Country Series: Iran

Country Series: Iran

Iran (Islamic Republic of Iran), formerly called Persia

Country Information


Population: 85 million

Area: 1, 648, 000 km²


Language: Although Persian (Farsi) is the predominant and official language of Iran, there are also a number of languages and dialects spoken from three different language families: Indo-European, Altaic, and Afro-Asiatic

Ethnic Groups: Persians, Azeri, Kurds, Baloch, Lurs, Arabs, Gilak People, Mazanis

Religion: The vast majority of Iranians are Muslims of the Ithnā ʿAsharī or Twelver, Shi’i branch- this is the official state religion.

Capital: Tehran

Tehran, surrounded by the Alborz mountain range

President: Hassan Rohani

Supreme Leader:: Ali Khamenei

Currency: Rial

Form of Government: Islamic Republic (since 1979)



Geography of  Iran

  • Iran borders the Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of Oman
  • Iran borders 7 countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan
  • Iran has two major mountain ranges: the Zagros Mountains and the Alborz Mountains




Iran, previously the Persian Empire,  has existed for thousands of years, so I’m just going to give you a wee snippet of its vast history.

The first Persian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, was founded by Cyrus the Great around 550 B.C. The Empire covered Central Asia, Mesopotamia and Anatolia (modern day Western Asia), and Egypt. This reign continued for over 200 years during which time the Persian Empire was seen as a hub of culture, religion, science, art, and technology.

The Islamic Republic of  Iran was founded in 1979 by Ruhollah ((Ayatollah) Khomeini. The revolution, led by Khomeini, ended the 2,500-year-old Persian monarchy. Following the revolution, Khomeini became the country’s Supreme Leader, a position created in the constitution of Iran as the highest-ranking political and religious authority of the nation.


Holidays and Observances

Holiday celebrations are an excellent opportunity to provide a window into a culture or understand more about a group of people, as well as reinforce the diversity of all people’s experiences. Given the time of year, it seems apt to explore Norooz, or Nowrooz, the national New Year festivity celebrated in Iran. The exact second when the old Persian solar year changes to the new year is called “Saal Tahvil”. This year, Norooz falls on March 21st.

It is not known exactly how far back Nowrooz goes, but it is estimated at at least 3,000 years old. An important custom, and major part of the Norooz ritual, is the decoration of the ‘Haft Seen’ table, with seven symbolic items. In ancient times each of the items corresponded to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them. All the items start with the letter ‘S’. These things usually are:

  1. Seeb (apple), to symbolise beauty;
  2. Sabzeh (green grass), to symbolise rebirth and growth;
  3. Serkeh (vinegar), to represent patience;
  4. Samanu (a meal made out of wheat), is the symbol of power and strength;
  5. Senjed (a special kind of berry) represents love;
  6. Sekke (a coin) or Somagh (Sumac- spice) represents the sunrise; and
  7. Seer (garlic) to symbolise health.

The Haft-Seen spread also includes other items such as a mirror, symbolising reflection; coloured eggs, for fertility; and goldfish in a bowl, which represent life.

During Norooz, families and friends visit each other. Traditional New Year meals include sabzi polo mahi (rice mixed with herbs and served with white fish); ash reshteh (a thick green soup with noodles, chickpeas and beans); and kuku sabzi (vegetable frittata).

Pastries include baghlava, (a personal favourite of mine); naan-nokhodchi (chickpea cookies with pistachio); and ajeel (dried berries and raisins).

Norooz ends after 13 days with Sizdah Be-dar (Nature Day) where it is traditional to have a picnic. Iranians regard the 13th day as a bad omen and believe that by going into the fields and parks they avoid misfortunes.

Traditional Food

Food is such an vital part of culture, passing traditional cuisine down from one generation to the next. Preparing a meal can be expression of cultural identity, as well as an opportunity to share food, create bonds and talk. These are some typical Iranian dishes.









The Persian Pot, Persian Mama, My Persian Kitchen, The Persian Fusion, and Najmieh Batmanglij’s are good websites for recipes.

But I’ve been told that if cooking isn’t for you, Farèn, on Frankenstraat 200 in Maastricht, has some incredible Persian food.



Famous People

Of course the most important aspect of a country is the people. The world has been blessed with  countless, talented, influential Iranian people, from the likes of  journalist, Christiane Amanpour to film director, Asghar Farhadi.

Historical figures include Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī (Rumi), who was a 13th century (1207-1273)  Persian poet, scholar and theologian. His verse, Masnavi, is considered one of the greatest Persian poems. The impact of his work can be seen today as it has been translated into many languages including English, Arabic, French, and Spanish.

Dominant figures in the field of science include Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (854-925), a polymath, physician, alchemist, and philosopher, who discovered sulfuric acid; and Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), a Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet. He is most notable for his work on the classification and solution of cubic equations.

More recently, women such as Marjane Satrapi and Shirin Ebadi, have become role-models for younger generations.

Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French graphic novelist, cartoonist, illustrator, film director, an

d children’s book author. She has been awarded, among other things, the Jury Prize and the

Sutherland Trophy in 2007.

“I call Iran home because no matter how long I live in France, and despite the fact that I feel also French after all these years, to me the word ‘home’ has only one meaning: Iran. I suppose it’s that way for everyone: Home is the place where one is born and raised.”



Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian political activist, lawyer, a former judge and human rights activist and founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. In 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights,

especially women’s, children’s, and refugee rights. She is the first Iranian to receive this award.

Human rights is a universal standard. It is a component of every religion and every civilisation’.







By Áine Macdonald

Many thanks to Isha Titulaer-Ahmad and Donya-Mojtahed-Zadeh for their contribution to the research and writing process.

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