Information on Iran
Useful Information on Traveling in Iran
However questionable the reputation of today’s Iran may be, its past will always be the country’s special pride. The great and powerful Persian Empire was established and maintained by legendary Persian rulers and for many years remained one of the most authoritative states in the ancient East. The Great Silk Route cut through the territory of the empire, bringing to it enormous riches and rising its economy to incredible heights. At the time of Darius I Persia occupied an extensive territory from the Mediterranean Sea to India!
Today Iran is a very interesting country with a great number of ancient monuments. Some of the monuments remain as they were many centuries ago, others have been slightly damaged in the course of time, while the third, such as the grandiose Persepolis, lie in ruins.
Iran is ruled by the Islamic laws, which made this wonderful world closed for foreign tourists until quite recently, when Iran showed itself willing to open the doors and demonstrate its rich historical and cultural heritage to the rest of the world. Tourists from Muslim countries visit Iran mostly for its sacred places, and Europeans are more interested in archaeological and historical monuments. Today Iran is included in Top-10 countries most attractive for international tourists!
Many regard Iran as a sacred land, as, according to one of the versions, it was the first place on the planet touched by the feet of Adam and Eve. The contemporary name of the country, Iran, is derived from the Middle Persian Erān, which originated from the Avesta word Airyāna, a derivative from the common Indo-Iranian word arya translated as ‘the Arian country’ or ‘the country of the Arians’.
Location. Iran, which until 1935 bore the name of Persia, is situated in southwestern Asia. From the north it is washed by the Caspian Sea, from the south - by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. On the land Iran is bordered by Azerbaijan, Armenia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Turkey. It shares the Caspian Sea with Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and is bounded by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf and by Oman in the Gulf of Oman.
Area. The total area of Iran is 1,648,000 km² (18th largest in the world). Because of dry climate and ragged landscape on most of the territory of Iran, the country has scanty water resources. However, it abounds in natural resources, particularly hydrocarbons, occupying the 3rd place in oil reserves and 2nd in natural gas extraction. The territory of Iran contains large reserves of coal, iron ore, manganese and zinc. Most of the territory of the country is situated at elevations exceeding 900 m above sea level, with a lot of peaks in its main mountain system, the Zagros Mountains, rising above 3,000 m, and in the most elevated region (Fars) - above 4,000 m. Another major mountain chain, the Elburz Mountains, stretches along the Caspian shore and features the extinct volcano Mount Demavend (5,610 m), the highest point of Iran.
The population of Iran is 75,000,000 people. Some experts consider that by 2050 the country’s population may grow to 90 million people.
Demographics. Iran is a multinational state, with 70 % of its population belonging to Iranian ethnic groups speaking Indo-European languages - descendants of the Arian tribes that migrated to Iran from Central Asia. Persians and Persian-speaking peoples form the majority of the population, followed by Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Arabs, Balochi and Turkmens. Minorities are composed of Armenians, Circassians, Assyrians, Georgians and Pushtuns.
Political structure. The legislation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based entirely upon the Islamic law, while the government is directly connected with the Islamic clergy. The state is governed by the Supreme Leader, who is responsible for designation of the commanders of the police and army and the chiefs of the court, as well as half of the members of the Guardian Council. The Supreme Leader is elected and dismissed during one of the closed votes at the Assembly of Experts consisting of 86 members - representatives of the clergy.
Both they and the President are elected by the people of Iran. The President has less authority than the Supreme Leader. The President is responsible for the implementation of the Constitution, while the Guardian Council checks that all bills meet the standards of the Islamic laws. The second half of the members of this Council is approved by the one-chamber Parliament, the Majlis.
Administrative and territorial division. The territory of the country is divided into 31 provinces (ostan), which in their turn consist of 324 counties (shahrestan). The counties are subdivided into 740 districts (bakhsh). The largest cities of Iran are Tehran, Tabriz, Ahvaz and Mashhad.
The capital of Iran is Tehran - the largest city of the country and one of the largest megalopolises in Asia with a population of about 8.7 million people. The principal city of Iran is situated at the foot of the Elburz Mountains, which gave it its name - ‘Tehran’ translates as ‘the city at the foot’.
The official language of Iran is Persian. As the capital is populated by various ethnic groups, you can hear people speak some other languages, such as Dari, Jewish and Azerbaijani. The great number of languages spoken has brought to assimilation and formation of a unique Tehran dialect, which has spread over some other regions of the country too.
Monetary unit. The basic monetary unit of Iran is rial. As the price of rial is very low (10,000 rials are equal to 1 US dollar), the traders use a special unit, toman, which makes it possible to delete one naught. Almost everywhere prices are given in tomans, which means you should multiply the price by 10 to find what it is in rials.
Religions. Most of the Iranians are Muslims, with over 90 % of the population professing the Shia branch of Islam, which has also the status of an official religion. The two holy cities of the Shia, Mashhad with the Imam Reza mausoleum and Qom, are situated in Iran. Qom is a very important Islamic religious centre with a number of seminaries and universities. The Sunnites comprise about 8 % of the population, the remaining 2 % including Bahais, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians.
Civic rights in Iran.
The Iranian laws are based on the Islamic laws, and the machinery of the state is directly connected with the Islamic clergy. In this connection the civic rights are somewhat restricted and based mainly on the laws of the sharia. For instance, homosexuality is regarded as a criminal offence, and the death penalty is the severest punishment. Iran occupies the second place (after China) in the world by the number of capital punishments executed.
The status of women in Iran.
From the European viewpoint the rights of women in Iran are highly limited. One of the basic rules, both for the Iranian women and for women arriving there from other countries, is to wear a hijab, a cloak or skirt stretching below the knees. The head must be covered with a kerchief so that the hair is not visible from under it. However, some local women take liberties and let their fringes and ponytails show from under the covers, which actually arouses no protest. Clothes must be free - not tight-fitting, and covering the arms to the hands and legs to the ankles; preferable shades are dark. The authorities do not pay much attention to the colour of the clothes of foreign women; however, to secure comfortable rest the latter should wear dark clothes. Local representatives of the fair sex may be made answerable for their inappropriate appearance. Moreover, an Iranian woman cannot walk alone in the street, while in some public places, for instance, at an airport, women cannot stay beside their men, as they may enter the building only through separate entrances (for men and for women) and buy tickets in separate ticket offices.
The procedure of accommodation at hotels is also strict in Iran: a man and a woman must be officially married (which must be confirmed by documents) or be blood relatives (father and daughter, brother and sister) in order to be able to live in one room. Foreigners are sometimes treated more mildly, which does not happen very often, however.
Climate in Iran.
The climate of the country is determined by high air humidity, closeness of seas and a large number of mountain systems, which makes it different in various regions of Iran. The areas near the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman feature a mild subtropical climate with but a few frosty days in winter, while cold weather is not a rare phenomenon in the western mountainous regions.
Summer on the coasts is not too hot, which is quite different from the central part of Iran, where the average temperature in July is between 36 °C and 38 °C. Precipitation is high in mountain regions in winter and is extremely low (less than 100 mm per year) in the central part.
How to Dress in Iran.
Iran is an Islamic country, which puts some restrictions on the type and style of clothes.
Shorts and sleeveless T-shirts which are so good for hot weather have to be rejected. The legs must be covered to the feet, and the arms hidden to the elbows. Besides, clothes must not be transparent or tight-fitting.
As for women, both Muslims and representatives of other religions must cover the head with a kerchief or a broad scarf. The colour of clothes also have some restrictions: it is highly recommended to avoid bright colours, particularly red and its various shades. Dark colours should be worn, particularly when visiting religious places.
The recommendations given above should be followed not only out of respect for the feelings of the believers, but, even more, because of the state norms, which, if breached, may lead to considerable troubles.
Cuisine in Iran.
The Iranian cuisine is delicious! A table full of Persian dishes will never leave you indifferent. Delicate meatballs marinated in kefir with saffron, lamb chops with sardines or baked quails are just a few of the great variety of meat dishes. Rice and vegetable meals play an equal part in one of the most ancient kitchens in the world. Marpin-polo seasoned with almond and saffron and soup ash with cheese have truly wonderful tastes. Chalo-kebab with its magic fragrance can stay in your memory as one of the brightest gastronomic experiences in your life. Spices are what largely make the Iranian dishes so rich in tastes. Proportions and methods of cooking have been developed by local cooks for thousands of years. The last section of the Persian kitchen is formed by oriental sweets. The best pistachios in the world and numerous fruits are also common guests on the Iranian table. The only thing that can really upset some travellers is that they can find no alcohol, either at restaurants or at shops, which, however, only gives a chance to feel deeply the tastes of local dishes.
Alcohol in Iran.
Alcoholic drinks and bars, casinos and other similar entertaining organisations are prohibited by law in the Islamic country. The punishment for drinking alcohol, for both locals and foreigners, is flogging, fines and incarceration.
Cost of Food in Iran.
The Iranian kitchen has one important advantage, which is relatively low prices. Depending on the status of a restaurant or café and the city it is in, a dinner may cost $7-15 and a good supper may be within $20.
Visa, Permits and Safety Recommendations.
You cannot enjoy fully the kitchen and the beauty of natural and architectural objects in the country if you do not have a visa to Iran. The visa can be obtained 1-2 weeks before the visit in the embassy outside the country, which is much cheaper, or at the airport upon the arrival.
If a woman wants to obtain the visa via the embassy, she has to present a photograph on which she has a kerchief on her head. If a visitor wishes to have an urgent visa at the airport, they are to have documents confirming their intention to visit the country as a tourist.
Staying in the streets of cities, towns and villages is safe at any time of the day, as the level of criminality in the country is rather low.
When accommodating at a hotel it is necessary to immediately take a document from the receptionist confirming that you are staying at the hotel. You should always have this document and your passport with you, as police have a right to check the documents of any person in the street, which they often do. Usually this process takes little time and the police are highly courteous and polite. However, there are certain frauds, who use the situation to take money from the person. Therefore, if you notice some suspicious actions in the course of the check, ask the policeman to continue the conversation at a police station.
To avoid dissatisfaction of local people you should not violate the rules of public conduct accepted in this country. In most ways similar to the European rules, they have some differences, however. So, people must not embrace or kiss each other in public places; moreover, they must not even touch each other’s back or stomach. Smoking in public places is also forbidden.
Clearing Customs in Iran.
Bringing drugs, weapons, ammunition, pornography and even alcohol to the country is forbidden. Besides, you should not take with you magazines and other printed matter containing images of half-dressed women. Such materials will be regarded as pornographic.
You should not have with you any things that go contrary to the Islamic morals. Equipment of various kinds and personal things should be brought in reasonable quantities. Apart from antiques, all other articles produced by local craftsmen may be taken out of the country. Precious stones may not be taken out, while a limited amount of gold equal to 150 grammes may be carried away from the country.
There is also a limit for the famous handmade carpets. Only two may be brought home from Iran. All currency, of which any amount may be taken to the country, must be declared. The currency of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia may not be brought to the country, however.
Currency in Iran.
The monetary unit of Iran is Iranian rial (IRR).
Banks in Iran work from 08.00 till 15.00-16.00, from Saturday to Wednesday; some offices operate from 08.00 to 20.00. Thursday and Friday are days-off, although some large banks work on Thursday from 8.00 to 13.00. In tourist regions of Iran US dollars, pounds and euro may be used. Currency may be exchanged at the airport in Tehran, at some hotels and banks, and in currency exchange offices at markets or in the streets, at an official price. Using the services of various unofficial persons at markets, who usually offer better prices, is illegal and may result in a three-year imprisonment.
Credit cards and traveller’s cheques are accepted only in large banks and hotels. It is almost impossible to use them at other places.
Owners of cashless means of payment issued by US banks often face big troubles too.
Photographing in Iran.
Rules on photographing are also rather strict in Iran. Taking pictures and making videos of military objects, palaces, airports and a number of other objects is prohibited. Photographing women is also prohibited, while before taking a picture of a local man you should first ask his permission.
Souvenirs of Iran.
What is really unlimited in Iran is the range of souvenirs and presents. The Persian carpet has always been an acknowledged leader.
It may be large covering the whole floor in a flat or small enough to be arranged under a computer table or tiny and used only for decoration. The price of a carpet depends on its size and the place it was purchased at.
Apart from carpets, Iran is famous for its bags, purses and charms done in the national style with the use of ‘carpet’ technique. Decorative dishes painted in blue will be perfect adornment of a wall, while replicas of stone bas-reliefs will make any house look noble.
Any woman would want to beautify herself with pieces of jewellery of local manufacture, while no man will resist the magic of Iranian daggers of real Damascus steel and swards covered with oriental patterns.
National holidays in Iran.
The Iranian calendar is based on the zodiac and traditional Islamic lunar calendar, which means that the dates of one and the same event may differ considerably. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, for instance, may last from 2 to 10 days depending on the region. It should also be taken into consideration that all the dates of religious events in the Islamic calendar begin at sunset and continue till the next setting of the sun.
Friday is an official day off, when most of the country’s organisations and shops do not work (they are also closed on national and religious holidays).
Holidays with unchangeable dates:
|•||11 February - victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution;|
|•||21 March - Nowruz (Navruz, New Year);|
|•||1 April - Islamic Republic Day;|
|•||19 March - nationalisation of oil industry;|
|•||27 March - Eid Ghadeer-Hom (the day when Mohammad proclaimed Imam Ali his successor);|
|•||17 April - Tasua;|
|•||4 June - death of Imam Khomeini;|
|•||5 June - insurrection against the shah;|
|•||16 June - Maulid (birth of prophet Muhammad);|
|•||4 July - death of the prophet.|
Holidays with changeable dates:
|•||December-February - Id al-Ada (Eid al-Adha, the holiday of sacrifice (Kurban-bayram));|
|•||January-February - Islamic New Year;|
|•||Early February - Martyrdom of Imam Jafar Sadek;|
|•||February-April - Ashura of Imam Hussain;|
|•||December-February - Birthday of Imam Reza;|
|•||April-May - Arbain (martyrdom of Imam Hussain);|
|•||August-October - Birthday of Imam Ali;|
|•||September-November - Birthday of Imam Mahdi;|
|•||September-December - Martyrdom of Imam Ali;|
|•||October - Leylat al-Meyraj (ascent of the prophet);|
|•||October-November - Id al-Fitr (Eid al-Fitr, end of Ramadan);|
|•||November - Martyrdom of Imam Jafar Sadek.|
Telephone codes in Iran.
The international telephone code of Iran is +98.
To make a telephone call to Iran from a stationary telephone, you should dial 8-10-98-city code-telephone number.
In order to telephone to Iran from a mobile phone, dial +98-number of the subscriber.
Telephone codes of large cities in Iran:
|Ahvaz: 61||Isfahan: 31||Yazd: 351||Karaj: 261|
|Mashhad: 51||Tabriz: 41||Tehran: 21||Shiraz: 71|
Useful phone numbers in Iran:
|•||Directory inquiries (Tehran): 118 or 196|
|•||International directory inquiries: 124|
|•||Directory inquiries of the Mehrabad airport: 910 or 278|
|•||Taxi service in Tehran: 133|
|•||Ministry of Foreign Affairs: 320-24-74, 939-595|
|•||Medical emergency service: 115 or 2200771|
|•||Fire brigade: 125 or 955-555|
|•||Traffic police: 197 or 883-49-10|
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