Welcome to Iran
Welcome to what could be the friendliest country on earth. Iran is the jewel in Islam's crown, combining glorious architecture with a warm-hearted welcome.
Iran's history is one of the region's greatest stories ever told. It is, above all, a story of civilizations, ancient and great, of Islam's complicated march, and of some of the most heroic names in world history, among them Cyrus and Darius, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan. They all left their mark here and the cities they conquered or over which they ruled are among the finest in a region rich with such storied ruins. Walking around the awesome power and beauty of Persepolis, experiencing the remote power of Susa (Shush), and taking in the wonderfully immense Elamite ziggurat at Choqa Zanbil will carry you all the way back to the glory days of Ancient Persia.
Iran is a treasure house for some of the most beautiful architecture on the planet. Seemingly at every turn, Islam's historical commitment to aesthetic beauty and exquisite architecture reigns supreme. The sublime, turquoise-tiled domes and minarets of Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Square gets so many appreciative gasps of wonder, and rightly so, but there are utterly magnificent rivals elsewhere, in Yazd and Shiraz among others. And it's not just the mosques – the palaces (especially in Tehran), gardens (everywhere, but Kashan really shines) and artfully conceived bridges and other public buildings all lend grace and beauty to cities across the country.
Iran's greatest attraction could just be its people. The Iranians, a nation made up of numerous ethnic groups and influenced over thousands of years by Greek, Arab, Turkic and Mongol occupiers, are endlessly welcoming. Offers to sit down for tea will be an everyday occurrence, and if you spend any time at all with Iranians, you'll often find yourself invited to share a meal in someone's home. Say yes whenever you can, and through it experience first-hand, Iranian culture, ancient, sophisticated and warm. It’s these experiences that will live longest in the memory.
Modern History of Iran
Iran, or Persia, had been an important global player for millennia and is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The First Persian Empire stretched from one corner of the known world to the other and 40% of the world’s total population lived and died under the reign of The Persians during 480BC. Once a superpower of immense proportions, Iran has been invaded many times and suffered during the medieval ages as it was ravaged by the unstoppable Mongol hordes. Despite this, Persian culture refused to be diluted and Iran maintained a strong national psyche. Iran sided with Germany during World War II and was promptly invaded by British, American and Russian forces. After the war, Iran struggled with multiple local uprisings incited by Soviet forces who wanted cheap access to the country’s massive oil fields. A military coup orchestrated by the CIA in 1953 catapulted the young and enigmatic Shah Mohammed Reza to power.
The new Shah began rapid modernization of Iran and entered into a contract with an international consortium of businesses to sell Iranian oil and split profits 50:50. Crucially, the consortium would not allow Iranians to be on the board or to audit the cash flow and Iran was taken for a ride as its oil fields were sucked dry with only a fraction of the profits making it back to the government for economic improvements. As the Shah pushed through land reforms and pro-Western policies, the Islamic right wing became alienated and restless and found leadership under Ayatollah Khomeini who was swiftly banished after defaming the Shah during a speech.
In 1973, the Shah returned the oil fields to national control and raised export prices to further fund the country’s development. The West, who had enjoyed dirt cheap Iranian oil until this point, responded by fanning the flames of discontent amongst the Islamic right wing in the hopes that a change in government would lead to cheaper oil. It was largely because of foreign powers meddling behind the scenes that Iran changed so abruptly.
In an attempt to avoid a civil war, the Shah left Iran in January 1979. Just a couple of weeks later, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran and received a hero’s welcome. Iranian army forces, surrounded on all sides by rebel revolutionary forces, declared neutrality and Ayatollah Khomeini took control as the ‘Supreme Leader of Iran’. Many political activists fled during the Iranian revolution as revolutionary forces took a hardline approach on nationalistic groups in a bid to unite the country.
The USA and her allies, keen to get its hands on some dirt-cheap oil again, encouraged an Iraqi invasion led by American ally Saddam Hussein. The eight year Iran-Iraq war raged as Ayatollah Khomeini continued to enforce anti-western policies and the country changed beyond recognition. Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989 and control passed to Ayatollah Khamenei.
Recently, the situation in Iran has been rapidly changing. Many trade embargoes have now been lifted and Iranians are hopeful that economic prosperity and a softening of attitudes is on the horizon. Iran has the potential to be a world power yet again and the country is opening up to the world. Inspired by a glorious past, many Iranians are now excited to see what the future holds for Iran and there are exciting political developments upon the horizon as politics slowly begins to move away from being totally intertwined with religion. Right now it is an exciting time to go around Iran; the sense of hope and excitement in the air is intoxicating and Iran is finally emerging, blinking into the light, as a global player yet again.
There's about to be a brand new tourism heavyweight on the block. Iran has a huge amount to offer travelers, with highlights including ancient ruins, fabulously tiled palaces and dizzying mountain scenery, not to mention the famous hospitality – chatting over tea with people who are delighted at the prospect of welcoming a surge of visitors will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable experiences of a trip.