The Culture of Iran (Persian? ), also known as Culture of Persia, is one of the most influential cultures in the world. Iran is considered as one of the cradles of civilization, and due to its dominant geo-political position and culture in the world, Iran has heavily influenced cultures and peoples as far away as Italy, Macedonia, and Greece to the West, Russia and Eastern Europe to the North, the Arabian Peninsula to the South, and the Indian subcontinent and East Asia to the East. Iran's rich history has had a significant impact on the world through art, architecture, poetry, science and technology, medicine, philosophy and engineering.
An eclectic cultural elasticity has been said to be one of the key defining characteristics of the Iranian identity and a clue to its historical longevity. The first sentence of prominent Iranologist Richard Nelson Frye's book on Iran reads:
Iran has one of the oldest, richest and most influential art heritages in the world which encompasses many disciplines including literature, music, dance, architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and stonemasonry.
Iranian art has gone through numerous phases, which is evident from the unique aesthetics of Iran. From the Elamite Chogha Zanbil to the Median and Achaemenid reliefs of Persepolis to the mosaics of Bishapur.
The Islamic Golden Age brought drastic changes to the styles and practice of the arts. However, each Iranian dynasty had its own particular foci, building upon the previous dynasty's, all of which during their times were heavily influential in shaping the cultures of the world then and today.
Several languages are spoken throughout Iran. Languages from the Iranian, Turkic, and Semitic language families are spoken across Iran. According to the CIA Factbook, 78% of Iranians speaks an Iranian language as their native tongue, 18% speak a Turkic language as their native tongue and 2% speak a Semitic language as their native tongue while the remaining 2% speak languages from various other groups. It must be noted that although the Azerbaijanis speak a Turkic language, due to their culture, history and genetics, they are often associated with the Iranian peoples.
The predominant language and national language of Iran is Persian, which is spoken fluently across the country. Azerbaijani is spoken primarily and widely in the northwest, Kurdish and Luri are spoken primarily in the west, Mazandarani and Gilaki spoken in the regions along the Caspian Sea, Arabic primarily in the Persian Gulf coastal regions, Balochi primarily in the southeast, and Turkmen primarily in northern border regions. Smaller languages spread in other regions notably include Talysh, Georgian, Armenian, Assyrian, and Circassian, amongst others.
Ethnologue estimates that there are 86 Iranian languages, the largest among them being Persian, Pashto, and the Kurdish dialect continuum with an estimated 150-200 million native speakers of the Iranian languages worldwide. Dialects of Persian are sporadically spoken throughout the region from China to Syria to Russia, though mainly in the Iranian Plateau.
The literature of Iran is one of the world's oldest and most celebrated literatures, spanning over 2500 years from the many Achaemenid inscriptions, such as the Behistun inscription, to the celebrated Iranian poets of the Islamic Golden Age and Modern Iran. Iranian literature has been described as one of the great literature's of humanity and one of the four main bodies of world literature.Distinguished Professor L.P. Elwell-Sutton described the literature of the Persian language as "one of the richest poetic literatures of the world".
Very few literary works of Pre-Islamic Iran have survived, due partly to the destruction of the libraries of Persepolis by Alexander of Macedon during the era of the Achaemenids and subsequent invasion of Iran by the Arabs in 641, who sought to eradicate all non-Quranic texts. This resulted in all Iranian libraries being destroyed, books either being burnt or thrown into rivers. The only way that Iranians could protect these books was to bury them but many of the texts were forgotten over time. As soon as circumstances permitted, the Iranians wrote books and assembled libraries.
Iranian literature encompasses a variety of literature in the languages used in Iran. Modern Iranian literature includes Persian literature, Azerbaijani literature, Kurdish literature and the literature of the remaining minority languages. Persian is the predominant and official language of Iran and throughout Iran's history, it has been the nation's most influential literary language. The Persian language has been often dubbed as the most worthy language of the world to serve as a conduit for poetry. Azerbaijani literature has also had a profound effect on Iran's literature with it being developed highly after Iran's first reunification in 800 years under the Safavid Empire, whose rulers themselves wrote poetry. There remain a few literary works of the extinct Iranian language of Old Azeri that was used in Azerbaijan prior to the linguistic Turkification of the people of the region.Kurdish literature has also had a profound impact on the literature of Iran with it incorporating the various Kurdish dialects that are spoken throughout the Middle East. The earliest works of Kurdish literature are those of the 16th-century poet Malaye Jaziri.
Some notable greats of Iranian poetry which have had major global influence include the likes of Ferdowsi, Sa'di, Hafiz, Attar, Nezami, Rumi and Omar Khayyam. These poets have inspired the likes of Goethe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many others.
Contemporary Iranian literature has been influenced by classical Persian poetry, but also reflects the particularities of modern-day Iran, through writers such as Houshang Moradi-Kermani, the most translated modern Iranian author, and poet Ahmad Shamlou.
Iranian music has directly influenced the cultures of West Asia, Central Asia, Europe and South Asia. It has mainly influenced and built up much of the musical terminology of the neighboring Turkic and Arabic cultures, and reached India through the 16th-century Persianate Mughal Empire, whose court promoted new musical forms by bringing Iranian musicians.
Iran is the place of origin of complex instruments, with the instruments dating back to the third millennium BC. A number of trumpets made of silver, gold, and copper were found in eastern Iran that are attributed to the Oxus civilization and date back between 2200 and 1750 BC. The use of both vertical and horizontal angular harps have been documented at the archaeological sites of Madaktu (650 BC) and Kul-e Fara (900-600 BC), with the largest collection of Elamite instruments documented at Kul-e Fara. Multiple depictions of horizontal harps were also sculpted in Assyrian palaces, dating back between 865 and 650 BC.
The reign of Sassanian ruler Khosrow II is regarded as a "golden age" for Iranian music. Sassanid music is where many the many music cultures of the world trace their distant origins to. The court of Khosrow II hosted a number of prominent musicians, including Azad, Bamshad, Barbad, Nagisa, Ramtin, and Sarkash. Among these attested names, Barbad is remembered in many documents and has been named as remarkably high skilled. He was a poet-musician who developed modal music, may have invented the lute and the musical tradition that was to transform into the forms of dastgah and maqam. He has been credited to have organized a musical system consisting of seven "royal modes" (xosrov?ni), 30 derived modes (nav?), and 360 melodies (d?st?n).
The academic classical music of Iran, in addition to preserving melody types that are often attributed to Sassanian musicians, is based on the theories of sonic aesthetics as expounded by the likes of Iranian musical theorists in the early centuries of after the Muslim conquest of the Sasanian Empire, most notably Avicenna, Farabi, Qotb-ed-Din Shirazi, and Safi-ed-Din Urmawi.
Iran has a rich and ancient dance culture which extends to the sixth millennium BC. Dances from ancient artifacts, excavated at the archaeological pre-historic sites of Iran, portray a vibrant culture that mixes different forms of dances for all occasions. In conjunction with music, the artifacts depicted actors, dancers and ordinary people dancing in plays, dramas, celebrations, mourning and religious rituals with equipment such as costumes of animals or plants, masks and surrounding objects. As time progressed, this culture of dance began to develop and flourish.
Iran is a multi-ethnic nation. Although the cultures of its ethnic groups are very similar and in most areas near identical, each has their own distinct and specific dance style. Iran possesses four categories of dance with these being: group dances, solo improvisational dance, war or combat dances and spiritual dances.
Typically, the group dances are often unique and named after the region or the ethnic groups with which they are associated with. These dances can be chain dances involving a group or the more common group dances mainly performed at festive occasions like weddings and Noruz celebrations which focus less on communal line or circle dances and more on solo improvisational forms, with each dancer interpreting the music in her own special way but within a specific range of dance vocabulary sometimes blending other dance styles or elements.
Solo dances are usually reconstructions of the historical and court dances of the various Iranian dynasties throughout history, with the most common types being that of the Safavid and Qajar dynasties due to them being relatively newer. These often are improvisational dances and utilize delicate, graceful movements of the hands and arms, such as wrist circles.
War or Combat dances, imitate combat or help to train the warrior. It could be argued that men from the Zurkhaneh ("House of Strength") and their ritualized, wrestling-training movements are known as a type of dance called "Raghs-e-Pa" with the dances and actions done in the Zurkhaneh also resembling that of a martial art.
Spiritual dances in Iran are known as "sama". There are various types of these spiritual dances which are used for spiritual purposes such as ridding the body of ill omens and evil spirits. These dances involve trance, music and complex movements. An example of such dance is that of the Balochi's called "le'b gowati", which is performed to rid a supposedly possessed person of the possessing spirit. In the Balochi language, the term "gowati" refers to psychologically ill patients who have recovered through music and dance.
The earliest researched dances from Iran is a dance worshiping Mithra, the Zoroastrian angelic divinity of covenant, light, and oath, which was used commonly by the Roman Cult of Mithra. One of the cult's ceremonies involved the sacrifice of a bull followed by a dance that promoted vigor in life. The Cult of Mithra were active from the 1st Century CE to the 4th Century CE and worshiped a mystery religion inspired by the Iranian worship of Mithra. It was a rival of Christianity in the Roman Empire and was eventually suppressed in the 4th Century CE by Roman authorities in favor of Christianity. This was done in order to counter the greater Iranian cultural influence that was expanding throughout the Roman empire. The cult was highly adhered and respected throughout the Roman Empire with it center in Rome, and was popular throughout the western half of the empire, as far south as Roman Africa and Numidia, as far north as Roman Britain, and to a lesser extent in Roman Syria in the east.
The history of Iranian architecture dates back to at least 5,000 BC with characteristic examples distributed over a vast area from Turkey and Iraq to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to the South Caucasus and Zanzibar. Currently, there are 19 UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites that were designed and constructed by Iranians, with 11 of them being located outside of Iran. Iranian architecture displays a great variety of both structure and aesthetics and despite the repeated trauma of destructive invasions and cultural shocks, the Iranian zeal and identity has always triumphed and flourished. In turn, it has greatly influenced the architecture of its invaders from the Greeks to the Arabs to the Turks.
The traditional theme of Iranian architecture is cosmic symbolism, which depicts the communication and participation of man with the powers of heaven. This theme has not only given continuity and longevity to the architecture of Iran, but has been a primary source of its emotional character of the nation as well. Iranian architecture ranges from simple structures to "some of the most majestic structures the world has ever seen".
Iranian architectural style is the combination of intensity and simplicity to form immediacy, while ornament and, often, subtle proportions reward sustained observation. Iranian architecture makes use of abundant symbolic geometry, using pure forms such as the circle and square, and plans are based on often symmetrical layouts featuring rectangular courtyards and halls. The paramount virtues of Iranian architecture are: "a marked feeling for form and scale; structural inventiveness, especially in vault and dome construction; a genius for decoration with a freedom and success not rivaled in any other architecture".
The traditional architecture of Iran throughout the ages is categorized into 2 families and six following classes or styles. The two categories are Zoroastrian and Islamic, which references the eras of Pre-Islamic and Post-Islamic Iran, and the six styles, in order of their era, are: Parsian, Parthian Khorasani, Razi, Azari, Esfahani. The pre-Islamic styles draw on 3000 to 4000 years of architectural development from the various civilizations of the Iranian plateau. The post-Islamic architecture of Iran in turn, draws ideas from its pre-Islamic predecessor, and has geometrical and repetitive forms, as well as surfaces that are richly decorated with glazed tiles, carved stucco, patterned brickwork, floral motifs, and calligraphy.
In addition to historic gates, palaces, bridges, buildings and religious sites which highlight the highly developed supremacy of the Iranian art of architecture, Iranian gardens are also an example of Iran's comic symbolism and unique style of combining intensity and simplicity for form immediacy. There are currently 14 Iranian gardens that are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with 5 of them being located outside of Iran. The traditional style of Iranian gardens are to represent an earthly paradise or a heaven on Earth. From the time of the Achaemenid Empire, the idea of an earthly paradise spread through Iranian literature to other cultures, with the word for paradise in the Iranian languages of Avestan, Old Persian and Median, spreading to languages across the world. The style and design of the Iranian garden greatly influenced the garden styles of countries from Spain to Italy and Greece to India, with some notable examples of such gardens being the gardens of the Alhambra in Spain, Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal in India, the Hellenistic gardens of the Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemies in Alexandria.
Zoroastrianism was the national faith of Iran for more than a millennium before the Arab conquest. It has had an immense influence on Iranian philosophy, culture and art after the people of Iran converted to Islam.
Today of the 98% of Muslims living in Iran, around 89% are Shi'a and only around 9% are Sunni. This is quite the opposite trend of the percentage distribution of Shi'a to Sunni Islam followers in the rest of the Muslim population from state to state (primarily in the Middle East) and throughout the rest of the world.
Followers of the Bahá'í Faith form the largest non-Muslim minority in Iran. Bahá'ís are scattered throughout small communities in Iran, although there seems to be a large population of Bahá'ís in Tehran. The Iranian government actively pursues the persecution of Bahá'ís.
Followers of the Christian faith consist of around 250,000 Armenians, around 32,000 Assyrians, and a small number of Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant Iranians that have been converted by missionaries in earlier centuries. Thus, Christians that live in Iran are primarily descendants of indigenous Christians that were converted during the 19th and 20th centuries. Judaism is an officially recognized faith in Iran, and in spite of the hostilities between Iran and Israel over the Palestinian issue, the millennia-old Jewish community in Iran enjoys the right to practice their religion freely as well as a dedicated seat in parliament to a representative member of their faith. In addition to Christianity and Judaism, Zoroastrianism is another officially recognized religion in Iran, although followers of this faith do not hold a large population in Iran. In addition, although there have been isolated incidences of prejudice against Zoroastrians, most followers of this faith have not been persecuted for being followers of this faith.
The Persian year begins in the vernal equinox: if the astronomical vernal equinox comes before noon, then the present day is the first day of the Persian year. If the equinox falls after noon, then the next day is the official first day of the Persian year. The Persian Calendar, which is the official calendar of Iran, is a solar calendar with a starting point that is the same as the Islamic calendar. According to the Iran Labor Code, Friday is the weekly day of rest. Government official working hours are from Saturday to Wednesday (from 8 am to 4 pm).
Although the date of certain holidays in Iran are not exact (due to the calendar system they use, most of these holidays are around the same time), some of the major public holidays in Iran include Oil Nationalization Day (20 March). Yalda (which is the longest night of the year) (December 21), Nowrooz--which is the Iranian equivalent of New Years (20 March), the Prophet's Birthday and Imam Sadeq (4 June), and the Death of Imam Khomeini (5 June). Additional holidays include The Anniversary of the Uprising Against the Shah (30 January), Ashoura (11 February), Victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution (20 January), Sizdah-Bedar--Public Outing Day to end Nowrooz (1 April), and Islamic Republic Day (2 April).
There are two stages in a typical wedding ritual in Iran. Usually, both phases take place in one day. The first stage is known as "Aghd", which is basically the legal component of marriage in Iran. In this process, the bride and groom, as well as their respective guardians, sign a marriage contract. This phase usually takes place in the bride's home. After this legal process is over, the second phase, "Jashn-e Aroosi" takes place. In this step, which is basically the wedding reception, where actual feasts and celebrations are held, typically lasts from about 3-7 days. The ceremony takes place in a decorated room with flowers and a beautifully decorated spread on the floor. This spread is typically passed down from mother to daughter and is composed of very nice fabric such as "Termeh" (cashmere), "Atlas" (gold embroidered satin), or "Abrisham" (silk).
Items are placed on this spread: a Mirror (of fate), two Candelabras (representing the bride and groom and their bright future), a tray of seven multi-colored herbs and spices (including poppy seeds, wild rice, angelica, salt, nigella seeds, black tea, and frankincense). These herbs and spices play specific roles ranging from breaking spells and witchcraft, to blinding the evil eye, to burning evil spirits. In addition to these herbs/spices, a special baked and decorated flatbread, a basket of decorated eggs, decorated almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts (in their shell to represent fertility), a basket of pomegranates/apples (for a joyous future as these fruits are considered divine), a cup of rose water (from special Persian roses)--which helps perfume the air, a bowl made out of sugar (apparently to sweeten life for the newlywed couple), and a brazier holding burning coals and sprinkled with wild rue (as a way to keep the evil eye away and to purify the wedding ritual) are placed on the spread as well. Finally, there are additional items that must be placed on the spread, including a bowl of gold coins (to represent wealth and prosperity), a scarf/shawl made of silk/fine fabric (to be held over the bride and groom's head at certain points in the ceremony), two sugar cones--which are ground above the bride and groom's head, thus symbolizing sweetness/happiness, a cup of honey (to sweeten life), a needle and seven strands of colored thread (the shawl that is held above the bride and groom's head is sewn together with the string throughout the ceremony), and a copy of the couple's Holy Book (other religions require different texts); but all of these books symbolize God's blessing for the couple. An early age in marriage--especially for brides--is a long documented feature of marriage in Iran. While the people of Iran have been trying to legally change this practice by implementing a higher minimum in marriage, there have been countless blocks to such an attempt. Although the average age of women being married has increased by about five years in the past couple decades, young girls being married is still common feature of marriage in Iran--even though there is an article in the Iranian Civil Code that forbid the marriage of women younger than 15 years of age and males younger than 18 years of age.
In Iran, Persian rugs have always been a vital part of the Persian culture.
Iranians were some of the first people in history to weave carpets. First deriving from the notion of basic need, the Persian rug started out as a simple/pure weave of fabric that helped nomadic people living in ancient Iran stay warm from the cold, damp ground. As time progressed, the complexity and beauty of rugs increased to a point where rugs are now bought as decorative pieces. Because of the long history of fine silk and wool rug weaving in Iran, Persian rugs are world-renowned as some of the most beautiful, intricately designed rugs available. Around various places in Iran, rugs seem to be some of the most prized possessions of the local people. Iran currently produces more rugs and carpets than all other countries in the world put together.
With 300 international awards in the past 10 years, Iranian films continue to be celebrated worldwide. The best known Persian directors are Abbas Kiarostami, Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi and Asghar Farhadi.
There is a resurgence of interest in Iranian contemporary artists and in artists from the larger Iranian diaspora. Key notables include Shirin Aliabadi, Mohammed Ehsai, Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh, Golnaz Fathi, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Parastou Forouhar, Pouran Jinchi, Farhad Moshiri, Shirin Neshat, Parviz Tanavoli, Y. Z. Kami, and Charles Hossein Zenderoudi.
Cuisine in Iran is considered to be one of the most ancient forms of cuisine around the world. Bread is arguably the most important food in Iran, with a large variety of different bread, some of the most popular of which include: nan and hamir, which are baked in large clay ovens (also called "tenurs"). In Iranian cuisine, there are many dishes that are made from dairy products. One of the most popular of which includes yoghurt ("mast")--which has a specific fermentation process that is widely put to use amongst most Iranians. In addition, mast is used to make soup and is vital in the production of oil. In addition to these dairy products, Iranian cuisine involves a lot of dishes cooked from rice. Some popular rice dishes include boiled rice with a variety of ingredients such as meats, vegetables, and seasonings ("plov") including dishes like chelo-horesh, shish kebab with rice, chelo-kebab, rice with lamb, meatballs with rice, and kofte (plain boiled rice). In addition, Iranian cuisine is famous for its sweets. One of the most famous of which includes "baklava" with almonds, cardamom, and egg yolks. Iranian sweets typically involve the use of honey, cinnamon, lime juice, and sprouted wheat grain. One very popular dessert drink in Iran, "sherbet sharbat-portagal", is made from a mixture of orange peel and orange juice boiled in thin sugar syrup and diluted with rose water. Just like the people of many Middle Eastern countries the most preferred drink of the people of Iran is tea (without milk) or "kakhve-khana".
Since the 1979 Revolution, Iranian women have had more opportunities in some areas and more restrictions in others. One of the striking features of the Revolution was the large scale participation of women from traditional backgrounds in demonstrations leading up to the overthrow of the monarchy. The Iranian women who had gained confidence and higher education during the Pahlavi era participated in demonstrations against the Shah to topple the monarchy. The culture of education for women was established by the time of revolution so that even after the revolution, large numbers of women entered civil service and higher education, and in 1996 fourteen women were elected to the Islamic Consultative Assembly. In 2003, Iran's first woman judge during the Pahlavi era, Shirin Ebadi, won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in promoting human rights.
According to a UNESCO world survey, at the primary level of enrollment Iran has the highest female to male ratio in the world among sovereign nations, with a female to male ratio of 1.22 : 1.00. By 1999, Iran had 140 female publishers, enough to hold an exhibition of books and magazines published by women. As of 2005, 65% of Iran's university students and 43% of its salaried workers were women. and as of early 2007 nearly 70% of Iran's science and engineering students are women. This has led to many female school and university graduates being under-utilized. This is beginning to have an effect on Iranian society and was a contributing factor to protests by Iranian youth.
During recent decades, Iranian women have had significant presence in Iran's scientific movement, art movement, literary new wave and contemporary Iranian cinema. Women account for 60% of all students in the natural sciences, including one in five PhD students.
Like the Persian carpet that exhibits numerous colors and forms in a dazzling display of warmth and creativity, Persian culture is the glue that bonds the peoples of western and central Asia. The South Caucasus and Central Asia "occupy an important place in the historical geography of Persian civilization." Much of the region was included in the Pre-Islamic Persian empires, and many of its ancient peoples either belonged to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European peoples (e.g. Medes and Soghdians), or were in close cultural contact with them (e.g. the Armenians). In the words of Iranologist Richard Nelson Frye:
The Culture of Persia has thus developed over several thousand years. But historically, the peoples of what are now Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Eastern Georgia, and Afghanistan are related to one another as part of the larger group of peoples of the Greater Iranian cultural and historical sphere. The Northern Caucasus is well within the sphere of influence of Persian culture as well, as can be seen from the many remaining relics, ruins, and works of literature from that region.(e.g. 1) (e.g. 2)
From the humble brick, to the windmill, Persians have mixed creativity with art and offered the world numerous contributions. What follows is a list of just a few examples of the cultural contributions of Greater Iran.
(Pers. nav?, Ar. la?n, na?ma, etc.)
Today more than four hundred locations of Mithraic worship have been identified in every area of the Roman Empire. Mithraea have been found as far west as Britain and as far east as Dura Europas. Between the second and fourth centuries C.E. Mithraism may have vied with Christianity for domination of the Roman world.
However, the cult was vigorously opposed by Christian polemicists, especially by Justin and Tertullian, because of perceived similarities between it and early Christianity. And with the anti-pagan decrees of the Christian emperor Theodosius during the final decade of the fourth century, Mithraism disappeared from the history of religions as a viable religious practice.