, also known as the “Cradle of Civilization”. The Fertile Crescent covers a roughly crescent-shaped area of fertile land that also incorporates parts of present-day Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Cyprus.
– Source: History Channel

28. Iran has a long history of manufacturing Persian rugs and in 2007 the Iran Carpet Company produced the world’s largest hand-woven carpet. Measuring 5,630m² (60,600.81ft²), the rug was made for a mosque in Dubai, UAE.
– Source: Guinness World Records, BBC Culture

An Iranian selling Persian rugs
Iran is famous for its Persian rugs (Shutterstock)

29. Homosexual acts are punishable by death in Iran. However, it is accepted that a person may be trapped in a body of the wrong sex. Therefore, homosexuals can be pushed into having sex-change operations, which are legal.
– Source: BBC News

30. Iran was home to the first condom factory in the Middle East. The Keyhan Bod plant produces millions of condoms every year and was set up as the Government tried to deal with a rapidly growing birth.
– Source: BBC Newsbeat

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