UNESCO World Heritage Sites, IRAN
Iran is a country that stands out in many ways — From its conflicts with western powers to its own regional tensions. It is however lesser known that the Islamic Republic inherits some of the richest heritage in the region as the birthplace of one of the world’s oldest civilisations.
From ancient gardens that dates back to 500 BC to the ruins of a city from the First Persian Empire, the Islamic Republic possesses 21 World Heritage Sites — placing it among the top three countries within the Asia Pacific region in terms of the highest number of World Heritage Sites. However, many of these heritage sites remain in a basic shape, following the lack of funding coupled with years of poor tourist visitorships.
There is still much to be discovered in this country that is less frequented as a tourist destination, and can be hidden gems left awaiting to be discovered by the more adventurous cultural tourist from all over the world.
Perhaps the most impressive of all archaeological sites in Iran, one can travel back over two and a half millenniums and picture a part of the city in the Acharmenian world.
Also known as the “The City of the Persians”, Persepolis dates back as far as 515 BC during the ancient civilisation of Persia. Built to impress, the palatial complex symbolised the power of the Archaemenian rulers.
It was around 518 BC that Darius I began the construction of a new capital in Marvdasht. Till date, historians are split over the purpose of this city — Some believed that Persepolis functions as a residence and treasury located near the royal tombs at Naqsherostam while most see it as a centre for celebrations, as well as an administrative and commercial centre.
Meidan Emam, Esfahan
From festivals and polo matches to public executions — Meidan Emam was the centre of the Safavid dynasty during the 17th century. Its monuments today continue to be highly lauded in the Islamic world.
After Shah Abbas the Great decided to move his kingdom’s capital away from Qazvin in 1598, Esfahan experienced its renaissance and quickly became the pinnacle of Safavid architecture. The Meidan Emam, also known as Naqsh-e Jahan Square, is a public urban square in the centre of the city. Also translated as “Image of the World Square”, it was conceived as a manifestation of Shah Abbas’s desire to create a paradise on earth.
The royal square boasted luscious gardens with large avenues, as well as a royal enclosure with palaces and gardens. The crown jewel is the Masjed-e Shah, or the Royal Mosque, which boasts the largest dome in the city . It has beenopen to the public.
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was a private mosque of the royal court, which initially housed the private rooms of the Shah Abbas’s Harem. After being closed to the public for centuries, it is currently open to the public. Considerable effort has been put into the tile work and building design for the Shah’s harem who lodged in this building.
Other buildings in the square include the Ali Qapu Palace and the imperial bazzar.
The Persian Garden, Iran
Persian gardens are more than just works of art that combine man-made elements with nature — Those that remain in existence today are a living reflection of the evolving culture and identity of the Persians over some 2,500 years.
Dating back as far as the times of Cyrus the Great (circa 500B.C.), the gardens have combined the best of Persian heritage and engineering in a concerted effort to symbolise the concept of paradise on Earth.
Designed with a distinctive geometry order that divides the gardens into four distinctive quadrants known as the Chahar Bagh — Each sector represented the world through the sacred Zoroastrian elements of fire, water, earth and wind, with intersecting streams leading to a ‘pool of life’ as the very centre. Beyond the pre-Islamic times, the quartered pattern went on to symbolise the four heavenly streams, reflecting the image of heaven as depicted in the Qur’an.
The lush greenery of the gardens are a stark contrast to the greater environment which surrounds it. The arid climate of Iran is no environment for vegetation to naturally thrive in, and sophisticated decorative yet functional irrigation techniques have been deployed through the Qanat system — artificially sustaining the flora and fauna which flourish profusely within the walls of the gardens.
The geometric landscape architecture of Persian Gardens have had significant influence on various forms of Persian art — from carpets, potteries and paintings to music. It has also influenced the garden designs of other monuments from India’s Taj Mahal to Alhambra in Spain.
The Persian Garden is a collection of nine selected gardens within Iran that have been inscribed under UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites since 2011. The oldest surviving site is the Ancient Garden of Pasargadae, which was the palace garden of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae, dating back from over 500 B.C.