To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value. Meet Iran’s most breath taking sites
Tchogha Zanbil, built about 1250 BC, is a marvellous stepped mud-brick ziggurat belonging to the Elamites, an ancient Pre-Iranian civilization. It’s the first site that added to Iran UNESCO heritage list. Tchogha Zanbil is located in the ancient city of Elam near Susa (Shush), in today’s Khuzestan province.
This Ziggurat was founded by the king of Elam, Untash Napirisha. Ziggurat means ‘’mountain peak’’ and it was considered to be the link between heaven and earth. The huge structure originally consisted of five levels, crowned with a temple, and overlooked the rich valley of the river Ab-e Diz and its forest. Dedicated to the Elamite divinities Inshushinak and Napirisha, people used to go to Tcogha Zanbil to worship these gods.
What makes Tchogha Zanbil so distinctive is that to this day it is the best preserved monument of this type and the largest outside of Mesopotamia. It gives us invaluable information about the architectural development of the middle Elamite period (1400-1100 BCE).
Naghsh-e Jahan (formerly known as Meidan-e Shah) means “Image of the World” and is a monument of Persian socio-cultural life during Safavid period. It is located in the centre of Esfahan and is considered to be one of the largest city squares in the world.
Shah Abbas I, the powerful king of Safavid dynasty who reigned from 1587 to 1628, chose Esfahan as his capital and made this beautiful royal square, bordered on all sites by monuments and historical buildings. It is an outstanding example of Persian and Islamic architecture.
This wonderful site is known for the Royal Mosque, the Mosque of Sheikh Lotfollah, the magnificent Portico of Qaysariyeh and Ali Qapu palace. All these monuments are an impressive testimony to the level of social and cultural life in Persia during Safavid era. This is one the most famous Iran UNESCO site that must see in Iran..
Persepolis literally means “the Persian city” and was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The ruins of this outstanding archaeological site can be found at the foot of Kuh-e Rahmat (Mountain of Mercy), 60 km northeast of the city Shiraz in Fars province.
The palatial complex was built on an immense terrace, partly artificial and partly natural, by Darius I in 518 BC, and later by his son Xerxes I and his grandson Artaxerxes I. On the western side of this site, one can find a magnificent double stairway, counting 111 short stone steps leading to the top. On the terrace, a series of architecturally impressive buildings are constructed, all made of grey limestone. The buildings are marked by inscriptions, indicating to which monarch that building belonged. The oldest of these inscriptions represents Darius’s famous prayer: “God protect this country from foe, famine, and falsehood.”
On the eastern side the “Gate of All Nations” can be found. Representatives of different nations should first enter this gate before being guided to the main palace, where Xerxes the Great, king of Persia was being honoured. The Gate of All nations, secured by a pair of Lamassus (massive bulls with the heads of bearded men), reminds us of the glory and power of Achaemenid Empire.
Takht-e Soleyman, “Solomon’s Throne”, is the 4th site that registered in Iran UNESCO list. It is a site including the ruins of the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary as well as a temple of the Sasanian period dedicated to Anahita. It is situated in Takab, in a valley near a volcanic mountain region in the Northwest of Iran (Azerbaijan province).
Takht-e Soleyman was the principal sanctuary and foremost site of Zoroastrianism – the Sasanian state religion – and therefore has a strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water, key elements of this religion. This is also represented in the essential elements of Takht-e Soleyman: an artesian lake and a volcano.
The property consists of several groups of ruins and each of them is devoted to Zoroastrian worship. It also includes Tepe Majid, an archaeological mound culturally related to Zendan-e Soleyman (Solomon’s Prison). Furthermore, it is enriched by the Sasanian town.
Arg-e Bam is the most representative example of a fortified medieval town built in vernacular technique using mud layers (Chineh) is a cultural landscape and a testimony to the development of a trading settlement in the desert, built by mud brick and located in Kerman province. It is so famous because of existence of an enormous fortress. The region around the city has long been known for its date palms, which are among the most productive in Iran, although cotton and various grains are also raised there. Arg-e-Bam (citadel) is considered as the world’s largest mud-brick complex. The walls of the fortress, some12 meters high. The citadel was established during the Sassanian dynasty (224–651 AD). Even till the beginning of the 19th century, it was the strongest fortified place in Iran, having been used most extensively during the Iranian dynastic conflicts of the 18th and 19th centuries. During that same period, the fortress fell into the hands of invading Afghan armies, and much of the population fled.
Pasargadae was the first Achaemenian capital built by Cyrus II the Great in the 6th century BC. It was the capital of the first empire that respected the cultural diversity of its different peoples. Cyrus II established the city in today’s province Fars, near to Shiraz, located in the southwest of Iran.
Possibly, the name of the city may have been derived from the leading Persian tribes, the Pasargadae. However, it is also possible that the original form of the name was Parsagadeh, “Throne of Pars”.
This site consists of the mausoleum of Cyrus II, the fortress of Tall-e Takht, and a royal ensemble of gatehouse, audience hall, residential palace and gardens. Unfortunately, Alexander and his warriors destroyed the entire city, except the Tomb of Cyrus the Great. This impressive monument still stands in all its glory. Furthermore, the “Four Gardens” type of royal ensemble, first found in Pasargadae, became prototypical for Western Asian architecture and design.
The city of Soltaniyeh was the capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty, a branch of the Mongol dynasty, during the 14th century. The mausoleum of Oljaytu, a 50 m tall dome, is located in this city. One can find Soltaniyeh 240 km north west of Tehran, in the province of Zanjan.
The mausoleum of Il-Khan Oljaytu (constructed in 1302-1312), the dome of Soltaniyeh, is a beautiful dome, covered in turquoise-blue faience. The octagonal building is considered to be one of the largest brick domes in the world, after the domes of Florence Cathedral and Hagia Sophia. The dome has a double shell structure (an inside and outside shell) and is surrounded by eight minarets. The dome of Soltaniyeh served as an inspiration for other Iranian-style constructions in the Muslim world, such as the Taj Mahal.
The rich interior decoration of the dome is outstanding: it retains stunning glazed tiles, mosaics, brickwork and frescoes. On the ceiling you can find verses of Quran and names of God, written in beautiful handwriting.
It is located in today Kermanshah province along the ancient trade route linking the Iranian high plateau with Mesopotamia and all the features there remains from the prehistoric times to Median, Achaemenid, Sassanian, and Ilkhanid period. The most significant monument in Bisotun is the cuneiform inscription ordered by Darius I, the Great. This rock relief depicts Darius the Great as the Persian Emperor and successor of Cyrus, the Great in 521 BC. He has a bow in his hand as a sign of power and sovereignty and the man who lies on his back before him is Gaumata, the Median Magus who wanted to sit on the throne of Persian Empire but his assassination results in Darius’s rise to power. Also there are 1200 lines of inscription stating about the battles in which Darius defeated all the pretenders to the Persian throne after Cyrus the Great. Another inscription exists there which is considered as the oldest inscription telling about the battles in which Darius the Great could defeat all the pretenders to the Persian Empire throne. In Bisotun we see an Elamite text as the oldest inscription describes the legends, kings and the rebellions which are obviously similar to the Babylonian version. The last important inscription is that Darius the Great is introducing the works done by him in Old Persian for the first time.
The Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran is an ensemble of three Armenian Churches: the St. Thaddeus Monastery, the St. Stepanos Monastry and the Chapel of Dzordzor. You can find the Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran in the West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan provinces, in the northwest of the country.
The oldest of these three monuments is the Saint Thaddeus, dating back to the 7th century. It is the presumed location of the tomb of St. Thaddeus, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, and a key figure in Armenian religious tradition. This makes it a place of pilgrimage for Christians.
These monasteries illustrate the remarkable universal value of Armenian architecture and decorative traditions. Important cultural interchanges with Byzantine, Orthodox and Persian are also visible in their architecture.
In 2000 years of destruction, both by human and natural disasters, these churches have been rebuilt several times in order to preserve the Armenian culture in this region. The ensemble is in a good state of preservation.
The ancient Shushtar historical hydraulic system, a complex irrigation system, has the well-deserved reputation of being a masterpiece of creative genius. The system is located in the city of Shushtar, an island city on the Karun river during the Sassanian era (Khuzestan province).
The hydraulic system – an example of the rich civil engineering structures – involved the formation of two main diversion canals on the river Kârun, the largest river In Iran. One of the canals, the Gargar canal, is still in use in order to provide the city of Shushtar with water. The system consists of a series of tunnels that supply water to mills.
As a result, it forms a spectacular cliff, from which water cascades into a downstream basin. After that it enters a field south of the city, allowing for planting orchards and farming.
The complex also includes other remarkable sites, such as the Salâsel Castel, the operation centre of the entire hydraulic system, the tower measuring the water level, damns, bridges, basins and mills.
The Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex is one of the oldest bazaars in the Middle east and the largest covered bazaar in the world. It is situated in the city centre of Tabriz, in Northwest Iran.
As Tabriz was a city along the Silk Road, it has always been a place of cultural and commercial exchange. The Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex consists of many linked, covered, brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces. The complex can be divided in sub-bazaars, such as Amir Bazaar (jewelry), Mozzafarieh (carpets) and other enclosed spaces for a variety of functions, such as social gatherings, and educational and religious practices.
During the 13th century AD, the city of Tabriz and its bazaar flourished and gained fame when the town served as the capital of Safavid kingdom. Tabriz however lost its role as the capital city in the 16th century but remained an important commercial centre, in Asia as well as in the world, until the end of the 18th century.
The Sheikh Safi al-din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble serves as a place of spiritual retreat in the Sufi tradition, often defined as Islamic mysticism. The complex is located in Ardabil province. Sheikh Safi al-din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble was designed as a microcosmic city, providing bazaars, public baths, squares, religious buildings, houses and offices. As it also hosts the tomb of the founder of the Safavid Dynasty, Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili, the complex was the most prominent Sufi shrine. Accordingly, it evolved into a display of sacred works of art and architecture and a centre of Sufi Religious pilgrimage. Up till now, it has remained sacred in Iran.
Being an artistic an architectural masterpiece, in which aesthetics and spirituality are in a harmonious dialogue, makes this ensemble a unique complex. With its references to the seven stages of Sufi mysticism and the eight attitudes of Sufism, it is an outstanding display of the fundamental principles of this way of life. .
The Persian Garden includes a collection of nine gardens, in nine provinces of Iran. All garden retain principles that have their roots in the times of Cyrus the Great, yet they evolved and adapted to different climate conditions. It therefore illustrates the diversity of Persian garden designs. The Persian Gardens are Pasargad Garden at Pasargadae, Chehel Sotoun Garden in Isfahan, Fin Garden in Kashan, Eram Garden in Shiraz, Shazdeh Garden in Kerman Province, Dolatabad Garden in Yazd, Abbasabad Garden in Mazandaran, Akbarieh Garden in South Khorasan Province and the Pahlevanpour Garden. Pasargad Garden is the first mature example of Persian Garden.
The aesthetic aspect of the garden is highly important. An example of this is the chahar bagh. Chahar bagh translates to “four gardens” and is based on the four gardens of Paradise mentioned in the Quran. With four sectors, in which water plays an important role for both irrigation and ornamentation, each garden is designed according to this principle and reflects the four Zoroastrian elements (sky, earth, water and plants). A beautiful pavilion in the centre can be considered as the climax of the architecture of Persian garden.
Gonbad-e Qabus, a 53 m high tomb built for Qabus Ibn Voshmgir (1006 AD), is the only remaining evidence of Jorjan, the capital of the Ziyarid dynasty. The tower is located in Gorgan, Golestan province. This unique baked-brick-built tower is a complex geometric structure; it tapers up from a ten pointed star, with a diameter of 17 m, to a conical roof. This example of outstanding Islamic architecture illustrates the development of mathematics and science in the Muslim world around 1000 AD. The tower has been constructed near the ruins of the ancient city of Jorjan and is visible from great distances. Jorjan, destroyed during the Mongols’ invasion (14th and 15th centuries), formerly was a centre of arts and science.
Masjed-e Jame, a great and magnificent mosque, is the oldest Friday (congregational) mosque in Iran. The mosque was built in the historical centre of Isfahan.
Its history dates back to the Abbasid Caliphate and illustrates a sequence of architectural constructions and decorative styles. We can observe a stunning example of the evolution of mosque over twelve centuries, covering the Abbasid, Buyid, Seljuq, Ilkhanid, Muzzafarid, Timurid and Safavid eras.
With the introduction of the four iwans (Chahar Ayvan) – placing four gates face to face – as well as two extraordinary double-shelled domes, this mosque became prototypical in Islamic architectural style. The area of this great complex covers more than 20,000 m2.
The extravagant Golestan Palace is a masterpiece of the Qajar era. It illustrates the incorporation of European motifs and styles into Persian crafts and architecture. It is located in the heart and historic core of Tehran.
Having its origins in the Safavid era, the palace complex is one of the oldest in Tehran. However, it received its most distinctive features in the 19th century, when the palace complex was chosen as the royal residence by the Qajar ruling family.
Golestan Palace (Palace of Flowers) belongs to a group of royal buildings that were once enclosed within the mud-thatched walls of Tehran’s Historic Arg (citadel). In its present state, Golestan Palace is the result of roughly 400 years construction and renovations. Each of the buildings in the complex (including palaces, museums and halls) has a unique history. The palace was rebuilt to its current form in 1865 by Haji Abol-hasan Mimar Navai.
Shahr-i Soukhta (Burnt City) is considered to be one of the first cities of Elamite era, recognised as the oldest civilization in Iran. It is located on the bank of the Helmand River, in the south-eastern part of Iran (Sistan and Baluchistan Province).
The city is believed to be founded around 3200 BCE and was populated up to 1800 BCE. In this period several distinct areas within the city were developed, including a monumental area, residential areas, industrial zones and a graveyard. The city was thought to be a centre of culture, economy and policy. The city ended up being abandoned in the early second millennium, due to changes in water courses and climate change. However, the structures, burial grounds and large number of significant artefacts discovered there, all in well preserved-state, make this site a rich source of information about the development of complex societies and contacts between them 3000 BCE.
The property of Susa (or Shush) consists of a group of archaeological monuments, including administrative, residential and palatial structures, which bear exceptional testimony to the Elamite, Persian and Parthian cultural traditions. Susa is located in the south-west of Iran, in the lower Zagros Mountains.
The ancient city of Susa consists of a group of artificial archaeological mounds rising on the eastern side of the Shavur River as well as the remains of Artaxerxes’ palace on the other side of the river. It covers about 350 hectares.
Susa contains several layers of overlapping urban settlements, following each other from the late 5th millennium BCE until the 13th century CE. It shows the development of Susa from an presumably important religious centre, to a commercial, administrative and political hub that enjoyed different cultural influences. 150 years of archaeological investigations have revealed Susa’s long-lasting and prominent role, amongst others as the capital city of the Elamite and Achaemenid Empires. It played a key role in creating and expanding technological knowledge, and artistic, architectural and town planning concepts in the region.
Maymand is a self-sufficient community within one large valley near the city of Shahre-Babak in Kerman province, south east of Iran.
This ancient village is thought to be as one of the primary residences in Iran, which approximately dates back to 12000 years ago.
The villagers are semi-nomadics, who herd their cattle according to a highly specific three phase plan as a result of the dry desert environment. During the year, the farmers move with their animals to defined settlements, traditionally four, and more recently three. In three of these settlements the houses are temporary, the other houses are permanent.
Sar-e-Aghol are the settlements used from the end of winter until late spring and are designed to shelter them form the wind. Sar-e-Bagh houses are used during summer and early autumn. The winter troglodytic houses are carved out of the soft rock, in layers up to five houses in height.
The big desert of Lut is located in the south-east of Iran, in Kerman and Sistan and Baluchistan Province. With a total area of approximately 5400 km2, it is 25th largest desert of the world.
The Lut Desert represents an exceptional example of ongoing geological processes. Between June and October, the area is swept by strong winds, resulting in spectacular examples of aeolian yardang landforms: rock surfaces that have been grooved by wind erosion. In the eastern part of Dasht-e Lut, one can find enormous sand dunes.
Because the major part of this desert doesn’t allow for any animal or vegetable life and because there is only limited access, this desert has remain intact.
Four universal records are inscribed in Lut desert: the longest widespread system of yardangs in the world (120 km long, 80 km wide), the tallest sand pyramid of the world (nearly 500 m high), the hottest point of the world, the biggest desert plants (Nebka) in the world.
A Qanat is a gently sloping underground channel to transport water to surface for irrigation and drinking. The system is developed in Iran by the Persian people around 1000 BC, after which it slowly spread over the world.
Throughout the arid regions of Iran, permanent settlements and agricultural farms are supported by the ancient qanats. There are eleven qanats representing this system and they consist of rest areas for workers, water reservoirs and watermills. The qanats provide exceptional testimony to cultural traditions and civilizations in desert areas with an arid climate.
Each of the qanats registered in the list has unique features: whereas the Ghasabe Qanats of Gonabad (Razavi Khorasan Province) is one of the oldest qanats in the world, the Zarch Qanat, in Yazd Province, is the longest qanat in the world. Baladeh Qanat of Ferdows is known for its complex water distribution method, and Hassan Abad Moshir Qanat for its good water quality. Other qanats inscribed in the list are Akbarabad Qanat, Ghasemabad Qanat, Moun Qanat, Vazvan Qanat, Mozdab1ad Qanat and Ebrahimabad Qanat.
The City of Yazd, also known as the city of Wind catchers (Shahr-e Badgirha), is a destination not to be missed in Iran. Located in the middle of Iran, Yazd is close to the Spice and Silk Roads and surrounded by deserts.
Due to its location, Yazd has a unique Persian architecture, consisting of the so called ab anbars (water reservoir), qanats (underground channel to transport water) and yakhchals (ancient evaporative cooler). Its isolated desert location protected Yazd from large battles and ravages of war and is the reason why the architecture is preserved so well.
Besides its unique architecture, Yazd is the most historically interesting Zoroastrian city in Iran and therefore one can find several Zoroastrain fire temples in Yazd, one of them holding a fire that has been kept alight continuously since 470 AD. Another of sign of Yazd’s heritage as a centre of Zoroastrianism is the Tower of Silence, a circular, raised structure built for excarnation. Furthermore, Yazd is a must see for its traditional houses, bazars, hammams, the Jame Mosque of Yazd, synagogues and the historic garden of Dolat-abad.