Iran is one of the most exciting countries of the world regarding the man-made heritage. Here developed some of the most ancient civilizations of the world, ancient people living in Iran developed writing and different technologies. Urban infrastructure of many ancient desert cities in Iran in some aspects is unsurpassed even by the modern standards. There have developed distinct, local architectural styles with exquisite, special techniques of ornamentation.
Iran has also very interesting natural heritage but the unique and impressive man-made heritage somewhat puts it in the shade.
Iran is large country with very diverse nature. Here are found numerous interesting monuments of nature and some are unique - such as the red travertine terraces of Badab-e Soort and Ghara Soo Falls.
People in Iran are very keen on weekend nature trips and many of these monuments, especially those which are close to the larger cities, are famous tourist sports. For foreigners though most of these attractions are little known.
- Ghara Soo Falls - Razavi Khorasan. Highly unusual, visually impressive cascade of 8 falls formed in narrow valley between almost vertically standing layers of rock.
- Margoon Falls - Fars. Up to 60 m tall, beautiful waterfall formed by a powerful spring in 117 m deep Margoon valley. Spring water has formed tufa formations, and water flows over this tufa in numerous smaller streams.
- Sangan Falls and ice pyramid - Tehran. Free falling, approximately 60 m tall waterfall in a beautiful mountain setting. In winter there forms up to 40 m tall ice pyramid - stalagmite below the waterfall.
Other natural landmarks
- Ali-Sadr Cave - Hamadan. Impressive cave with river and large lakes inside, can be travelled with pedal boats. Length of researched part is 11 km, cave contains beautiful cave formations. Contains also approximately 12,000 years old cave paintings and other archaeological artefacts.
- Badab-e Soort travertine terraces (Badab-e Surt) - Mazandaran. Unique monument of nature - red-colored travertine terraces with numerous small lakes, created by thermal springs.
- Gandom Beryan in Lut desert (Gandom-e Beryan) - Kerman. Lifeless desert with dark lava surface. According to the satellite data surface of this desert heats up to 70.7°C - what makes this the hottest location on Earth. Temperature of atmosphere here often is above 50°C and at summer night it still is above 40°C. This location is also considered to be the driest place on Earth - a competitor to Cordillera de Domeyko in Atacama Desert, Chile and several more contenders.
- Natural arch south from Behbahan - Khuzestan. Impressive, large natural arch.
- Nishapur mines of turquoise (Neyshabur) - Razavi Khorasan. Ancient, more than 2000 years old mines of turquoise, considered to provide the best quality turquoise in the world. Mine is closed now.
- Rig-e Yalan Dune - Kerman. 470 m high sand dune - one of the highest in the world.
- Sarv-e-Abarqu - Yazd, Iran. Oldest known individual tree in Asia, second oldest species of tree in world - more than 4,000 years old cypress (most likely Cupressus sempervirens L.). Age not proved. Beautiful, proportional tree, with a height of 25 m, circumference of trunk is 11.5 m.
- Shamkhal Canyon (Shamxal) - Razavi Khorasan. Beautiful, very impressive 18 km long canyon with vertical, tall walls up to 200 m tall. Waterfalls.
- 3N Cave (Ghar-e 3N) - Hormozgan, Qushm Island. Longest known salt cave in the world, 6,580 m long. Czech and Iranian speleologists in 2006 managed to investigate passages of Namakdan salt diapir. They united the Big Ponor Cave and Cave of Tří Naháčů. Cave contains amazing salt formations.
Man made landmarks
Urban planning monuments
- Abyaneh - Isfahan. Traditional village built of reddish adobe. Besides the stunning visual impression Abyaneh has interesting traditions including local traditional garments. Villagers for a long time resisted to the conversion from Zoroastrianism to Islam. Nearby remnants of two ancient forts.
- Bam citadel (Arg-é Bam) - Kerman. Unique monument of urban planning, developed over the last 2000 years, mainly in the 14th - 16th centuries. The fortified citadel was built of mudbrick and was largely destroyed during the earthquake in 2003. Currently there is on-going reconstruction.
- Historical centre of Isfahan - Isfahan. Some of the most outstanding architecture monuments of Iran are located in Isfahan, especially around Naqsh-e Jahan Square - one of the most impressive historical city squares in the world. City has several mosques of exceptional beauty as well as a group of interesting bridges.
- Historical centre of Kerman - Kerman. Kerman city developed on the crossroads of trade routes. City contains unique monuments of architecture such as the beautiful old markets - Bazaar Kohneh, Kerman Bazaar and others. At the crossing of these markets - streets there is developed a complex of beautiful historical buildings - Ganjali Khan.
- Historical centre of Shiraz - Fars. This city has been very important in the past and is housing numerous monuments of world importance. Chahar Bagh (Charbagh) is one of the first known boulevards in the world: enormous, 6 km long rectangular park - street developed in the time of Abbas I in the early 17th century. It served as a model of modern boulevards in the world, notably Champs-Élysées boulevard in Paris and Gardens of Paradise at the Taj Mahal. Karim Khan's royal complex (Zandyeh Ensemble) is a complex of beautiful structures in the historical centre of Shiraz, built mainly during the time of first Zand ruler - Karim Khan in the middle of the 18th century. It includes Vahil Mosque, Vakil Bath, Arg of Karim Khan (fortress) and other buildings.
- Historical centre of Yazd - Yazd. Enormous, authentic historical city built entirely of adobe. It is characterised by multiple beautiful houses and amazing ancient desert city infrastructure. Infrastructure includes one of the most sophisticated system of qanats - underground water supply system - in the world, as well as system of wind catchers for ventilation of city and numerous underground structures. Ancient centre of Zoroastrianism with a Fire Temple having eternal fire since 470 AD.
- Historical Kashan - Isfahan. Traditional Persian city with characteristic urban fabric, numerous beautiful historical buildings.
- Kandovan - East Azerbaijan. Unique village where part of the houses are hewn into pyramid shaped rocks. Oldest houses have been hewn into cliff some 700 years ago and still are inhabited.
- Makhunik - South Khorasan. Unique village with primitive architecture - less than 2 m high, rounded houses built of adobe and covered with stray roofs. Houses are divided in districts of separate clans.
- Masouleh - Gilan. So called "yellow village" built on a steep slope of forested mountain. Consists of yellow coloured houses partly built into the cliff and often connected with underground passages. Roofs of buildings serve as streets and courtyards of other buildings. This Talysh village was founded in the 10th century AD.
- Meybod Old City (Maybod) - Yazd. Former capital of Iran in Mozaffarid period. Preserved ancient buildings, street network and historical city walls with beautiful architecture. Interesting monument is historical cooling tower.
- Meymand (Maymand) - Kerman. Unique, very ancient village hewn in vertical cliff face and still inhabited by a group of elderly people. It is believed that it may be inhabited even for 12,000 years long - since the Mesolithic period. In total here are hewn some 350 houses, village has also numerous stone engravings up to 10,000 years old.
- Palangan village - Kurdistan. Visually impressive village located on both sides of steep valley. Houses are made of stone and rise like a giant staircase on both sides of valley.
Ancient abandoned settlements
- Behestan Rock Castle - Zanjan. Unusual, very impressive group of hoodoos (rock stacks). Approximately in the 6th century AD in the base of these rock formations have been cut structures - residential rooms with stairs leading to them.
- Darabgerd Old City (Kalaih i Dal-a) - Fars. Unusual archaeological monument - perfectly round earthworks with diameter 1.75 km surrounding an isolated rock. There are no artefacts found which would help to explain what structure it is and when it has been developed.
- Ghagha-Shahr on Mount Khajeh - Sistan and Baluchistan. Basaltic lava outcrop in Lake Hamun, the only natural height in Sistan. Here is located ancient citadel Ghagha-Shahr with one of the oldest known Zoroastrian fire temples from the 3rd - 4th century BC. Ancient murals.
- Goor Ancient City (Ancient Firouzabad, Firuzabad) - Fars. Unusual, abandoned city which was built in a site of ancient city destroyed by Alexander the Great. In the early 3rd century here was built new, perfectly round city enclosed by a circular mud wall and ditch. In a smaller circle, 450 m in radius, there were built royal buildings with spyral, 30 m tall Zoroastrian temple in the centre.
- Old Kharanaq - Yazd. Impressive ruins of densely built pre-Islamic citadel. Includes the later built, well preserved Shahzadeh caravanserai.
- Pasargadae - Fars. First capital of Achaemenid Empire, capital of Cyrus the Great and his last resting place. Built sometimes around 546 BC and left unfinished. Important structure is the tomb of Cyrus the Great, as well as the fortress of Toll-e Takht.
- Persepolis - Fars. Ceremonial capital of Achaemenid Empire, developed since 521 BC on an enormous, partly artificially made terrace. Contains ruins of numerous architecturally impressive buildings such as Apadana Palace, Throne Hall and numerous others. Contains also numerous valuable sculptures and reliefs. Destroyed by troops of Alexander the Great in 330 BC.
- Shahr-e Sukhteh (Burnt City) - Sistan and Baluchistan. Remnants of Bronze Age city, one of the largest cities in the world at the dawn of city development era, area 151 ha. Developed sometimes around 3200 BC and burnt down roughly at 2100 BC. Includes large cemetery with more than 25,000 graves. Created by the little known Jiroft culture - possible inventors of writing.
- Susa (Shush) - Khuzestan. One of the oldest true cities in the world founded by Sumerians sometimes around 4200 BC, although the site is inhabited since 7000 BC. Initially its area was 18 ha and there were 6 m thick walls. Once important city, literary centre round 2240 BC and important political centre for several thousands of years, gradually looosing its importance around the 3rd century BC but existing up to this day. Ruins nowadays take 350 ha.
- Tangeh Bolaghi - Fars. Gorge with remnants of 130 ancient villages located along the ancient road between Pasargadae and Persepolis. Inhabited at least since 5000 BC, flourished in the 5th century BC. Endangered by a planned dam on Polvar River which may inundate this area.
- Alamut (Alamout) - Gilan. Mountaintop fortress of great historical importance, located on the top of a cliff rising 220 m above the surroundings. In 1090 - 1256 AD it served as major stronghold of the influential, legendary Nizari Ismaili state (so called Assassins).
- Furg Citadel - South Khorasan. Impressive mountaintop fortress built in the 12th century by Meerza Muhammad Rafiee I.
- Great Wall of Gorgan - Golestan. 195 km long brick wall near Caspian Sea. Built in the 5th - 6th century AD by Persians.
- Meybod fortress (Narenj, Narin Castle) - Yazd. Impressive, enormous castle, built before Islamic times by Parthians on the top of Galeen Hill.
- Ali Qapu palace - Isfahan. 58 m high palace with 7 floors and unique interior architecture of music room. Built in the early 17th century. Located next to the Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
- Golestan Palace - Tehran. Old centre of Tehran is developed since the 16th century, but in the late 18th century, as Tehran became capital, here was built beautiful palace. Rebuilt in its current form in 1865.
- Sarvestan Palace - Fars. Remnants of ancient, impressive Sassanid building of unknown function. Built in the first half of the 5th century AD and may have served as Zoroastrian fire temple or any other purpose. Contains ornamentation.
Mosques and mausoleums of Islamic scientists
- Blue Mosque of Tabriz (Kaboud Mosque) - East Azerbaijan. Mosque of unique beauty built in 1465, heavily damaged in earthquake in 1779. Reconstruction on-going. Interior and exterior is covered with turquoise colored mosaic tiles of unusual sophistication and beauty.
- Dome of Soltaniyeh - Zanjan. Mausoleum of Il-khan Öljaitü - a 49 m high structure built in 1312 AD using innovative structural design - double-shell dome covered with turquoise-blue faience. It is the largest brick dome in the world close to the maximum theoretically possible and third largest dome in the world.
- Fatima al-Masumeh Shrine - Qom, Iran. Important mosque, most of it built in the early 17th century. Enormous gold covered dome, very ornate interior.
- Imam Reza shrine - Meshed, Iran. Important religious and theological complex, includes tomb of Imām Ridhā - eighth Imām, the beautiful Goharshad Mosque, theological education institutions and library. Visited by 15 - 20 million pilgrims a year. Developing since 818 AD.
- Jamé Mosque - Isfahan. One of oldest mosques in Iran, started in 771 and evolved into harmonious, beautiful complex of buildings.
- Jameh Mosque of Yazd - Yazd. Beautiful mosque built in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 14th century AD. Building has the tallest portal of all mosques in Iran and is lavishly adorned with faience mosaic.
- Jamkaran Mosque - Qom, Iran. Important pilgrimage site since recent times - locals believe that twelwth Imām - a messiah who will lead the world to an era of universal peace - has appeared here and offered prayers in the end of the 20th century. Sacred place since 984.
- Malek Zozan Mosque (Zuzan Madrasa) - Khorasan Razavi. Remnants from an ancient mosque from the 13th century AD. Contains valuable writings in Khufi script, frescoes, tiles.
- Shah Cheragh mosque and mausoleum - Fars, Shiraz. Outstanding structure, built in the 12th century and rebuilt numerous times. It has unusual, pompous, ornate interior.
- Shah Mosque - Isfahan. One of the masterpieces of Persian architecture, construction started in 1611. Located next to the Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
- Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque - Isfahan. Beautiful structure, built in 1602 - 1619. Located next to the Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
- Tarikhaneh Mosque - Damghan, Semnan. Oldest mosque in Iran from the 8th century AD, left in its original shape. One of the few mosques built in primitive, ancient form (like Medina Mosque). Possibly built over a Zoroastrian fire temple.
- Tekyeh Amir Chakhmagh of Yazd - Yazd. Large building of highly unusual, ornate architecture, serves as a place where Shias gather to mourn the killing of Husayn bin Ali.
- The Mausoleum of Sheikh Safi (Sheikh Safi al-Din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble) - Ardabil. Mausoleum devoted to Safavid Sheikh Safi built in 1334 - the 18th century. Mausoleum includes numerous buildings serving as public institutions including hospital, library, school, offices, bakery etc. This complex of richly ornamented beautiful buildings is one of the highlights of Sufi architecture.
- Chak Chak (Pir-e-Sabz, Chak-Chakoo) - Yazd. The most important Zoroastrian mountain fire temple with thousands of piligrims coming here every year in June. Temple is hewn into cliff, behind massive bronze doors, with eternal flame inside.
- Takht-e Soleymān - West Azerbaijan. Ancient fortified site on a rim of volcanic crater inhabited since the 5th century BC. Includes one of the most important and mysterious Zoroastrian fire temples which housed one of the Great Fires - Adur Gushnasp.
- Towers of Silence at Yazd (Dakhmeh of Yazd) - Yazd. A pair of ancient mountaintop structures - Zoroastrian towers of dead. Here the deceased ones were left until only bones remained. Their use was abandoned around the 19th century AD.
- Chogha Zanbil - Khuzestan. The best preserved remnant of ziggurat in the world, built sometimes around 1250 BC. Devoted mainly to god Inshushinak. Remnant of ziggurat is 25 m high, one side is 105 m long.
- Kool Farah and Eshkaft Salman - Khuzestan. Several 1300 - 700 years old ancient temples - sites of rock cut sculptures located at ancient footpaths in the mountains around Izeh town. Sites contain Ilimite inscriptions in cuneiform script.
- Saint Thaddeus Monastery (Kara Kilise) - West Azerbaijan. Visually impressive ancient Armenian monastery. Massive church rebuilt in 1329 AD after earthquake, church enclosed with fortification wall.
- Tepe Sialk - Isfahan. Two large ancient structures (Tepe Sialk A and Tepe Sialk B) somewhat similar to ziggurats and built around 2900 BC. Found traces of settlements from 5500 - 6000 BC.
Rock-cut tombs and reliefs
- Behistun Inscription - Kermanshah. Long, historically important inscription made in a cliff face in the 5th century BC and describing the ancestry, life and deeds of Darius the Great. Cuneiform script inscription is made in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian. Complex includes a sculptural group depicting Darius and other people.
- Naqsh-e Rajab - Fars. Site containing four giant sculptural groups hewn in vertical cliff face and inscriptions from the 3rd century AD. Inscriptions tell about the deeds of four early Sassanid rulers.
- Naqsh-e Rustam (Nasqsh-e Rostam) – Fars. Group of large rock-cut tombs made for Achaemenid kings since the 6th century BC at least. Contain important artwork including enormous reliefs of high artistic quality. In the front of it is Ka'ba-ye Zartosht (Cube of Zoroaster) - a cube formed structure built in the 5th century BC. This 12.5 m high most likely is a royal tomb, it contains valuable inscriptions.
- Taq-e-Bostan – Kermanshah. Series of beautiful rock-cut reliefs from the 3rd – 7th century AD located next to ancient caravan route.
Ancient and old infrastructure
- Band-e Kaisar - Khuzestan. Remnants of an ancient bridge - dam, built by Romans in the 3rd century AD. Bridge is some 500 m long. It has left profound influence on traditions of Persian structural design.
- Dovlat-Abad windcatcher (Dolat-Abad) - Yazd. Beautiful tower built for wind catching in order to cool the houses in desert.
- Khaju Bridge - Isfahan. 105 m long bridge with 23 arches, built around 1650, has two levels.
- Si-o-se Pol - Isfahan. Beautiful bridge with 33 arches, built in 1602.
- Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System - Khuzestan. Masterpiece of ancient art of hydraulics. Extremely complex system of water supply and river diversion, resulting in unique sight - numerous streams falling into river from the openings of subterranean drainage system. Development started in the 5th century BC.
- Windmills of Nishtafun - Khorasan Razavi. Contemporary example of the oldest windmill technology in the world thought to be developed around the 7th century AD. These unusual constructions of adobe and wood are rather common in this area.
Other monuments of architecture
- Bagh-e Fin - Isfahan, Kashan. One of the most outstanding traditional Persian gardens, developed since the 16th century AD.
- Bazaar of Isfahan - Isfahan. One of largest historical markets in the Middle East, developed since the 17th century. Located next to the Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
- Borujerdis House - Isfahan, Kashan. Beautiful, unusual and extremely ornate house built in 1857 for the wife of rich merchant. Contains also three 40 m tall wind towers cooling the house. There are other beautiful houses from these times in Kashan.
- Gonbad-e Qabus (The Sepulcher Tower) - Golestan. Legendary, 72 m tall tower built entirely of brick in 1006 AD. Unique achievement of structural engineering of this time.
- Qiasieh (Khargard) School - Khorasan Razavi. Ancient school from the 9th century AD. Remnants of beautiful building covered with ornamented faience tiles.
- Robat Sharaf - Khorasan Razavi. Very important caravansarai on the Great Silk Road, built in 1122 AD. Complex of architecturally impressive buildings.
- Shapur Cave - Fars. Cave with a giant, 7 m tall statue of Shapur I in the middle of hall (the 3rd century AD). Statue has been carved out of a single stalagmite. Cave contains also three rock-cut basins and levelled plates for reliefs.
- Tabriz Bazaar - East Azerbaijan. Largest covered bazaar in the world, one of the oldest. Important economical centre since the times of Great Silk Road up to this day. Consists of architecturally impressive buildings.
- Teimareh petrolgyphs - Markazi. One of the large petroglyph sites of the world, with more than 30,000 engravings made 4,500 - 17,000 years ago. Rock engravings show animals, hunting scenes, stars, cup marks. Include proto-Elamitic signs which might be the first proto-writing in the world.
List of described attractions by provinces
Iran is divided into 31 provinces. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:
|Chahar Mahaal and Bakhtiari|
|Persepolis||Ancient cities and towns|
|Gandom Beryan in Lut desert||Meteorological phenomena|
|Khogiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad|
|Ghara Soo Falls||Waterfalls|
|Sistan and Baluchistan|
Map of Iran
There are several contenders for the title "The hottest place on Earth" but Gandom Beryan in Lut Desert, Kerman province is one of the few where this is proven with scientific methods.
Surface of the soil here heats up to 71°C and this is sufficient to fry an egg.
Known as the jewel of Central Asia, Iran's cities are packed with gilded mosques and blue-mosaic shrines built in honour of the country's greatest leaders. Its people are generous and its terrain ranges from the sands of the Persian Gulf to the Alburz Mountains in the north. The expert authors give first-hand descriptions of attractions ranging from the exquisite mosques of Isfahan and the museums and palaces of Tehran to remote, spectacular mountain hikes.
For Cyrus Massoudi, a young British-born Iranian, the country his parents were forced to flee thirty years ago was a place wholly unknown to him. Wanting to make sense of his roots and piece together the divided, divisive, and deeply contradictory puzzle that is contemporary Iran, he embarked on a series of journeys that spanned hundreds of miles and thousands of years through the many ebbs and flows of Iranian history.