Iranian history is a fascinating catalogue of disasters and short-lived triumphs, and of occasionally brilliant rulers succeeded by incompetents who failed to secure their inheritance.
The date of arrival of the first inhabitants on the Iranian plateau is not known, and still debated among historians. Continuing excavations, however, indicate that during the Neolithic times hunters lived in caves in the Zagros and Alborz mountains, and in the south-east, but numbers were low until the improvement of agricultural methods.
The first distinct people to emerge on the plateau were probably the Elamites, who established a city at Shush in the far southwest. The Aryans came to the region in the second millennium BC, bringing with them some agricultural and domestic skills. From the mixture and migration of Elamites and Aryans, three main tribes were created: the Medes, who lived in the west (particularly around Hamadan); the Parthians, based in the far east; and the Persians, who lived in the south. Other tribes which invaded, and settled in, parts of the plateau included the Kasits, Assyrians, Urartians and Scythians, but none had much success or influence.
Elamites (2500-1200 BC)
Medians (750-550 BC)
The Achaemenians (559-330 BC)
Alexander and the Seleucids (331-190 BC)
The Parthians (190 BC – 224 AD)
The Sassanians (224-637 AD)
The Arabs (637-1050)
The Seljuq Dynasty (1051-1220)
The Mongols (1220-1380)
The Timurid Dynasty (1380-1502)
The Safavid Dynasty (1502-1722)
The Afghans (1722-1736)
Nader Shah (1736-1747) and Karim Khan Zand (1747-1779)
The Ghajars (1779-1921)
The Pahlavi Dynasty (1921-1979)
The Revolution (1979)
Iran’s population is currently nearly seventy million. More than fifty percent of the population is under twenty years old. So, it is a youthful, vibrant and dynamic country strongly rooted in its cultural traditions yet fascinated by the modern world of globalisation and technology. Just about half of the Iranian population is ethnic Persian and the rest is made up of a fascinating range of ethnic minorities which include Gil, Mazandarani, Azeri, Kurd, Lor, Baluch, Arab, Turkmen and other small groups. Each of these speaks their own native language or dialect. However, the official language of Iran is Farsi.
Of course, having an experienced Farsi-speaking guide can open up the country and its diverse culture in a way most tourists cannot begin to comprehend. Recommended if you wish to get the most from your trip!
It is useful to note that it is not polite to blow your nose in company, especially in the restaurants. Sometimes overseas visitors don't realize this!
Tehran time is GMT +3.5
A visit to Iran during Ramadan is perfectly feasible and Iranian towns when the daily fast ends are especially lively. However, during Ramadan eating, drinking and smoking in public are prohibited between sunrise and sunset. But the eating prohibition does not apply to travelers and restaurant facilities are always discreetly available in hotels, bus stations etc.
In large hotels, a 10 to 15 per cent service charge is added to the bill. In restaurants (chelokababi) it is usual to leave some small change. Tipping is not expected in tea-houses.
Foreign visitors who really know Iran well will tell you that Iranians are among the most friendly, hospitable people in the world and simply love to entertain visitors.
It is also customary to be offered tea. Accept the offer graciously. Tea helps many a happy encounter in Iran run smoothly! When you are out and about almost always someone will be kind and help you on your way if you are lost or need help and advice.
People just love to talk to tourists and sometimes invite them to have dinner or lunch with them. You will often find yourself being invited to their homes. This open-hearted generosity is one of the greatest pleasures of travel in Iran
It is not unusual to invite strangers home. This is one of the pillars of Persian hospitality and people are happy to share what they have with you. It is considered polite to decline the offer of hospitality a few times. However if the local person persists it is fine to accept this natural hospitality.
Iranian cuisine is based on rice, bread, meat, fish, fresh vegetables and fruit. Iranian breads are tasty and you can always find fresh ones.
The main dish in Iran is the kebab; this is served in most eating-shops. There are different kinds like: beef, chicken, liver, etc. When served with rice it is called Chelo kabab.
Fesenjan: a delicious stew of duck, chicken or beef made with ground walnuts and sour pomegranate juice. Sometimes it is cooked with sugar and it is sweet.
Ghorme Sabzi: a stew with lamb or veal with different kinds of herbs, beans and dried lemons.
Dizi (Abgusht): a rich "soup" with lamb, beans and potatoes served in a special container. The soup is poured out into a bowl and the reminder will be pounded with a pestle. It is usually eaten with bread as a main course.
Tea, drunk without milk, could be said to be the national drink.
Doogh (a yoghurt drink usually served with meals) makes a pleasant change from other soft drinks, while non-alcoholic beer is usually available.
*Alcohol is strictly forbidden.
** Bring all your money in cash.
The Rial is Iran's currency. Tourists can exchange their money in banks or bureaux de change. The easiest type of money to change is the Euro and the American Dollar. Travelers' cheque cannot be changed in Iran so bring your money in cash.
Credit cards are not normally accepted in Iran. However, just some major hotels and shops selling items like carpets, handicrafts, jewellery, do accept credit cards.