52 Sites of Iranian Culture and World Heritage

Doctor Yak
Jan 5 · 18 min read
The Pink Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. Credit: Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji

The United States assassinated Iranian General Suleimani, arguably the second most powerful man in Iran, on 3rd January 2020. This was following weeks of escalating conflict between the US and Iran. The United States President, Donald Trump, tweeted on 4th January 2020 in response to Iran’s threats of retaliation that he would target:

“52 Iranian sites, some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture” Donald Trump, Jan 4 2020

The next day, he reiterated

“They’re allowed to use roadside bombs…and we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site(s)? It doesn’t work that way.” Donald Trump, Jan 5 2020

By stating that Iranian Cultural sites were potential targets, Donald Trump intimated that he no longer cared for the favour of secular or expatriate Iranians. After all, the Islamic Regime is noteably hostile towards many Iranian Cultural sites. Those who will be most upset by Trump’s message will be those who might have previously supported him in any intervention leading to regime change in Iran.

The questions arises: Which sites of Iranian Culture are on Donald Trump’s list of 52?

Update 8th January 2020: Donald Trump has now removed his threat, stating “I like to obey the law”.


Number 1: Persepolis

The ancient ceremonial capital of the Achaemeneid empire (550–330 BC) and mythical UNESCO site of Iran. It was the symbolic centre of a Persian dynasty which abolished slavery and established the first declaration of human rights.


Number 2: Naghsh-e Jahan (Map of the World) Square, Isfahan

UNESCO site from the Safavid era of Persia (constructed between 1598–1629), when the city of Isfahan became the country’s capital of Iran. The main square was a Polo stadium.


Number 3: Cyrus Tomb in Pasargadae

The tomb of the Great King Cyrus the Great 539–538 BC — who first wrote down the doctrine of Human Rights on his Cyrus Cylinder, freed the Jewish people from Babylon and is a holy figure mentioned in the Torah, Bible and Qura’n. He is considered the Father of Persia.


Number 4: Golestan Palace in Tehran

The former royal Qajar complex in Iran’s capital city, Tehran. The palace belongs to a group of royal buildings which were once within the walls of Tehran’s citadel. The palace now contains a selection of European presents from the 18–19th centuries and crafts within its royal buildings and gardens.


Number 5: The Palace of Darius at Susa

The ancient palace complex of the Achamaeneid King Darius the Great in Susa, the ancient capital.

“At Susa a very excellent (work) was ordered, a very excellent (work) was (brought to completion). May Ahuramazda protect me, and Hystaspes my father, and my country”. Darius I, 29 September 522 BCE — October 486 BCE


Number 6: The Poets’ tombs at Shiraz

The tombs of the great poets Hafez and Saadi in Shiraz — the ancient city of Poetry, Love and Wine. Iranians love poetry, and these two (alongside Ferdosi, Khayam and Rumi) are amongst the most-quoted.

“Through love, roses become thorns”. Hafez, 1345

“When in the eyes of the beloved riches count not, gold and dust are as one to thee”. Saadi, 1257


Number 7: The Grand Ali Qapu Palace of Isfahan

The Imperial Gate to Splendour of the old capital and the peak of Safavid era architecture, first opened in 1597:


Number 8: The Amir Chakhmagh Complex of Yazd

A historical building (built 1438) from the Timurid era, containing a mosque, caravanserai and bathhouse, known for its symmetrical sunken alcoves


Number 9: The Old Family homes of Kashan

The Tabatabayi House and Amari House Pictured, all with fountain pools. Historical house museums built for affluent families during the Qajar dynasty (in the 19th century).


Number 10: The Pink Mosque of Shiraz

The Nasir al-Mulk mosque built during the Qajar dynasty, which uses coloured glass in its facade, and lots of pink-coloured tiles in its interior design.


Number 11: The Old Synagogues of Central Tehran

In the Torah, Cyrus the Great was declared as “God’s annointed”. After freeing the Jewish people from Babylonian rule, they were granted citizenship. Since then, Iranian Jews have a rich and long history, although their numbers have significantly diminished since the 1979 revolution. Now there are 25 active synagogues in Iran, such as Yusef Abad and Haim Synagogues:


Number 12: The Garden of Paradise (Eram Garden) in Shiraz

The jewel of the many Gardens of Shiraz originally belonged to leaders of the nomadic Qashqai tribe in the 13th Century, before being confiscated by the central government.


Number 13: The Tomb of Avicenna, Hamedan

The mausoleum of the ancient Persian physician and polymath and father of modern western medicine, Avicenna. His five-volume Canon of Medicine was the core textbook for European Universities, for more than four centuries.


Number 14: Masouleh — the Rooftop Village on the Mountain, Gilan

First founded in the 10th Century, this village is 1000m above sea level in the mountains, and is cut off by snow from the road during the winter months.


Number 15: The many beautiful ancient bridges of Isfahan.

The historical bridges built by Shah Abbas in the 17th century, reside on Isfahan’s “Zayande-Rud” (Birth River). Describing one of the bridges:

“Khaju is the culminating monument of Persian bridge architecture and one of the most interesting bridges extant … where the whole has rhythm and dignity and combines in the happiest consistency, utility, beauty, and recreation.” Arthur Pope (1881–1969)


Number 16: The Palace of 8 Heavens “Hasht Behesht”, Isfahan

This stunning palace was built in the 17th century and is based on the Zoroastrian vahista — a building which represents the astrological concept of eight planets corresponding to eight heavens. It also borrows Islamic eschatology and Christian symbolism of salvation.


Number 17: Tabiat “Nature” Bridge, Tehran

The most recent entry in this list, this structure was designed by Leila Araghian, a young architect. She wanted a natural bridge to connect to large parks in Tehran. The bridge has taken a life of its own as a meeting place for young and old


Number 18: Vakil Bath, Shiraz

A large public bath in the royal district of Shiraz. It was part of the royal district constructed in the Zand dynasty from 1751–1794


Number 19: Emamzadeh Hassan Village, Jangal district

A small village in rural Iran, where the only sense is of mindfulness — the kind of place where Omar Khayyam looked at the stars and imagined his verse.

“Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” Omar Khayyam 1048–1131


Number 20: Vank Church in Isfahan

One of the largest of Iran’s 800 churches. Built in 1606, the active church was dedicated to the hundreds of thousands displaced Armenian people due to the Ottoman War.


Number 21: The Azadi Tower in Tehran

The symbolic “Liberty Tower” combining elements of old and new. The cut marble tower is 45 metres tall and was commissioned by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s last Shah to mark the 2,500th year of the foundation of Iran in 1971.


Number 22: The Palace of Tachara

This is a ceremonial building which survived the burnings of Alexander of Macedon. It was the exclusive building of Darius I, though in practice was completed after his death (in 486 BC)


Number 23: The Ghare Kelisa in West Azerbaijan province

Ghare Kelisa is an Armenian monastery in West Azerbaijan, Iran. After being damaged by an earthquake in 1319, it was rebuilt, leaving little known about it’s origin.


Number 24: The Dolat Abad Garden, Yazd

This small pavilion and Unesco-listed gardens was built around 1750 with detailed latticework and stained glass windows. One of nine Persian gardens which are World Heritage Sites.


Number 25: The Bam Citadel

The largest adobe building in the world. Built 579–323 BC and was a symbol on the Silk Road, where it was at the crossroads of important trade routes, particularly known for the production of silk and cotton garments.


Number 26: The Palace of Ardashir, Shiraz

The Palace of the legendary Ardashir (founder of the Sassanian Dynasty) — built into the mountains in 224 AD close to the Ancient City of Gor. The palace was built next to a picturesque pond that was fed by a natural spring, perhaps in connection with the Persian goddess of water and growth, Anahita.


Number 27: The Niavaran Palace, Tehran

The Summer home for the Qajar Shahs and later Iran’s last dynasty (the Pahlavi dynasty). Now a monument to the last Shahs.


Number 28: The Emam Reza Shrine, Mashhad

The mausoleum of Emam Reza is the largest mosque in the world by area and is the heart of Shia Islam in Iran. Every year the ceremony of Dust Clearing is celebrated in the Imam Reza shrine.


Number 29: The Grand Bazaar, Tehran

One of the largest old bazaars in the world, split into several corridors over 10km in length. Bazaar like constructions have existed in Iran as far back as the 4th millenium BC, and Grand Bazaar continues this ancient legacy, predating the growth of the city of Tehran itself.


Number 30: The Blue Mosque, Tabriz

A historic mosque built in 1465 by Jahan Shah, damaged in a 1780 earthquake but left in a partially reconstructed state since then.


Number 31: Gonbad-e Qabus tower, Gonbad-e Qabus

A huge and imposing cylindrical tower built in 1006 as a mausoleum of Ziayrid ruler Qabus.

“It achieves an almost perfect balance between a purpose (princely glory beyond death), a form (cylindrical tower transformed into a star), and a single material (brick)” Oleg Grabar


Number 32: The masjed-e Jame of Isfahan

Before becoming a grand, congregational mosque, this huge building was said to have been a house of worship for Zoroastrians. First built in 771 during the Umayyad dynasty.


Number 33: The Soltaniyeh Dome

A Capital of the Mongol Ilkhanid rulers of Iran in the 14th century, Soltaniyeh city has this spectacularly large 200- dome as its centrepiece.


Number 34: The Firuzabad Ensemble and old Sassanid Art (224 CE–651)

Within a 12km, this ensemble comprises archaeological sites as the City of Gur, Qal’eh Dokhtar fortress, bas reliefs from the time of Ardashir (the founder of the Sassanian dynasty), the Old Pahlavi inscription of Mehr-Nerse and Tangab Bridge. This ensemble embodies the political, historic, cultural and artistic developments of the early Sassanian period (224 to 651 AD)


Number 35: The Ancient Caravanserais of the desert, Khurasan-e Razavi, Isfahan and Yazd Provinces

There are hundreds of Caravanserais in Iran, important forms of persian architecture which arose as a need given the country’s place on the Silk Road, and the demands and requirements of travellers.

These were checkpoints and a place for travellers to rest and keep their belongings safe. They were also a meeting point for travelers, merchants, scientists, and many other scholars who wanted to exchange knowledge and ideas, as well as discover new civilizations.


Number 36: The Taq-e Bostan “Arch of the Garden” rock reliefs, Kermanshah

This site from the 4th century AD comprises a series of large rock reliefs in the heart of Iran’s Zagros mountain range. The carvings are some of the finest and best-preserved examples of Persian sculpture under the Sassanids.

“Art was characteristic of the Iranian people and the gift which they endowed the world with.” Arthur Pope 1881–1969


Number 37: The Collection of Historical Bridges, Lorestan Province

Large bridges began to be built in the fourth century AD to straddle the many small and large rivers in Iran. Lorestan (the land of the Lurs) has many great examples.


Number 38: The Ancient Soleymanieh Spring, Kashan

Mythical Spring first discovered in the 6th millenium BC and named after the prophet Solomon. The first buildings of the spring were built in 1950BC


Number 39: The Historic Centre of Yazd

The City of Windcatchers — which still has a sizeable Zoroastrian and Jewish community. The entire city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, and contains Zoroastrian fire temples, cisterns, underground channels, handicrafts and silk weaving and famous sweets.


Number 40: The Chogha Zanbil, Khuzestan

An ancient Elamite Complex built in 1250 BC to honour the great God Inshushinak. Some scholars speculate, based on the large number of temples and sanctuaries at Chogha Zanbil, that Ruler Untash-Napirisha attempted to create a new religious center (possibly intended to replace Susa) which would unite the Gods of both highland and lowland Elam at one site.


Number 41: The Takht-e Soleyman (Fort of Solomon) fortification, West Azerbaijan province

Apparently King Solomon used to imprison monsters in the crater of this ancient fortified site, located on a hill created by the outflow of a calcium-rich spring pond. The citadel includes the remains of a Zoroastrian fire temple built during the Sassanid period and partially rebuilt (as a mosque) during the Ilkhanid period.


Number 42: The Historic Bazaar of Tabriz

The Historic Bazaar of Tabriz was one of the most important Silk Road commercial centres, and was described by Marco Polo during his travels through it. The Bazaar flourished during the 16th century, when Tabriz became capital of the Safavid Dynasty.


Number 43: The Behistun Inscription CliffKermanshah

Behistun means the “place of God”, and this is a multilingual inscription established by Darius the Great (522–486 BC). Much of the messages are dedicated to the Zoroastrian religion and the “grace of Ahura Mazda”.


Number 44: The Ancient Rocky Village of Meymand, Kerman

These homes, dating back to 12,000 years ago, are hand dug amongst the rocks. The village has stone engravings which are nearly 10,000 years old, and pottery nearly 6,000 years old attest to the long history of settlement at the village site


Number 45: The Burnt City “Shahre Sukhteh”, Sistan and Baluchistan province

No one knows the history of this city from 3200 years BC, though some ancient cups (and the first artificial eyeball) have been found there


Number 46: The Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System, The Island City of Shushtar

One of the first irrigation systems ever created, from 500BC, and dubbed “a masterpiece of creative genius”. The infrastructure included water mills, dams, tunnels, and canals.


Number 47: The Castle of Alamut (The “Eagle’s Nest”), Qazvin

Have you played Assassin’s Creed? The worlds first assassin (and creator of the cult of assassins) Hassan-i Sabbah had his castle here, where it was base of operations for the Assassins, whose series of unconnected strategic strongholds scattered throughout Persia and Syria, with each stronghold being surrounded by huge swathes of hostile territory. Alamut was the largest and most famous, thought impregnable to any military attack, and was fabled for its heavenly gardens, library, and laboratories where philosophers, scientists, and theologians could debate in intellectual freedom.


Number 48: The village of Dizin, Alborz Mountain range, Iran

A group of cottages and resort established by the former Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The slopes have fantastic powder.


Number 49: The Borujerdi House, Kashan

Built from Soft clay in 1913, this historic house museum typifies Iran’s traiditional residential architecture, including a courtyard with a fountain pool and a two-story iwan (balcony).


Number 50: The Qavam House and Naranjestan Garden, Shiraz

Built between 1879 and 1886, this preserves the elegance enjoyed by upper-class Iranian families during the 19th century. The mirrored porch was a focal point of the house, overlooking a small garden that was designed with fountains, date palms, and flowering plants.


Number 51: Naghsh-e Rostam and Naghsh-e Rajab Necropolises

These Ancient necropolises of the Achaemeneid dynasty (550–330 BC) contain ancient Iranian rock reliefs which have been cut into cliff faces. There are also Sassanian dynasty reliefs closeby, suggesting the Sassanid intention to linke themselves with their predecessors’ glories.


Number 52: The Chehel Sotoun Palace, Isfahan

This palace was built by Shah Abbas for his entertainment and receptions. The name means “forty columns” in Persian, and the interior is adorned with many historical battles and scenes.

The Yak

Yakking all day about technology, healthcare, culture and art.

Doctor Yak

Written by

Yakking all day about technology, healthcare, culture and art.

The Yak

The Yak

Yakking all day about technology, healthcare, culture and art.

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