From the magic Persian yogurts, to the Rich Kids of Iran, to Iran’s very own soccer stars, after you read these facts about Iran, you’ll never look at the country the same! When most people think of Iran, they immediately conjure up images of mosques and women sporting hijabs, but they’d be shocked to know that there is so much more to the country than they ever imagined. Iran, once known as Persia, has a rich history and culture that makes it stand apart from other nations. However, besides for the historical sites and monuments, Iran has some incredibly interesting facts, customs, and practices that you won’t find anywhere else.
1. The Iranian Palette
When visiting Iran, expect a good strike between Greek, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisine. While Iranian dishes are more varied than Greek food dishes, they are not as spicy as Indian cooking. The Iranians also love to use lots of fresh ingredients.
Iranians love eating fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and grains. They also include a lot of lamb, sheep, and chicken served with rice and unleavened or semi-leavened bread. When it comes to beverages, the favorite drink is black tea.
2. Keeping It Young
Iran has one of the youngest populations in the world with 70 percent of the 80-million-person population being under 30 years old. It’s no surprise then that Iranian youth are the most politically active compared to all the 57 nations of the Islamic world. One advantage of this is that citizens can start voting from the age of 15.
The youth of the nation have also heavily influenced the country’s political agenda since 1997. After the presidential election in 2009, it was the youth who formed the biggest “people power” movement for democratic change, and they continue to forge ahead to this day.
3. Special Definitions
Did you know that “Iran” translated into Persian means “Land of the Aryans”? The Iranian people originally used the term “Aryan” as an ethnic label, but the definition was then used as a cultural, religious, and linguistic reference when describing the people of Iran.
Talking about definitions, Tehran, the capital of Iran, means “Warm Slope.” It makes sense, as the weather in Tehran can be unpredictably harsh, with a record high of 109 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).
4. Secret Star of David
For over 30 years, there was a Star of David on the roof of Tehran International Airport’s main terminal building. The symbol stood there in silence, undiscovered until Google Earth first hit the scene in 2001.
By the time the outline of the symbol was discovered, the ornamental tiling had long been removed but it had left an outline on the bare roof. The Iranian government ordered its complete removal soon after an eagle-eyed viewer spotted it.
5. Magic Carpet Rides
Always wished you could take a magic carpet ride? Well, the carpets in Iran might not be able to fly, but they are pretty close to magic with their intricate designs and craftsmanship. In fact, the Iranians have been weaving rugs for over 2,500 years, making it the country’s second largest export commodity after oil.
The rugs and carpets weaved and designed in Iran are incredible pieces of fabric artistry, each one a masterpiece in their own right. If you happen to purchase a rug from there and notice that it isn’t absolutely pristine, there’s a reason for that. The Iranians believe that only God can be perfect, so they make sure to weave a single mistake on purpose.
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6. The Art of Taarof
When you’re walking in the streets of Iran, you might come across a lot of polite and humble antics ―that’s called Taarof. It’s the social glue of Iranian culture and has its roots in Persian traditions. It literally means “meeting together.”
Taarof revolves around treating guests with the utmost respect. It’s all about one party refusing things offered to him or her out of politeness so as not to come across as greedy even if he or she desires it. If you are invited for a hearty meal to a Persian home, you have to refuse a second helping even if you are hungry for more or if your hosts offers you more. If the offer is made a third time, you can accept.
7. The Persian Cat
Judging by the name, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Persian Cats originate from the high plateaus of Iran. One of the oldest breeds around, these cats evolved to grow long silky fur to combat the freezing temperatures in the Iranian mountains.
Italian traders brought the breed to Europe in the 17th century, where the cats became an exotic status symbol. Today, Persian cats are one of the most popular cat breeds worldwide because of their rare beauty.
8. Holidays in Iran
Iran has a lot of public holidays; 25 to be exact. In fact, the country has the most public holidays in the world that they have been the subject of concern for around 30 years. Every year a significant amount of unofficial holidays are added to the national holidays, which just aggravates the situation.
Most of the holidays celebrated in Iran are of a religious nature to commemorate the birth or death of several Shi’a Imams. While Iran uses three official calendar systems (Solar Hijri calendar, Gregorian calendar, and Islamic lunar calendar), the holidays follow the lunar calendar. This can complicate the locals’ lives because the holidays don’t match the solar calendar, so a Muslim cleric has to calculate the dates for the community.
9. Persian Milk
Called “Persian Milk” in Iran, yogurt is one of the most precious commodities in the country because of all its special properties. The locals use it for basically everything, which means they don’t only consume the produce as food.
Yogurt is believed to be some sort of magic medicine that can clear coughs, ward off sleepiness, treat ulcers, relieve sunburn, and even prolong life. The miracle food is even used as a face mask in Iran’s beauty industry.
10. The World’s Largest Carpet
Every imagined what a carpet as big as a soccer field looks like? Well, no need to imagine, as the largest hand-woven carpet in the world was produced in none other than Iran. The massive woven mat was manufactured in 2007 by the Iran Carpet Company for the Abu Dhabi mosque in the United Arab Emirates.
The carpet was constructed in nine different parts and then assembled together in the mosque, measuring 60,600.81 ft² (5,630 m²). It was even bigger before but some parts had to be taken away to fit onto the floor of the mosque perfectly.
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11. Name Swaps
Persia used to be the common name for Iran until Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran from 1925 until 1941, told the people of the country to start referring to it as Iran on the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) of 1935.
The official name of Iran became the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, when the monarchy was overthrown by religious clerics who assumed political power during the Iranian Revolution under the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
12. The Rich Kids of Tehran
If you thought fancy cars, bling, and bikini-clad girls were exclusive to Beverly Hills, then you are sorely mistaken and the “Rich Kids of Tehran” are here to prove that. A top Instagram sensation, these kids get up to pretty much the same things other teenagers do despite the local laws strictly forbidding them to.
They throw huge parties in their rich and influential parents’ houses flowing with lots of alcohol (which is illegal) and fun. They even showcase their extravagant lives on Instagram despite the social media application being on the national banned sites list. All they need is a secret VPN and they’re good to go.
13. Halal Internet
Since 2012, Iran has used its very own state-controlled national Internet, or rather a private Intranet network, for everyone to use. It doesn’t support social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, so locals who wish to use those sites and applications need to use a private VPN.
When the first phase of the national Internet was completed, an inauguration ceremony was held by Iran’s communications and information technology minister at the time, Mahmoud Vaezi. The government launched this private network with the hopes of providing high speed and high quality connections at a lower cost.
14. Soccer Stars
Iranians have a knack for playing soccer really well, so much so, that the national men’s team has qualified for three World Cup tournaments and won three Asian Cup titles. The sport is loved by both men and women, with the latter playing the game wearing hijabs.
When FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) banned the hijab in 2007, this prevented an Iranian women’s soccer team from playing in the 2012 Olympic qualifier game. Iran also first participated in the Olympics in 1948 and has sent athletes to the Summer games ever since except for 1980 and 1994. The country has occasionally participated in the Winter Olympics since 1956.
15. A Rich Culture
Persian culture is renowned for its beautiful poetry, lush gardens, and magnificent rugs and tapestry. In fact, the word “paradise” in English actually derives from the word Persia, which means “enclosed garden”. However, it is poetry that holds a special place in Iranian culture with most Iranians able to recite lines from famous Persian poems, the most famous being the Shahnameh or The Epic of Kings.
Iranian poets have penned some of the most beautiful poems in the history of mankind with great poets such as Firdawsī, Hāfez, Sa’adī, and many others. Modern poets, essayists, and novelists are also equally revered and celebrated in Iran. Persian classical music is also some of the most inspiring and elaborate.
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16. UNESCO Sites
Iran is home to 23 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, the Persian Civilization, Iran boasts a lot of impressive sites such as Persepolis (Takht-e-Jamshid), the capital of the Achaemenid Empire.
According to travel site The Culture Trip, the palaces, places of worship, bazaars, and ancient water systems dominate the list of all the registered sites in the country. The top 10 include, Meidan Emam, Golestan Palace, Bam, Pasargadae, Sheikh Safi al-din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil, Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex, Soltaniyeh, Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System, the Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran, and Persepolis.
17. Right-Handed Custom
If you ever visit an Iranian family, don’t be surprised to see them feasting while sitting on cushions on the floor. That’s a common practice enjoyed by many families in Iran, especially when they eat dinner as a big family.
You might also notice that they don’t eat with utensils and instead eat with their right hands. You also have to wait to be told where to sit and have to try a bit of everything that is served, so definitely come on an empty stomach.
18. Swimming in Oil
With the Middle East practically swimming in oil, it makes sense that Iran alone has 10 percent, or 125 billion barrels, of the world’s oil reserves. What’s more, Iran pumps out about four million barrels each day.
All in all, Iran is the fourth largest oil producer in the world, while the Persian Gulf holds at least 60 percent of all the world’s oil reserves. For those of you who don’t know, the Persian Gulf consists of seven Arab states, namely: Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
19. Speaking the Language
While many assume that people speak Arabic in Iran, they’d be surprised to know that Persian is in fact the official national language, which the locals call Farsi. Persian is also spoken in Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
There are seven other recognized regional languages spoken in Iran such as Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Lori, Mazandarani, Gilaki, Balochi, and Arabic. This can get quite confusing seeing that the composition of ethnic groups in the country is just as complex.
20. The Asiatic Cheetah
The Asiatic Cheetah, also dubbed the Iranian Cheetah, is a critically endangered cheetah subspecies only living in Iran today. The beautiful species is guarded in protected areas in the eastern-central region of Iran because of the arid weather conditions there.
As of December 2017, only around 50 of these Cheetahs are believed to be remaining in the world. In order to raise awareness of the subspecies’ dire situation, the Iran national football team wore an illustration of the animal on their jerseys at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
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21. A Cultural Mix
Islam is the most dominant religion in Iran with 98 percent of the population practicing the religion. The divide is between 89 percent of the population who practice as Shia Muslims with the other nine percent identifying as Sunni Muslims.
Other religions such as Christianity, Baha’i, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism make up the remaining two percent of the population. When it comes to ethnic groups, Iran is interspersed with Iranians (61%), Azeri, (16%), Kurds (10%), Lur (6%), Baloch (2%), Arabs (2%), Turkmen and Turkic tribes (2%).
22. Iranian Delicacies
Everyone knows that the region is rich in oil, but Iran is actually known for other rare comodities. We bet you didn’t know that Iran is the world’s largest producer of goodies like saffron, caviar, and pistachios.
Iran controls 50 percent of the Caspian Sea caviar market which is quite the profitable trade, as the eggs of a Beluga (sturgeon) are worth about $160 per ounce (28 grams). Unfortunately, the fish, which can live up to 100-years-old, are rapidly disappearing because of overfishing. Environmentalists believe there should be a full ban on caviar fishing to preserve this ancient species.
23. Short-Term Marriages
If you’re not ready to commit to a life-long marriage in Iran, then the government has the perfect solution for you. There is a practice called Sigheh, which allows a couple to have a short-term marriage.
This marriage is permitted under Sharia Law in certain Shia schools and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few years depending on the contract. Most of the time, this contract is used by male pilgrims who visit holy shrines far away from their families.
24. Free Weddings
Many Iranians have been choosing not to marry because of the high cost of weddings and the economic struggles in the country, so the Iranian government has come up with a solution to combat what it regards as an alarming phenomenon.
The country has set up annual fund of $720 million to reduce and cover the costs for couples who wish to have traditional Iranian weddings. They believe this will encourage more people to wed. In order to get a marriage license, couples also have to attend an hour-long lecture on contraception.
25. The Literacy Rate
During the ’70s, Iran’s literacy rate was alarmingly low at just 37 percent. By 2015, that had completely changed and 93 percent of the adult Iranian population was literate. The rate has continued to grow higher, reaching 97 percent thereafter.
Since 1979, the government has maintained a modern education system with more of a focus on Islam. This means all the students are separated by sex and a lot of the curriculum textbooks reflect Islamic views.
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26. Don’t Wear a Tie
Iranians prefer not to wear ties as they feel it’s too much of a Western symbol, so you won’t catch anyone donning one to a work interview. This preference came about around 1979 with the change of government.
That doesn’t mean the people don’t look good and dapper sporting their tie-less suits as well as Islamic garments. The government believes the Islamic garments remove any class and ethnic distinctions, thereby promoting equality. The same goes for women and girls, including tourists, who have to wear a hijab (head covering) in public starting at the age of nine.
27. The Heavy Metal Scene
Believe it or not, there is a massive underground heavy metal scene in Iran, particularity in the capital Tehran. Yep, that’s right! In the last three decades, there has been a large increase in Iranian rock and blues musicians emerging on the scene.
Most of the locals believe music is about unity and love, and therefore fully embrace the heavy metal genre over the classical and traditional music. Today, a lot of the music in the country also includes pop, jazz, and hip-hop.
28. The Damavand Volcano
Iran is home to a massive volcano called the Damavand just 43 miles (70 km) from Tehran. The last time it erupted was 7,300 years ago, but the volcano is still active as fumaroles were detected at the summit crater.
The Damavand is the highest volcano in Asia and the highest peak in Iran, which is why it serves a special place in Persian folklore and mythology. It symbolizes Iranian resistance against foreign rule and tyranny.
29. The Iranian Crown Jewels
Some of the rarest and most expensive jewelry in the world are held by the Treasury of National Jewels in Tehran. Iran’s Imperial crown jewels consist of 30 tiaras, detailed crowns, beautiful aigrettes, bejeweled shields and swords, gems, and precious dining sets.
The crown jewels are so extremely valuable that the country still uses the jewels to back the Iranian currency, and the last time they were used in public was before the Iranian Revolution, when the Pahlavi dynasty was in power.
Parkour, also known as PK, is a military obstacle course training discipline based on acrobatic movement that originated in France and became super popular in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Soon after, Iran jumped on the bandwagon boasting many people who love the fast-moving sport.
Young men and women in Iran perform the daring obstacle courses doing flips and leaps at special parks and clubs dedicated to Parkour. The best part about Parkour is that no equipment is needed and participants can wear regular, casual clothing.
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