To visit Iran is a unique experience, the experience of being in the cradle of a civilization and culture that has had and continues to have its impact on the world for more than 2,500 years of written history -antiquity versus modernization. Archaeological studies during the first half of the twentieth century indicate that as early as 10,000 BC, tribes lived on the southern shores of the Caspian, one of the few regions of the world which according to scientists escaped the Ice Age. They were probably the first men in the history of mankind to engage in agriculture and animal husbandry. It was they and others who spread out shortly afterwards along the Zagros Mountains in central Iran and founded the first centers of civilization in the land. Iran's former name -Persia till 1935 - derives from the historical prominence of the province called Fars or Pars, at a time when the Greeks -who called it Persis - attempted to conquer the country. Practically speaking only the English talk about Persia. It is like them to do so, for in reality "Persia" is to "Iran" what "England" is to the "United Kingdom". The word Iran is etymologically akin to the word Aryan (meaning of noble origin), and throughout history it has been intermittently applied to the peoples of Indo-European, that is, Aryan origin occupying the plateau.
Persian (Farsi) using Arabic letters is the language used and understood by the whole nation. There are a number of other dialects and national languages -Turkic (Azarbaijani), Kurdish, Luri, Guilaki, Baluchi and Arabic -used by the corresponding provincial population for daily life purposes (see also Languages and Dialects). Iran is a highly diverse country from every point of view, not least in topography and climate. It is a large country, with an area of more than 1,648,000 sq km in southwest Asia, roughly three times the size of France or equal to a fifth of the United States of America, that is to say larger than the Belgium and France, Holland and Germany, Switzerland and UK put together. At one period or another its territory has included much of Caucasia, Iraq, Afghanistan -which is really apart of the same culture as Iran -and regions of Central Asia, particularly Uzbakistan and Tajikistan, which were the sites of famous Iranian cities such as Samarqand and Bokhara.
The country has many specific features of its own in its landscapes, inhabitants, arts and customs. But over and above this superficial image, the enchantment of a visit to Iran is the feeling of contact with a "different", but not incomprehensible world, with a country, which is both accessible, unusual and diverse. Iran is not a country like Spain or Britain that stands theatrically distinct and complete. There is nothing insular about Iran: it has always been a bridge-country in both geographical and cultural sense of the word, between the great civilizations of Asia, such as India and China, and those of the Near East and the Mediterranean. This geographical situation has made Iran the arena for many invasions throughout history, from the east, west, and north. Ethnic groups as well as ideas and techniques have penetrated into the country from all directions, often to be spread abroad again to countries both to the east and west of Iran. Thus many trends in Iranian culture have blended into the cultural patterns of nations in both Asia and Europe. Modem Iran has frontiers with Arabs, Afghans, Turks, Pakistanis, Azarbaijanis, Armenians and Turkamans; it has ancient connections with Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Mongols, the British and the Americans, plus newly established relations with many other independent nations of the world. Iran was Alexander's ultimate enemy and his most dazzling conquest. Physically, Iran is formidable.
The shape of the land is a distorted square, as if it has been melted in a furnace, and allowed to set crooked. Down its western flank, from the Turkish frontier to the Gulf of Oman, run the Zagros mountains, so strong a barrier that some world strategists considered them to be a real boundary of the western world: however, Iranian historical monuments are scattered far away on both sides of the range. From the southern end of the Zagros range, Zard Kuh-e Bakhtiari, 4,309 m as its highest peak, a blistered flat coastline runs toward the Indian Ocean. Across the northern Iran, at the southern coastline of the Caspian, which is 28 m below sea level, runs a narrow but high mountain range, the Alborz, which receives more than 1,200 mm of annual rainfall, and looms away eastward to the Afghan frontier, with snow-capped peaks all the year round. The highest of some of the peaks in the range are as follows: Damavand, northeast of Tehran, 5,671 m (see also Sports and Games); Sabalan, west of Ardabil, 4,860 m (see also Ardabil); and Takht-e Soleiman, northwest of Tehran, south of Tonekabon, 4,820 m. Natural pasture and forestlands exist over wide areas of this region. In provinces on the north of the Alborz most of the fertile land is used for cornfields, tea-plantations, and paddy fields. The timber resources of Mazandaran and Guilan provinces in the region are used through the wood processing and paper manufacturing factories of Asalem and Neka.
The Caspian shores with their sandy beaches and scenic views are amongthe most popular regions for relaxation and tourism in Iran. Due to the presence of great quantities of limestone and other porous stones, many caves have been formed in Iran that could be visited and investigated by the average tourists or speleologists as places of interest and study. The most famous of these caves Are t.1) he found in Azarbaiian, in Kurdestan, near Hamadan, Esfahan Province and in the Tehran area. The climatic diversity in Iran is such that some tourists can enjoy winter sports in the mountains while others can bathe in the warm waters of the southern shores, both within a few hours drive from the main cities. In the heartland of Iran and within these natural barricades lies the high central Iranian Plateau, much of it salt desert and most of it more than 1,200 m high, including both the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut with an area of over 200,000 and 166,000 sq km, respectively. Both deserts, despite their vastness, are still considered to be the unknown and unexplored regions of Iran. Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut were traversed in the past by great trade caravans along the Silk Road carrying goods from the east to the west and vice versa.
Fertile areas abound where water resources are adequate, such as the Esfahan basin, northern Khorasan, Fars, and the Qazvin and Varamin plains. The climate of Iran is one of extremes, very hot and dry in summer and cold with some snow in winter. The lands of the Iranian Fertile Crescent in the northwest and west, including Lurestan, Kurdestan, and Azarbaijan, receive good and relatively reliable rainfall and, despite marked seasonal extremes of temperature, support large herds and prosperous dry farming. The contrast in climatic conditions between the different regions has contributed to the scenic magnificence of the landscape as well. The long southern area of the country stretches from the plains of Khuzestan, along the narrow plains and hills adjacent to the Persian Gulf and into the Mokran Mountains of Baluchestan. This suffers from a hot and debilitating climwitscanty rainfall. The plains of Khuzestan have extensive areas of good soil, which are cultivated whenever river water is made available for irrigation from many watercourses that feed down from the Zagros Mountains to the north.
A practically effective method of combating the dominant dry climatic
conditions in the Iranian Plateau for the past 2,500 years, has been the excavation of qanats (underground watercourses) to transmit underground water. The method, which has endured till the modern age, found its way from Iran to other parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and even Spain. Total length of Iranian qanats amounts to nearly 40,000 km.lran is also the land of the oldest dams in the world, most of which are in good condition even today (see also Dam Construction in Iran). However, Iran has a good climate compared to other Middle Eastern countries. More than one third of the land surface receives rainfall of more than 250 mm on average each year, while the heavy winter snowfalls on the mountaillS which surround the central plateau provide a reservoir of water for irrigating spring crops. Ferdowsi, the famous Iranian epic poet, described the southern Caspian shores as an average region where spring prevails throughout the year. Soil is deep and fertile over extensive areas although subject to chronic erosion in some areas. The Caspian coast lands, the central plains and the valleys of the interior are all endowed with comparatively fragile but cultivable soil. Land and water resources are not used to the full. Only a fraction of total available land is used for agriculture, leaving scope for large-scale reclamation at the extensive margin and intensification of agricultural output on existing agricultural land through more widespread and effective use of water resources.
Statistically, about 20.7% of the total area of Iran is desert and uncultivable land, 54.9% natural range land, 7.6% forest land, and only1he remaining 16.8% is potentially arable land, of which 11.6 million hectares go annually under cultivation and the rest lie fallow. Despite the fact that Iran is generally dry and mountainous, the tourist should know that the land is however, rich in terms of inland lakes and wetlands (which amount to 33 in number), some of the most important of which are: Lake Orumieh (West Azarbaijan), 483,000 hectares; Lake Parishan (Pars), 4,200 hectares; Lakes Maharlu and Barimshur (Fars), 21,600 hectares; Neiriz Lakes (Fars), 98,000 hectares; and Hamoun-e Hirmand (or Jazmurian) around Kuh-e Khajeh (Sistan), 40,000 hectares. Wetlands must not only be prized as the home ofa multitude ofvatuable waterfowl, but also for their intrinsically high natural productivity, their scenic beauty and the sport and recreation which they provide. The distance between Mount Ararat on the Turkish-Armenian-Iranian frontier and the southeastern extremity of the country near the port of Chah Bahar on the Sea of Oman is longer than that between Paris and Athens. If Iran were to be superimposed upon a map of Western Europe, the holy city of Mash had would be over Budapest, Abadan within Sardinia, Tehran would take the place of Venice, and Shiraz that of Naples! The vastness of the country is reflected in the different climates from north to south, from east to west.
This contrast among the regions is increased by the contrast brought with each season: a scorching summer and piercing winter can invade the same place. In the five main tourist centers- Esfahan, Mash had, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Tehran -winter is somewhat similar, except for Shiraz, which enjoys a milder temperature. The visitor may not be accustomed to this scale of distance. This is of great importance, becmlse upon it depends thc planning of hi; trip and part of his enjoyment. Laps are always long. Excursions around a central point rarely take less than one full day. Persepolis, for example, considered as being "near" Shiraz is 60 km away, and Pasargadae 130 km! Notwithstanding such natural barriers, however, there have always existed close economic and social ties between the people of the coastal and internal areas.