Iran’s urban, desert and mountain population has comprised the ancient Iranians followed later by Arabs, Kurds, and Turks from surrounding deserts, mountains and steppelands. The Imperial Achaemenids, Seleucids, Parthians and Sasanians left great ancient cities like Persepolis. Persian culture ‘conquered’ the invading Arabs. Persian language interacted with Arab poetic traditions to produce some of the world’s finest poetry. Later invaders, including the Mongols, all fell under the sway of Persian literature, architecture and painting. In the 16th century, the Persian Safavids made Shi’ism the state religion, differentiating Iran from her Sunni neighbours.
Tehran has famous archaeological, carpet and glass museums. In the nearby, high Alborz Range, the infamous Assassins built castles. In a broad valley west of Tehran, the great Mongol mausoleum at Soltaniyeh has one of the world’s largest domes.
From the north-west, the long Zagros Range angles south-east to the Persian Gulf. Here, Takht-e Soleymān, an extraordinary Zoroastrian temple palace complex and Sassanian shrine surround an eerie volcanic crater. From Hamadan, among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, an ancient corridor follows high green valleys south-east. These were travelled by ancient Medes and Persians. Later, myriad invaders, nomads, and traders travelled the corridor between China and Central Asia and the Levant. Along this route Achaemenid and Sassanian rock-cut reliefs impressed travellers. Darius I’s inscriptions is at Bisotun, and at Taq-e-Bostan, coronation ceremonies and hunting scenes. In the Mesopotamian plains, the Biblical Elamites built the Chogha Zanbil Ziggurat. To its east lie Achaemenid and Sassanian imperial cities. Achmaenid Pasargadae and awesome Persepolis were followed by Sasanian Shapur the Great’s Bishapur. Bishapur also boasts monumental Sasanian rock-cut reliefs. Shiraz is the home of the poet Hafez, city of nightingales and roses. In the eastern deserts beyond Shiraz, the oasis trading cities of Kerman and Yazd have unique desert architecture. This includes desert fortresses, Zoroastrian towers of silence, pisé and brick shrines, mosques, icehouses, and wind-towers. To the north, beyond Ardestan’s fine Seljuk mosque and Natanz’s exquisite shrine, lies the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas’ marvellous Isfahan, where the Lotfollah Mosque, epic Shah Mosque, atmospheric Grand Bazaar and the Ali Qapu Palace gatehouse flank the beautiful Meydan Square.