45+ Facts About Iran You Should Know

Iran Facts: Aerial view of the city of Tehran from above

Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country of incredibly diverse landscapes in Western Asia. Although much maligned, Iran is a nation of great intellectual variety and depth, and one of the oldest continuing civilizations in the world. Boasting a rich history, surprising ethnic diversity, and captivating culture, Iran is a country worth getting to know. Here are some interesting facts about Iran. 

Facts about Iran

1. Iran is the second-largest country in the Middle East.

Occupying a total area of 1,648,195 km² (636,372 sq mi), Iran is the second-largest nation in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia. Comparatively, it is almost 2.5 times the size of the US state of Texas. 

2. Iran shares a land border with seven countries. 

Iran is bordered to the west by Turkey (534 km/332 mi) and Iraq (1,599 km/994 mi), to the northwest by Armenia (44 km/27 mi) and Azerbaijan (689 km/428 mi), to the northeast by Turkmenistan (1,148 km/713 mi), to the east by Afghanistan (921 km/572 mi), and to the southeast by Pakistan (959 km/596 mi). 

3. Iran has a 2,440 km (1,516 mi) long coastline. 

Iran’s 2,440 km (1,516 mi) long coastline can be found in the south along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

4. Iran is home to the tallest mountain in the Middle East and the highest volcano in Asia. 

The dormant stratovolcano Mount Damavand is the highest peak in Iran and the Middle East. Located in the middle of the Alborz range in north-central Iran, Mount Damavand is also the second most prominent peak in Asia after Mount Everest.  It rises to an elevation of 5,609 meters (18,402 ft).

5. Nearly a quarter of Iran’s territory consists of desert. 

Contrary to the popular notion, Iran isn’t primarily made up of arid, lifeless desert. Approximately 23% of Iran’s territory is desert. The two major deserts in Iran are Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut.

6. There is only one navigable river in Iran. 

Of the few perennial rivers in Iran, only the Karun River in the west is navigable due to its width and high water flow rate. It is used to transport passengers and cargo.

7. Iran has been governed by a cavalcade of empires and dynasties. 

Throughout its long history, Iran has passed through many empires and dynasties. At some point in time, Iran was ruled by the Medes, the Achaemenids, the Macedonians, the Seleucids, the Parthians, the Sasanians, the Saffarids, the Ziyarids, the Mongols, the Timurids, the Safavids, the Afsharids, the Zands, the Qajars, and the Pahlavis.

8. The official language of Iran is Farsi (or Persian). 

Farsi, also commonly known as Persian, is the official language of Iran. It is spoken either as a first language or second language by virtually all Iranians.

An Indo-European language of the Indo-Iranian group, Farsi derives from ancient Persian, with an admixture of many Arabic words. 

9. Before 1935, Iran was known as “Persia.” 

Iran was historically known as Persia in the West, meaning “land of the Persians.” In 1935, Reza Shah (Shah of Iran) requested foreign delegates to refer to the country by its native name, Iran, meaning “Land of the Noble Ones.”

Today, both “Persia” and “Iran” are used interchangeably in cultural contexts. However, “Iran” is the name used officially in political contexts.

10. Until the arrival of Islam, Zoroastrianism was the main religion in Iran. 

Until the Arab conquest introduced Islam, Zoroastrianism was the main religion in Iran. Zoroastrianism originated in Persia and served as the state religion of the ancient Iranian empires for more than a millennium. It takes its name from its prophet Zoroaster.

One of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions, Zoroastrianism was also one of the first religions to postulate an omnipotent, invisible god. Estimates of Zoroastrians in Iran today vary widely, with anywhere between 25,000-60,000 adherents.

11. The popular Japanese carmaker Mazda is named after the Zoroastrian deity Ahura Mazda. 

Did you know that the famous Japanese carmaker “Mazda” comes from Ahura Mazda, the supreme being in Zoroastrianism, and the god of harmony, intelligence, and wisdom?

12. Iran has the largest population of Shia Muslims in the world. 

One of the interesting facts about Iran is that the country is home to the biggest population of Shiites. Approximately 90-95% of Iran’s Muslims adhere to Shia Islam. 

Shia Islam is the official religion of Iran and it is also one of the four countries where Shias form a majority of the population.

13. Up until the Safavid conversion of Iran to Shia Islam, the country had a Sunni majority. 

Islam arrived in Iran with Arabs in the seventh century, gradually supplanting Zoroastrianism as the main religion. Iran’s population after the Arab conquest from the 7th century to the 16th century was mostly Sunni.

After the Safavids reunified Iran as an independent state in the early 16th century, they launched a brutal campaign to convert the majority Sunni population to Twelver Shiism and thus transformed the religious landscape of Iran.

14. Tehran, the capital of Iran, is the most populous city in Western Asia. 

With a population of around 9 million, Tehran is Western Asia’s most populous city. It is also the second-largest metropolitan area in the Middle East behind Cairo.

15. Iran is a multiethnic nation. 

Iran is one of the Middle East’s most diverse countries. The present ethnic composition of Iran is a result of large-scale migration and conquests, which have been superimposed on one another. 

The Persians (including Mazanderanis) are the largest ethnic group followed by Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Lurs, the Baloch, Turkmen, and other Turkic groups (Armenians, Talysh, Georgians, Circassians, and Assyrians). What’s interesting is that of the major ethnicities, there are generally certain regions where one of the ethnic groups tends to dominate the population. 

The Persians are found across Iran, but the major cities of Tehran, Mashhad, Esfahan, Shiraz, and have the highest concentrations. The Azeris are primarily concentrated in northwest Iran, in the Azerbaijan provinces around Tabriz. The Kurds inhabit the mountainous west, particularly the Kurdistan province near the Iraqi border.

The Arabs are mostly concentrated in the province of Khuzestan near the Iraqi border, and on the coast and island of the Persian Gulf. Most Lurs live in or near the mountainous province of Lorestan. Most Baluchis can be found in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan in the southeast near the Pakistani border.

16. An assortment of regional languages are spoken in Iran. 

Besides Persian, Azeri, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Luri, Lari, Kurdish, Baloch, Arabic, Talysh, Armenian, Georgian,  and Circassian are all spoken by minorities in Iran.

17. Iran is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. 

Straddling the seam between the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates and crisscrossed by major fault lines, Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. On average, the country experiences about 250 earthquakes every year of 4 to 4.9 magnitude.

Iran has experienced more than 20 major earthquakes (above 6 on the Richter scale) in the past century and seismologists estimate that a large urban area will be hit every 7-8 years.

18. Iran has the fourth-largest proven oil reserves in the world. 

Iran is one of the world’s largest oil producers and possesses the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves. Only Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Canada have greater amounts.

19. Iran has the second-largest proven natural gas reserves in the world. 

Iran holds approximately 17-18% of the world’s total natural gas reserves. Only Russia has more.

20. Iran is the world’s largest producer of saffron. 

Iran produces over 90% of the saffron produced worldwide every year. Sometimes costing more than gold, saffron is the most expensive and sought-after spice in the world. As such, it is commonly referred to as “red gold.” 

21. Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh was the first democratically elected leader toppled by a CIA coup d’état in 1953. 

Britain had controlled Iran’s hugely profitable oilfields for decades through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later British Petroleum). After being elected Prime Minister in 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh wanted Iran to benefit from its huge oil reserves and sought a better deal for the country. 

After the British denied Iran a fairer share, he nationalized the company and expelled British diplomats. The British were desperate to get ‘their’ oil back and after Winston Churchill was re-elected in 1952, he managed to persuade the new Eisenhower administration in the USA that Mossadegh had to go.

In an infamous covert military operation known as “Operation Ajax”, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United Kingdom’s MI6, with the help of Iranian elements, used rogue elements in the military and overthrew Iran’s first popularly elected Prime Minister on 19 August 1953.

After the coup, power was restored to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran. For its role in the ousting of Mossadegh, the US obtained a 40% stake in Iranian oil. Mossadegh, meanwhile, spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

22. Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling monarchy was overthrown in a revolution. 

The Iranian Revolution was the Islamic revolution that replaced the secular, pro-Western monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with an anti-Western theocracy led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. 

The Iranian Revolution was believed to have stemmed partly from a conservative backlash opposing the westernization, modernization, and secularization efforts of the Western-backed Shah, as well as from a more popular reaction to the shortcomings of the Shah’s authoritarian regime. 

While the Shah increasingly modernized Iran and claimed to retain it as a fully secular state, arbitrary arrests and torture by his secret police, the SAVAK, were used to crush all forms of political opposition. 

Exiled Shia cleric Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution, publicly denounced the Shah as a “wretched miserable man” and argued that the Shah be overthrown. 

Between August 1978 and February 1979, Iran witnessed a revolution that toppled the Pahlavi regime, wiped out the privileges of the Pahlavi elite, and significantly weakened its s

secularized middle classes. 

Following a referendum in March 1979, in which over 98% of the population voted in favor, the world’s first Islamic Republic was formed, marking a major shift in the country’s political structure, foreign policy, legal system, and culture.

23. Iran was the first country to have a condom factory in the Middle East.

The Kayhan Bod plant is about two hours drive to the west of Tehran. It was the first state-supported condom factory in the Middle East.

The condom factory produces about 45 million condoms a year in 30 different shapes, colors, and flavors. In addition to condoms, birth control pills, and permanent sterilization are provided to Iranian citizens who want them, free of cost.

24. Iran also requires all men and women to take a class on contraception before receiving a marriage license.

This may come as a surprise but Iran is remarkably progressive when it comes to contraception. In an effort to limit childbirth, Iran deems it necessary that all men and women take a contraception class session before getting a marriage license.

Besides providing free access to contraception, the Iranian government restricts maternity leave benefits after the birth of a third child.

25. The world-famous ‘Persian Longhair’ or ‘Shiraz Cat’ is native to Iran.

Native to Iran, the Persian cat is one of the most popular pedigreed cats in the world. It is known to have distinct features of woolly fur, short muzzles, and round, grouchy faces.

26. Iran was involved in a near eight-year bloody conflict with neighboring Iraq in the 1980s.

The Iran-Iraq War was fought between the two neighboring countries from September 1980 to August 1988. The bloody conflict led to scores of casualties and billions of dollars in damages and destruction with no real gains on either side of the conflict.

Shortly after the success of the Iranian Revolution, leader Ruhollah Khomeini began calling for an Islamic revolution in Iraq to overthrow the ruling Sunni dominated Ba’ath party led by Saddam Hussein. Besides Iran, Iraq is the one large state in the Middle East with a Shia Muslim majority population.

Khomeini’s call threatened Hussein and the Ba’athists, who saw the new Iranian government as a threat to Iraq. Wary of the radicalizing effect of the Islamic revolution on Iraq’s restive Shia majority and wanting to replace Iran as the dominant Persian Gulf state the war began with Iraq’s invasion of the oil-producing province of Khuzestan in Iran.

Although Iraqi forces made several early advances, by mid-1982 Iranian forces successfully managed to repel the Iraqi army back into Iraq. Despite UN Security Council’s calls for a ceasefire, hostilities continued until August 1988. 

The war finally ended in a stalemate with a UN-brokered ceasefire accepted by both sides.  During the war, an estimated 300,000 to one million Iranians and between 250,000-500,000 Iraqis died.

27. Iran is home to the third most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia.

One of the lesser-known Iran facts is that the country is home to the third-highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia. With a total of 26 properties inscribed on the World Heritage List, only China (56) and India (40) have more. 

Some of the most prominent UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iran include the Lut Desert, the Golestan Palace, the Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex, and Persepolis.

28. Iran is the birthplace of the sport of Polo.

The horseback game of polo originated in Iran dating from between 600 BC to 100 AD. Polo was initially a training game for Persian cavalry units, who played with as many as 100 participants per side. It is also regarded as one of the oldest team sports.

29. Friday is the official weekend in Iran.

One of the fascinating facts about Iran is that Friday is the official weekend in the country. In other words, unlike most countries in the world, the official weekend in Iran is only one day. In Iran, the workweek runs from Saturday to Thursday. 

30. The Iranian government prohibits same-sex unions but endorses, and subsidizes sex-change operations.

In Iran, homosexuality is a crime, punishable by death for men and lashings for women. However, it is accepted that a person may be trapped in a body of the wrong sex. 

Therefore, homosexuals in Iran are often pushed into having sex-change operations, which are not only legal but also subsidized by the Iranian government. In addition, sex reassignment in Iran among transgender people is very common.

More gender reassignment operations have been performed in Iran than in any other country in the world (bar Thailand of course).

31. Iran holds the Guinness World Record for the largest hand-woven carpet.

The Iran Carpet Company manufactured the largest hand-woven carpet for the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in UAE in 2007. Designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi, the carpet measures a staggering 5,627 m² (60,570 sq ft), and was made by over a thousand carpet weavers.

32. The national sport of Iran is wrestling.

Wrestling has been traditionally regarded as Iran’s national sport. In fact, Iran has won a majority of its Olympic medals in wrestling events.

33. Iran has never won a medal at the Winter Olympics.

Despite having participated in the Winter Olympics since 1956, Iran has never managed to win a medal.

34. The most popular sport in Iran is football (soccer).

Today, the most popular sport among Iranians is undoubtedly football (soccer). Iran’s football team has won the Asian championships (AFC Asian Cup) on three occasions in 1968, 1974, and 1976.

At the FIFA World Cup, Iran has qualified five times (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, and 2018) but has never progressed beyond the group stages.

35. Chelow kabab is the national dish of Iran.

Commonly regarded as the Iranian national dish, Chelow kabab consists of boiled or steamed rice and kabab, of which there are several distinct Persian varieties. This delicious dish is typically served with accompaniments such as butter, sumac powder, basil, onions, and grilled tomatoes.

36. Iran is the world capital of rhinoplasty.

Since the early 2000s, Iran earned the title “nose job capital of the world”. Rhinoplasty is the most popular cosmetic surgery in Iran and getting a rhinoplasty (cosmetic nose surgery) has become a rite of passage for many Iranian women and even men.

The reasons behind the surgery include self-esteem and marriageability, as well as medical issues. Due to the Islamic dress code for women practiced in Iran, which leaves only their faces exposed, the nose is very prominent; thus, rhinoplasty is highly common.

37. VISA and MasterCard are not accepted in Iran.

Interestingly, due to US sanctions on Iran, major credit cards like Visa and MasterCard and services like PayPal are not accepted in the country. Instead, an Iranian prepaid debit card called Mah Card is commonly used in Iran.

38. To date, two Iranian movies have won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

Iranian cinema is recognized as one of the most innovative and exciting in the world and along with China, India, Japan, and South Korea, Iran has been lauded as one of the best exporters of Asian cinema. 

A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016), both of which were directed by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, are the two Iranian films to win the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

39. Polygamy is legal in Iran, and men can marry up to four wives.

Although polygamy is legal in Iran, it is rarely practiced nowadays.

40. The legal age for marriage in Iran is 13 years for girls and 15 years for boys.

Iran allows girls as young as 13 to marry legally. Boys may marry at 15, the legal age at which Iranians can vote. Furthermore, a woman needs a male guardian’s consent — either from her father or paternal grandfather to marry.

41. Tea is the most popular drink in Iran.

Like most other Asian countries, tea is undoubtedly the beverage of choice in Iran.

42. Iranians celebrate their new year on 21 March.

Iran’s official New Year begins with Nowruz, a pre-Islamic festival celebrated annually on the vernal equinox.

43. The inscription on the national flag of Iran reads “Allāhu Akbar” (“God is great”) and is repeated 22 times. 

The phrase “Allāhu Akbar” (“God is great”) is repeated a total of 22 times in the Kufic script on the Iranian tricolor. It honors the date of the Iranian Revolution: 22 Bahrām in the present Iranian calendar (Solar Hijri calendar).

44. Iran is the only country in the world where the Asiatic Cheetah can be found. 

The critically endangered Asiatic Cheetah can only be found in the central deserts of Iran. It is believed that fewer than 50 are left in the wild.

45. The official currency of Iran is the Iranian Rial (IRR). 

The Iranian Rial, named after the Spanish real, first appeared in 1798 and is issued and managed by the Central Bank of Iran.

46. In 2007, Iranian officials detained 14 squirrels for spying. 

One of the wackiest Iran facts is that in 2007 Iranian Intelligence officials arrested 14 squirrels near a nuclear enrichment plant. The officials claimed that these rodents had some sort of small recording or radio device that was used for eavesdropping by Western powers determined to undermine the Islamic Republic.

However, no further information about where they thought the squirrels came from or what happened to them was released.

47. Iran was never colonized. 

Iran is one of the handful of Asian countries which managed to avoid suffering under the yoke of European control. Due to its strategic location, both British and Russian forces were interested in controlling present-day Iran (then the Persian Empire).

In order to maintain autonomy over its territory, Iran ceded small chunks of territory to Russia (comprising modern-day Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) and Britain, with the latter seizing the rights to oil, gas, and the tobacco trade.

48. In 1979, Iranian revolutionaries seized control of the US embassy in Tehran and took embassy workers, hostage, for 444 days. 

In November 1979, a group of radical Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 66 American hostages. 

The immediate cause of this action was US President Jimmy Carter’s decision to permit Iran’s deposed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a pro-Western autocrat who had been expelled from his country some months before, to come to the United States for medical treatment.

The students demanded the extradition of the former Shah in exchange for the hostages. 14 hostages were released relatively quickly, but 52 of them spent 444 days in captivity. 

The students set their hostages free in January 1981 after the Shah died in Egypt and the US agreed to unfreeze his assets.

49. The internet is heavily censored in Iran. 

Iran has one of the world’s broadest and sophisticated Internet censorship infrastructures. The Iranian government blocks websites and other content on the web to enforce the law and suppress dissent.

Since 2012, Iran has used a state-controlled national internet for everyone to use. It doesn’t support many social media and communications platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and Snapchat. 

Many popular global websites relating to health, science, sports, news, pornography, and shopping are also periodically blocked. Locals who want to use these sites have to use a private VPN.

Nonetheless, despite government restrictions, many Iranian citizens and Iranian leaders — including the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — are active on social media.