Boasting the former capital of the Persian Empire, as well as a number of cultural hubs along the old Silk Road, Iran is steeped in history.
The origins of a distinct Iranian, or then Persian, culture date back to the Achaemenian era, in around 550 BC.
From that point, the region suffered successive invasions, most notably by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century. Their culture changed the region significantly, and its influence still dominates Iran today.
The relics of Iran’s rich history can still be witnessed across the country. From ancient cities to famed tombs, here are 10 of Iran’s best historic site.
Persepolis was the ancient capital of the Persian Empire during the Achaemenid era. Founded by Darius I around 515BC, the city stood as a magnificent monument to the vast power of Persian kings. Famously, the city’s great palace of Xerxes was set alight by Alexander the Great’s troops in 330BC. The subsequent fire burned vast swathes of the city.
Today the imposing remains of Persepolis stand in modern-day Iran and the site is also known as Takht-e Jamshid. The ruins of Persepolis include The Gate of All Nations, Apadana Palace, The Throne Hall, Tachara palace, Hadish palace, The Council Hall and The Tryplion Hall.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great is located in the former Persian capital of Pasargadae, now a UNESCO-listed town in Iran. A stepped limestone structure crowned with a rectangular chamber, the Tomb of Cyrus the Great dates back to approximately 540-530 BC. It once contained a gold sarcophagus, Cyrus’ arms, his jewelry, and a cloak.
Restoration works to the tomb started in 2003 and continued to October 2008. Visitors can witness the white-limestone tomb chamber itself, which is 2 metres wide, 2 metres high, and 3 metres deep.
Pasargadae was the capital of the Persian Empire from the sixth century BC until it was conquered by the Macedonians led by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Now a town in Iran, Pasargadae was established by the first ruler of the Achaemenid Dynasty, Cyrus the Great.
Amongst the sites still visible at Pasargadae, which is a UNESCO World Heritage historical site, are several palaces – including the Presidential Palace – making up a royal complex and a fortress known as the Tall-e Takht.
Kandovan Village in North-West Iran is an historic cave-settlement which was likely founded in the late 13th or early 14th centuries, though these dwellings may date back as far as the 7th century. It is believed that the Kandovan caves were used as a place of refuge by people fleeing a Mongol invasion.
Today, some of these dwellings are still in use and are made up of cone-shaped rock-formations which are truly astounding to gaze upon. In recent times, Kandovan has started to become a tourist destination. It’s possible to take a tour of the cave-dwellings for a small fee.
Tchogha Zanbil is home to the impressive remains of the ancient city of Dur Untash, the holy capital of the Elamite Kingdom. Located between Anshan and Suse, the city of Tchogha Zanbil was founded in 1250 BC by King Untash-Napirisha. It was abandoned, unfinished in 640BC, following a devastating attack by the Assyrians.
The site boasts one of the greatest ziggurats to have been built in Mesopotamia. Originally a temple dedicated to the deity Inshushinak, it developed to become the ornate pyramid-like structure – ziggurat – that stands today. Beyond its great ziggurat, visitors to Tchogha Zanbil can also view ancient temples and palaces.
The Rawansar Tomb, also called Dekhmeye Rawansar, is an ancient rock cut tomb located in the rocky hilltops which overlook the modern town of Rawansar in western Iran. Though the origins of the Rawansar Tomb aren’t clear, the archaeological and decorative features of the tomb have seen it dated to the Achaemenid Empire period between the 6th and 4th centuries BC.
The tomb is cut directly into the rock and consists of an entranceway and interior chamber which would likely have contained the remains of those buried inside. It has been speculated that this may have been a private family tomb. The Rawansar Tomb was badly damaged by fire around 2007.
The Bisotun Archaeological Site near the modern city of Kermanshah, Iran, is known for containing one of the most important artefacts to have survived from the Persian Empire – the Behistun Inscription. Carved directly into high rocks, the Behistun Inscription recounts the life and victories of Darius the Great in three different languages – Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian.
As well as the inscription, the archaeological site also contains remains from the Median, Achaemenid and post-Achaemenid periods, including a statue of Heracles and a number of other rock-carved reliefs. The Bisotun Archaeological Site is UNESCO-listed.
The Khaju Bridge, or Khajoo Bridge, in Iran’s Isfahan region is a 17th-century structure, built as both a dam and a community space. It was erected under the rule of the Safavid Dynasty and boasts more than 20 arches.
Today, water scarcely flows beneath the Khaju Bridge. A dam was built in 1972 that blocks the flow of the Zayanderud for most of the year. Nonetheless, the structure is remarkably well preserved and well worth a visit.
The ancient city of Bam lies in Iran’s Kerman region. Its chief structure, the Arg-e Bam, or the Arg Citadel, is the largest adobe structure on the planet. It was constructed between the 6th and 4th centuries BC.
Much of the site was damaged by an earthquake in 2003, but reconstruction work has restored much of its former glory. Bam became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. Despite the damage it endured, it’s still a significant site and well worth a visit.
The Grand Bazaar of Tabriz is a historic trading centre in Tabriz, Iran. It’s thought to be one of the largest covered bazaars anywhere in the world and possibly the oldest surviving bazaar in the Middle East. The city of Tabriz itself has been of commercial and cultural significance for centuries, given its position along the historic Silk Road.
The Tabriz Bazaar is still a roaring commercial hub, with the building divided into sections. Each area is devoted to the sale of a different good, from rugs to jewellery and from food to clothing. The Bazaar became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.