From the ancient palaces & remnants of the Persian empire to historic villages & ancient water systems, 24 sites in Iran are now part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
With 24 inscribed cultural sites, Iran is among the first 10 countries with the most cultural heritage sites in United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s world heritage list, some of them dating back to the 6th century B.C ! Given Iran’s antiquity and rich cultural/historical background, some of these cultural sites are also among the most significant cultural sites of the whole world, making them even more well-deserved for visiting. Here is a brief description of every registered cultural site in Iran that the travelers should put on their must-see list:
UNESCO Site: Meidan Emam, Esfahan (1979)
Dating back to the Safavian era at the beginning of the 17th century, Meidan-e-Emam, also known as Naghsh-e-Jahan(literally: image of the world), and previously known as Meidan-e-Shah, is a magnificent square, surrounded from all sides by monumental buildings, & famous for the elegant mosques of Sheikh Lotfollah & mosque of Imam, the impressive portico of Qaisariya, and the Timurid Palace. Being a UNESCO-inscribed site as one of the largest city squares in the world, Meidan-e-Emam serves as one of the most magnificent examples for Iranian & Islamic colorful architecture. Once in the square, you will find yourself lost in the beauty of the fountains & the garden at the center of the square, and enchanted by the blue-tiled mosaics of Masjed-e-Emam.
UNESCO Site: Persepolis
Founded by Darius, the Great, at 518 B.C. , Perspolis, now a UNESCO’s world heritage site, was once the capital city of the Achaemenid (Hakhamaneshi) empire, primarily designed to be a place for receptions & festivities. The city, ruins of which rest at the foot of Kuh-e-Rahmat(literally: Mountain of Mercy), was constructed on a half-natural, half-artificial terrace(inspired by Mesopotamian models) where various kings conceived a set of structures including staircases, reliefs & gateways,and some architecturally impressive palatial buildings such as the glorious Apadana Palace & the magnificent Throne Hall (Hundred-column Hall). The structure, known as the gem of Achaemenid (Persian) ensembles in different fields, reflects sublime concepts such as cultural tolerance & fair treatment in its design & continues to be among the archaeological sites that have no equivalent & that verify the glory of civilization of ancient Persia.
UNESCO Site: Maymand
Located in the Western part of Kerman province in south-eastern Iran, there is the magnificent Maymand village, 38km away from Shahr Babak. The area is situated on the Southern slopes along Iran’s central mountains chain. Due to the altitude difference in the area, there are diverse climate conditions which make it possible for the villagers & the locals to experience different seasons during the year. The age of this historical village goes back to the Parthian and early Sasanian periods, ca. 3rd century B.C. to 3rd century A.D. This UNESCO-inscribed village was once home to hundreds of nomads in 7 or 8 B.C. According to the locals, their ancestors used to carve out the cave-shaped homes with a hard, sharpened stone called ‘Kamar’ that has always been abundant in the area. Some of the houses are believed to have been continually inhabited by families since their creation thousands of years earlier. The area is a good destination for those who’d like to know how life had been long ago back in human history. The houses in this ancient, troglodytic village are carved like caverns inside the mountains. The village is an exemplary system of man made cave dwellings that locals used to make to cope with the region’s harsh climate.
Ideal for: scaping the city & reaching to your roots
The archaeological site of Takht-e-Soleyman (literally: Throne of Solomon), partly built in 6th & 7th centuries & partly rebuilt in 13th century (in the Ilkhanid(Mongol) period), is a magnificent, UNESCO’s world heritage site in Iran, located in a mountainous area in Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province. At the site’s centre, there is an oval-shaped platform rising above its surrounding ground, including the principal Zoroastrian sanctuary, an artesian lake, a Zoroastrian fire temple, & a royal temple of the Sasanian period, dedicated to Anahita(the divinity of the waters). The site carries a deep symbolic & spiritual significance related to fire & water, and has strongly & positively influenced the Islamic architecture.
UNESCO Site: Bam & its Cultural Landscape
Located on the southern part of the Iranian plateau, in Kerman province, southeastern Iran, Bam & its cultural landscape is a UNESCO’s world heritage site in Iran, bearing witness to the development of a trading settlement in the desert environment of central Asia, dating back to the Achaemenid period, living its most prosperous days from 7th to 11th centuries, being situated at the crossroads of principal trade routes such as the silk road, and famous for producing silk as well as cotton garments. The underground irrigation channels(the qanāts) have been providing the essential life in the oasis for more than two millennia which is impressive as its testimony to the building and maintaining the qanāts from such an early time in human history. An exceptional example of a fortified medieval town built with vernacular technique, using mud layers, marked by a series of forts and citadels, now in ruins.
UNESCO Site: Pasargadae
Founded by Cyrus, the Great, in the 6th century BC in the centre of Pars (Now known as Fars Province), Pasargadae was the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire, the first great multicultural empire in Western Asia. The vast archaeological site of Pasargadae includes some of the oldest manifestations of Persian art and architecture such as the compact limestone tomb[of Cyrus, the Great] on the Morgab plain, Tall-e-Takht (Solomon’s Throne), a fortified terrace, and the royal ensemble of gatehouses, audience hall, residential palace and gardens, all of which bear witness to the Achaemenid civilisation. Being a UNESCO’s world heritage site in Iran, Pasargardae also became a model for the famous Persian four gardens (Chahar Bāgh or Char Bāgh in Persian) which consists of four quadrants divided by waterways or pathways.
UNESCO Site: Soltaniyeh
Located in Zanjan province, in northwestern Iran’a city of Soltaniyeh, which was the capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty for a while, there is the magnificent mausoleum of Oljaytu, constructed by the Mongols, in the 14th century. Gonbad-e-Soltaniyeh, the double-shelled dome construction, embracing Oljaytu’s mausoleum, is known to be the earliest existing and exemplary model of a double-shelled dome, positively influencing Iranian and Islamic architecture since its construction. Some scholars have even declared it to have set a model and anticipated the Taj Mahal in India! The construct’s double-shelled dome is covered with turquoise-blue faience tiles and its interior decoration, including glazed tiles, brickwork, marquetry, stucco, and frescoes is outstanding, making it a worthy UNESCO’s world heritage site in Iran.
UNESCO Site: Bisotun
Dating back to the Achaemenid period (6th to 4th centuries BCE), located in Kermanshah province (west of Iran), there is a principal route linking Persia to Mesopotamia and the sacred mountain of Bisotun, on which an impressive cuneiform multilingual inscription has been carved. The inscription (mostly on the victories of King Darius I over various pretenders to the Persian empire and his res gestae, in three languages of old Persian, Elamite & Babylonian, was deciphered in the 19th century has proved useful in Assyriology. Another feature of Bisotun is its life-sized bas-relief, picturing Darius holding a bow as a symbol of sovereignty and treading on a figure’s chest (representing Gaumata according to legend). This UNESCO’s world heritage site in Iran clearly shows the influences’ interchange in the writing and monumental art development in the Persian empire.
UNESCO Site: Tchogha Zanbil
The ancient pyramidal marvel, Tchogha Zanbil, was built around 1250 B.C.E by the Elamite king, Untash-Napirisha, and dedicated mainly to the Elamite gods, Insushinak and Napirisha. However, it also included shrines dedicated to other gods in order to provide the diverse population of Elam with an all-inclusive worship center.
With Tchogha Zanbil, the king had intended to draw attention away from Susa as one of the royal cities of Elam and establish his new city as a capital. Unfortunately, his plans were not meant to be. He died when the complex was yet to be finished. The construction was abandoned; but it still remained a sacred place that attracted pilgrims until an attack by the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal.
After the attack, Tchogha Zanbil fell into oblivion for over 2500 years until 1935, when prospectors of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company were surveying the region by airplane and saw this antique treasure from above. It included a large ziggurat, temples, and shrines, together with housing for priests all enclosed behind three massive concentric walls and the interior, decorated in glass and ivory mosaics. Its ornate facade was once covered in glazed blue and green terra-cotta as well as thousands of baked bricks bearing inscriptions with Elamite cuneiform characters all inscribed by hand!
Glazed terracotta statues such as bulls and griffins guarded the entrances to the ziggurat. At the apex of Tchogha Zanbil stood a temple from which Inshushinak was believed to ascend to the heavens every night!
Tchogha Zanbil is the largest ziggurat outside of Mesopotamia and the best-preserved example of the stepped pyramidal monument. The complex is rightfully on UNESCO World Heritage List. It is an amazing place to touch…
UNESCO Site: Historic City of Yazd
In the middle of the Iranian plateau, there is a scenic city with an earthen architecture in the heart of the desert called Yazd. It is 270 km southeast of Isfahan close to the silk roads. The unique architecture of the city is the epitome of survival with limited resources in the desert. For several millennia they have learned how to adapt ways of living to have the optimal use in hostile environments. There is underground water and to draw the water out, qanat systems have been used. Yazd is rich with bounties of earthen architecture, bazaars, hammams, traditional mosques, and with remnants of synagogues, Zoroastrian temples. In Yazd, three religions of Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism coexist peacefully. The historic garden of Dolat-Abad & the Wind-catchers all around the city are worth seeing.
UNESCO Site: Shahr-i Sokhta
One of the world’s largest cities at the dawn of the urban era, the ‘Burnt City’ (Shahr-i Sokhta), founded in about 3200 B.C. is a mud-brick city in Zabol’s neighborhood, Sistan and Baluchestan province. It is located on the trade routes of the Bronze age which were connected to the Iranian plateau. The remains of the Shahr-i Sokhta announce the presence of the first complex societies in east Iran and are also an informative source to learn about the emergence of complex societies in general. Artifacts & a vast graveyard containing 25,000 to 40,000 ancient graves are some of the important remains which have been unearthed on the site.
UNESCO Site: Cultural Landscape of Hawraman/Uramanat (2021)
Located in the Kurdistan and Kermanshah provinces, at the heart of the Zagros Mountain ranges, nestled on the side of a mighty mountain, Hawraman/Uramanat landscape is a stepped architecture and an epitome of its kind, inhabited by the semi-nomadic Hawrami people, an agro-pastoral Kurdish tribe, settled in the region since ca. 3000 B.C.E. Its two main components are the Central-Eastern Valley (Zhaverud and Takht, in Kurdistan Province), and the Western Valley (Lahun, in Kermanshah Province). What makes Uramanat especially unique, is a festival known as “Pir-e-Shalyar” which takes place twice a year, at the beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn. In the festival, locals celebrate with traditional music, spiritual dancing, and eating a special kind of Ash. But even if you don’t make it to witness this one-of-a-kind celebration, you can still enjoy the breathtaking views, beautiful weather, and organic local food in this charming village in Iran. Also worth visiting is the lifestyle of the local people( the semi-nomads) as they are adapted & well-adjusted to the rough mountainous environment of the village. The unique architecture of the site, the way the locals do gardening on dry-stone terraces, and their seasonal vertical migration are some of the distinctive features of this wonderful cultural site.
UNESCO Site: Trans-Iranian Railway
From the Caspian Sea in the northeast of Iran to the Persian Gulf in the southwest, this magnificent railway connects the two spots while crossing two mighty mountain ranges as well as rivers, forests, highlands, plains, and four different climatic areas on its way. The construction of Trans-Iranian Railway required extensive mountain cutting & carving in many areas and a lot of geological and engineering challenges were faced and successfully overcome. No wonder it is now one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. It runs from Bandar-e Emam Khomeyni (formerly Bandar-e-Shahpur, north-east) via Ahvaz, Qom, and Tehran to Bandar-e-Torkaman (previously Bandar-e-Shah). Highlights of the route are the Se Khat Tala (Three Golden Lines) spiral, where thanks to tunnels & loops, can be seen from three different heights, and the magnificent Veresk Bridge in the Alborz mountains. The Trans-Iranian Railway also passes through the ancient city of Susa, a UNESCO_inscribed cultural site, dating back to 4,200 B.C., as well as two other World Heritage sites: the ancient hydraulic water system of Shushtar and Tchogha Zanbil.
UNESCO Site: Golestan Palace
When the Qajar family came into power in 1779, Teheran became the capital of the country and Golestan Palace became the seat of their government. One of the oldest historic monuments, the Golestan palace is well-known because of its rich ornaments dating back to the 19th century. It is a masterpiece of the Qajar era and the center of Qajari arts and architecture. It is also the only UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tehran. The palace has a lot of unique tile & mirror works in its architecture, and there are lots of masterpieces of Kamal-ol-molk’s paintings, one of the great Persian artists, and photo galleries and anthropology museum. Outside of the building, there are marble-paved courtyards with blue-tile ponds & floral gardens.