There is so much more to a country than what you see in the news. This also applies to the Islamic Republic of Iran. This huge country, nestled in the heart of Central Asia, is a much more diverse nation than you could ever imagine. Moreover, there are so many wild and surprising facts about this majestic land that was once called Persia. Here are some of the most interesting facts.
Nose Job Heaven
Plastic surgery seems to be a practice that only the rich can afford. And yet, Iran has been branded by many as the “Nose Job Capital of the World.” While the reason as to why so many people get nose jobs here isn’t clear, some speculate that rebellion and peer pressure are two key factors.
Moreover, seeing that Iranian women have to cover most of their bodies in public settings, altering the shape of one’s nose is seen as an acceptable form of self-expression.
Polygamy Is Legal Here
There is no denying that the Islamic Revolution had a huge impact on many aspects of Iranian life. One of the most significant examples is marriage. In Islamic law, a man is actually allowed to marry more than one wife and seeing that Sharia law was re-introduced to Iran, this means that a man can marry four wives.
And this doesn’t apply to just Iran. Polygyny, which is specifically when a man marries multiple women, is actually legal in a whopping 58 countries.
They Have Their Own Internet
There is a cluster of countries around the world that have decided to use their own exclusive internet for security reasons, and Iran is one of them. Since 2012, this country has used a state-controlled Intranet network that the masses use.
Not only does it prevent the use of social media sites, but those who do want Instagram and Facebook accounts need to do it through a private VPN. The ministry of communications and I.T. hopes that this private network will provide high-speed information at an affordable cost.
The Rich Kids of Tehran
These days, many countries around the world have their own reality TV shows and social media personalities. But it’s difficult to ignore the Iranian socialites that have captured the imagination of many people – The Rich Kids of Tehran.
Pretty much what the name suggests, these teenagers like to show off their jewelry, fancy cars and opulent way of living on Instagram and generally, they like to go against the grain when it comes to Iranian living. As of December 2020, RKOT has 339k followers.
The Longest Carpet in the World
It is no secret that Iran is famous for its beautiful carpets and calligraphy, in general. But did you know that the country produced the largest carpet on the planet? That’s right, the Iran Carpet Company produced a carpet believed to span a stunning 60,000.81 square feet.
It was unveiled at the Abu Dhabi mosque back in 2007. Originally built into nine parts, the carpet was eventually assembled inside the mosque. Some parts actually had to be cut to fit the floor.
The Short-Term Marriage
Another interesting custom that was established in Iran is something known as a Sigheh, which basically means short-term marriages. This is basically designed for couples who are testing the waters of their relationship and might not be ready to fully commit for their entire lives.
Some Shia schools permit the practice and these short-term marriages can last anywhere from a couple of hours until a few years. Usually, this contract is put in place for men who are intending on going away to visit holy sites.
Many Families Hide TV Satelittes
Similar to the way that Iran has its very own internet, it also has a nationwide monopoly on its TV programming. In light of the Revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting took over and by the time the ’90s came around, all satellite dishes were outlawed.
With that said, many families still keep satellites and hide them from the authorities. Moreover, BBC Persian is still popular amongst many locals, despite the country’s efforts to clamp down on it.
They Take Selfies So Seriously
It seems like people all over the world love nothing more than hovering a camera over themselves and taking a good old selfie in front of the coolest backgrounds. But the Iranians are very “self” aware (pun intended) about how often they like to take selfies for the ‘gram.
A typical selfie spot is in front of the Shah-En-Shah monument, which commemorates the 25,000th anniversary of the Persian Empire. Funnily enough, a statue of a man taking a selfie was erected in front of the monument.
The Highest Point in Iran
It is no secret that a large chunk of Iran can be found in the mountains. But the highest point in the country is Mount Damavand, which is located in the Elburz mountains. At 18,605ft, Damavand towers over its neighboring mounts and is actually home to a volcano, which is only 43 miles away from the capital!
Although it last erupted about 7,300 years, it is still active. Many Iranian myths can be traced back to Damavand and many locals love to climb it every year.
Home of the Asiatic Cheetah
Seeing that Iran is a very large country in the heart of Asia, it should come as no surprise that there is a vast array of wildlife in this part of the world. The Asiatic Cheetah is a critically endangered species, partly due to arid conditions.
Therefore, the government guards these wild cats in protected areas. As of 2017, only 50 Asiatic cheetahs are believed to still exist. The Iranian national soccer team even wore illustrations of the creature on their jerseys at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
EBay’s Founder Is Iranian
It seems like a lot of the leading websites such as Facebook and Twitter have been invented by Americans over the years. And while Pierre Omidyar is technically American, the founder of eBay can trace his family origins back to Iran.
Born in Paris to Iranian parents, Omidyar eventually moved to the U.S. before founding one of the most important websites of the last 30 years, eBay. Other noteworthy Iranian entrepreneurs include Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Omid Kordestani, who was Google’s former SVP.
Over Half of All Pistachios Come From Iran
Every food and grain can trace their origins back to a specific place and for the pistachio, it is Iran. Sure, it is an unorthodox yet delicious ice cream flavor. However, the pistachio tree is officially native to a number of regions of Central Asia, including Iran and Afghanistan.
The nut was believed to be consumed as far back as 6750 BC. As of 2017, it is believed that Iran accounts for more than half of the planet’s production of pistachios.
It is generally accepted around the world these days that men are expected to wear ties in formal settings. In Iran though, the men here like to do things a little differently. By the time the revolution came around, Iranians chose to not wear ties as they felt like it was a statement going against the western grain.
While ties aren’t illegal in these parts, store owners can actually be fined for displaying ties. Amazingly, only villains on Iranian TV shows wear ties.
The Complicated History of the Hijab
Like many countries in Central Asia where Islam is the predominant religion, women are legally obligated to cover their hair in public settings. This is usually done by wearing a traditional head covering called a hijab. However, Iran has a complicated history when it comes to the hijab.
Back in 1936, in an attempt to westernize the country and make it more progressive, Reza Shah actually outlawed the hijab. Since the revolution, it was once again made compulsory.
“Persian Milk” Is Not Milk
Don’t you just hate it when something is called something that it isn’t? In Iran, one of the most popular drinks actually fits these criteria. While the following beverage is referred to as “Persian Milk,” to call it milk is a bit of a reach.
This drink is more like a runny, sour yogurt and many Iranians believe it is the answer to virtually all medical issues, including sunburn and ulcers. Some Iranians even use it as a face mask.
Metal Bands Are Persecuted
Believe it or not, but Iran his home to a surprisingly vibrant heavy metal scene. There are many popular bands who have huge followings both in the country and internationally. Unfortunately, though, the music genre is considered to be blasphemy in Iran and many bands have been banned by the authorities.
Bands such as Confess and Arsames had to flee the country after being sentenced to prison, simply for playing heavy metal. “Is it a crime that we are playing metal music!?” they said.
Couch Surfing Is Illegal Here
While couch surfing is a thing that travelers do all around the world, it is illegal in Iran. And yet, it is done more here than anywhere else in the world. Many foreigners who come to visit Iran are keen to crash on locals’ couches to get to know the Iranian way of life.
There are plenty of families in this country that are keen to host visitors and some families don’t even require reservations.
Throughout the world, there are superstitions about what it means to use the right and left hand, and what for. But in Iran, people seem to take it to another level. In Islamic tradition, the left hand is only supposed to be used for cleaning and removing dirt.
Therefore, the right hand should be used for all other activities such as eating and waving, for example. Many Iranians even go as far to greet others with both hands at all times.
The Youngest Nation in the World?
For one reason or another, some countries have older or younger populations than others. It turns out though that Iran boasts one of the youngest populations on the planet. One of the main reasons for this was because during the Islamic Revolution, leaders spurred the people on to have more kids per family.
Now, about 70 percent of the population is under 30 years of age. Moreover, Iranians are allowed to vote when they reach the age of 15.
Home of the Persian Cat
A lot of people around the world have Persian cats and they aren’t just called that for no reason whatsoever. Cats such as the Shiraz and the Persian Longhair can trace their origins back to Iran, unsurprisingly. These felines have distinct features such as round faces and woolly fur.
They developed the thick coat to survive in the cold Iranian mountains. Back in the 17th century, Italian merchants brought the cat to Europe, and it soon became a symbol of exoticism.
Home to the World’s Most Air Polluted City
While some countries get a particularly bad rep for having air pollution issues, Iran often falls under the radar in this regard. And yet, this country is home to what many believe to be the most air-polluted city on the planet.
In 2011, the World Health Organization labeled Ahvaz as the world’s most air-polluted city. Many people here suffer from diseases as a result of inhalation of toxic fumes. Many plants have also been destroyed by the gases.
What Is Taarof?
If you are planning on visiting Iran anytime soon, you better get clued up on the social etiquette established there. It is called “Taarof.” This is basically a set of etiquette rules and social conventions that permeate throughout Iranian everyday life.
For example, when an Iranian gives someone a gift, it is traditional to apologize. On the flip side, the recipient can only open the gift later in private. Also, you can only have seconds at a dinner if the host offers you for a third time.
Ali Daei – the Highest Goalscorer in World Soccer
Iranians take their soccer very seriously – so much so that one of their very own is the custodian of one of the sport’s greatest achievements. Retired striker Ali Daei is considered a nation hero, primarily because he holds the record for scoring the most goals for a national team.
He currently leads the list with a stunning 109 goals in a 149 international games. However, there’s a chance that Cristiano Ronaldo might overtake him soon, as he currently has 102 goals to his name.
Men and Women Are Segregated, a Lot
Seeing that religion permeates throughout so much of Iranian society, a lot of areas of everyday life prevent men and women from interacting with each other. Segregation is rife throughout Iran, with universities being one of the minor exceptions.
In many of the country’s cities, there are parks reserved specifically for women. In this photo, you can see a partition separating men from women on the Tehran subway to avoid promiscuity.
Iranians Love Parkour
Parkour, or free running, is an activity practiced by people all over the world. But it seems like a high number of people in Iran love nothing more than jumping from wall to wall and running at death-defying heights.
While parkour was invented in France, Iranians soon got on board and have been jumping all over the country for the last 20 years. Also, it appears that women are just as passionate about free running as men are in Iran.
Plain Bread & White Rice Is a National Dish
Like all of the countries in this part of the world, Iran has a rich cuisine that both local and tourists alike can’t get enough of. However, there is one particular dish that might seem kind of odd to outsiders.
One traditional dish sees bread being placed on top of plain rice. Some of these breads include sangak, lavash and taftoon, to name a few. Iranians will often include a protein with the dish such as chicken, kebab or minced meat.
Iranians Love 0.0% Beer
One well-known rule about Islam is that adherents of the religion are forbidden to drink alcohol. As a result, the Islamic Republic of Iran prohibits its citizens from drinking. But many people here like to drink a fresh, cold, non-alcoholic beer.
Classic clean drinks such as Bavaria 0.0%, Amstel Malt or Oettinger alcohol-free are served in many restaurants. With that said, many do break the law and smuggle drinks into the country. There are many weddings and celebrations where you will find Iranians breaking the law.
Many Biblical Figures Are Buried Here
It is common knowledge that a large chunk of the stories from the Bible are set in various parts of the Middle East. Many don’t realize though just how many Biblical figures ended up passing away and being buried on land that is now modern day Iran.
Some key figures from the Holy scriptures such as Daniel, Esther, Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great and St. Thaddaeus are believed to have been buried in Iran.
Persian Poetry Inspired Shakespeare?
One art form that Iran has a long and rich history of is poetry. The works of many Iranian poets and writers over the years have influenced people all over the world and can date back more than 2,500 years.
In fact, Persian literature has influenced some of the greatest thinkers of human history, including the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and William Shakespeare! Works such as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam and The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat are known throughout the world.
Tourists Should Bring Toilet Paper!
Believe it or not, but until this very day, many toilets in Iran look like this. Yes the room itself is beautiful, but one must squat when doing their business. This fact is kind of cheating as it isn’t something that is exclusive to just Iran.
Squat toilets can actually be found all over Asia and Africa. But yes, they are very prevalent here. So if you are a tourist who’s used to sitting on a toilet seat, you should probably pack up plenty of toilet paper before you board that plane.
The Myth of the “Non-Men”
It seems like the pressures to get married end up weighing on all people in Iranian life. No matter what gender you are, one is expected to tie the knot from a young age and if you are still married into your 30s, people consider it to be weird.
In fact, there is a specific term used to describe men who continue to live with their natal family into their adulthood. They are described as na-mard.
The First Iranian Olympian
Over the years, Iran has had some pretty impressive milestones when it comes to its involvement on the grandest sports stage of them all, the Olympics. But surely it was back in 1948 when Iran had its most important Olympic moment of them all.
It was during the games that year that the central Asian country participated for the first time. Jafar Salmasi became a national hero when he won Iran’s only medal in the games, a Bronze in the featherweight division of the weightlifting competition.
One of the Earth’s Oldest Civilizations
It’s difficult to sum up in so little words just how far back the history of Iran goes. It is believed that people have been constantly living in this part of the world since 7000 BC. This makes it one of the oldest civilizations on the planet that still exists today.
At its peak, Iran stretched far beyond its current borders, including areas such as Anatolia, Egypt and the Bosphorus. People such as the Kassites, the Gutians and the Mannaeans have called this region their home.
There Have Been Many Earthquakes Here
Iran is in a precarious position geographically, being located between the Eurasian, the Arabian and the Indian plates. This means that it has been susceptible to many earthquakes over the years. And more often than not, these earthquakes can be devastating, causing serious damage to the people and their surroundings.
Records from the previous century have revealed that there have been at least a dozen earthquakes that were either 7.0 or higher on the Richter scale.
The Land of Many Names
These days, the country is known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. But until 1935, it was known in the western world as Persia. Many believe that the reason it changed was that the Shah at the time wanted to show the rest of the world that they were no longer under control by others.
Then they asked foreigners to refer to the country as Iran, the name that locals used. In the past, Iran has also been called Arya, Aryanam, Iranzamin, Iranshahr.
Iran Has 10% of the Earth’s Oil
This might not be as fascinating as some of the other facts on this list, but still, it’s a pretty staggering statistic when you think about it! Apparently, Iran is home to a whopping 10% of all oil reserves on the planet.
To put things into perspective – if you were to put all of Iran’s oil reserves into one space, you would be looking at a huge 125 billion barrels of oil. Let’s face it – that’s a lot! Another 60% of the planet’s oil reserves are closeby, in the Persian Gulf.
All Iranian Carpets Are “Nearly” Perfect
There is a good reason why rugs of a specifically high quality are often referred to as “Persian rugs.” The actual rugs that this namesake came from are particularly beautiful and intricate in quality. For the last 2,500 years, Iranians have mastered the art of rug upholstery and as of today, they are the country’s second-largest export, after oil.
However, every single Persian rug produced is not 100% perfect. Weavers will deliberately make one tiny mistake to convey the idea that “only God is perfect.”
They Put Saffron in Everything?
There are some herbs, spices and leaves that can be connected directly to a nation and its culture. In this case, Iran’s is definitely saffron. This spice, identified primarily by its distinctively crimson leaves, can trace its origins back to Iran, despite some debate on the matter.
One of the arguments in Iran’s favor is that the Central Asian country produces more than 90% of the world’s saffron, a staggering statistic! Moreover, a famous Iranian ice-cream is the Bastani Sonnati, which is laden with saffron.
A UNESCO World Heritage Heaven
Not only does Iran have a rich and diverse history that goes back thousands of years, but it is also very proud of its many relics. The country boasts a staggering 23 UNESCO World heritage sites, making it a prime destination for tourists and historians alike.
Some of the highlights include the Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System, as well as the beautiful ancient city of Persepolis, which was constructed by Darius the Great back in 5th century BC.
Most Refugees in the World
This might come as a surprise to many but it actually turns out that Iran is home to the highest population of refugees on the planet. While you would expect certain western countries to hold that accolade, it’s actually Iran who wins in this area and the following reason explains why.
Seeing that some of the world’s biggest, most recent wars have happened in neighboring countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, over 1 million people have sought refuge in Iran.
Caviar Is a Big Deal Here
While caviar isn’t exclusively Iranian, this delicacy is a big deal in this part of the world. In fact, Iran hit the Guinness World Records in 2009 when it was labeled the largest producer of caviar. Generally speaking, the Central Asian country prides itself on producing many luxury foods.
In Iran, caviar is collected from sturgeons close to the Bandar-e Anzali. As a matter of fact, the word “caviar” is Persian in origin, and literally means “egg-bearing.”
Highest Ratio of Female Students
The impression you might get from a number of the facts on this list is that women have had it tough in Iran over the years. However, there is one area where the female populatuon in this country seems to thrive in. That is right, folks – education.
Iran hit the Guiness World Records once again in 2005. This time, they were labeled as the country with the highest ratio of female to male enrolment in both schools and universities, with 1.22 females to males making it into educational institutions.
So Many Royal Jewels
Here is another unique world record that Iran was awarded. While we often associated royal jewels with Queen Elizabeth II and British history, Iran seems to be even more opulent when it comes to rare gems and jewelry of royal figures.
The Treasury of National Jewels is an Iranian museum that has been open since 1992 and displays the many Iranian national jewels. The Financial Tribune famously once said that “putting a price on the collection would not be possible.”
There’s no singular answer as to why most Iranians identify themselves as Shia Muslim while many of their neighboring countries are predominantly Sunni.
But many historians will agree that the origins of this can be traced back to over a thousand years ago, when certain descendents of the Prophet Muhammad fled to Iran and spread the word to Persian tribes. While there are Shia populations in various parts of the world, this explains why Iran is the center of it.
Most Lethal Blizzard in History
Not all of the records that Iran holds are particularly happy ones, and this one is an example of that. In 1972, Iran experienced a truly lethal blizzard. For a week, harsh winter storms swepped the country.
When everything was said and done, about 4,000 people lost their lives at the hands of the blizzard. About three meters worth of snow covered the surface of the country. Cities such as Ardakan were the hardest hit by the blizzard.
Better Safe Than Sorry
In many Muslim communities, it is widely encouraged to have kids wherever possible because at the end of the day, life is sacred. But in Iran, contraception is something that is considered a bit more often and is something that couples are generally encouraged to have serious discussions about, especially during the courting process.
If you want to get a license to marry in Iran, you need to be lectured about contraception for an hour! Also, Iran has one of the only condom factories in Middle East!
Most Accurate Calendar in the World?
Another record that Iran holds is that it apparently has the most accurate calendar. The solar Hijri calendar is used both in Iran and its neighbor to the east, Afghanistan. It starts in Nowruz, otherwise known as the March equinox and similar to the Gregorian calendar, has about 365 or 366 days.
While the latter is pretty fixed, for the most part, the Hijri’s start of each year varies from year to year. Another similarity is that the 12 months each correspond to a zodiac sign.
Gender Inequality in the Family
As previously established, gender dynamics in Iran vary depending on what aspect of society you are refering to. In the family though, there is undeniably a fair share of eniquality at play. Ever since the governement replaced its legal system with Islamic Law in 1979, women have been considered both mentally and legally inequal to men.
Moreover, children are believed to be the “substance of the male.” This means that if a couple get divorced, women automatically lose custody of their kids.
Half of the Country Is Desert?
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that large parts of Iran are arid in climate. However, it’s amazing when you consider that nearly half the country is technically desert. Seeing that Iran receives less than four inches of rain every year, many areas can be very dry and difficult for life to sustain itself.
In 2005, Iran held the world record for the hottest surface temperature in recorded history. The desert of Dasht-e Lut had a recorded surface temperature of 70.7 °C (159 °F).
Iranians Are More Diverse Than You Think
It is no secret that Islam is the predominant religion in Iran and that many of the country’s societal and cultural norms are influenced by this religion. However, that doesn’t mean that absolutely everything about the country is Islam-centric, or that all of its people practice the same religion.
On the contrary, Iran is also renowned for having sizeable Christian and Jewish communities, as well as a thriving Baha’i population. Not to mention the fact that Zoroastrianism can trace its roots back to Iran.
The Flag’s Many Changes
Over the years, the Iranian flag has seen some interesting changes, to say the very least. The current flag, which has been in use since 1980, has three bands of green, white and red. White is a symbol for peace, green symbolizes the country’s religion, Islam, and red symbolizes bravery.
Then, the middle symbol is a stylized version of the phrase “None is worthy of worship but Allah,” shaped like a tulip. Before the revolution, the flag had a golden lion holding a sword, surrounded by the sun.
Inventors of the Qanat
One particular engineering marvel that Iranians can be claim credit for is the legendary qanat. This sophisticated water system collects water from underground and transports it through a series of tunnels to locations where communities need it the most.
The first qanats were constructed in Iran and its neighboring countries in the early 1st millennium BC. However, other scholars believed that the qanat can trace its origins back to Southeast Arabia. Whatever the case, it’s pretty awesome.
Iranians’ First Language Is Not Arabic
In the Middle East, the majority of the countries are renowned for having Arabic as their first language. And yet Iran, which is bang in the middle of that region, has a completely different language as its mother tongue.
Farsi is the first language people speak in this part of the world. After all, Farsi is another way of saying “Persian.” While the numbers in Farsi and Arabic are similar, that’s where the similarities pretty much end.
Were the 3 Wise Men Iranian?
Some of the most important figures in Christianity are believed to have Persian links of some kind. Take the three wise men for example. Also known as the Magi, these Zoroastrian priests were one of the Medes tribes. Marco Polo is believed to have visited the graves of the three wise men in Tehran.
With that said, later tellings of the nativity have suggested that only Melchior was from Persia, while Gaspar and Balthazar were from India and Arabia, respectively.
The Importance of Nowruz
While much of Iranian life is built around the Islamic calendar, Nowruz is a festival that is specifically linked to the nation. Known as the Iranian New Year, Nowruz is actually celebrated by many non-Iranians in countries such as China, India, Albania, Russia, Turkey and beyond.
It has been celebrated for over 3,000 years and is unique in that it is celebrated by a variety of people, regardless of their faith. House cleaning, shopping, parties, parades are just a couple of customs practiced on Nowruz.