You're familiar with Iran from the news headlines, but those stories seldom focus on anything positive about any of the countries in the Middle East. So, how much do you actually know about Iran? You might be surprised to learn that the country and its people aren't exactly what most people in the West assume them to be.
Let’s take a deeper look at this Middle Eastern country, its culture and its incredibly rich history. From ancient facts to modern-day cultural trends, the details will add some fun new facts to your knowledge base and make you feel a little more worldly.
Iran by Any Other Name
Ever wonder who came up with the name "Iran" in the first place? Apparently, the name was first used back in the time of the Sassanids, a pre-Islamic Persian empire that was around from 226 to 651 CE. In their language, Iran literally meant the "Land of the Aryans."
World Class Weaving
When you consider how seriously Iranians take weaving, it's no surprise that magic flying carpets made their way into Middle Eastern folklore. Iranian weavers have been churning out handwoven rugs and carpets for more than 2,500 years, and they continue to keep the tradition alive today.
If you love a good holiday, then Iranians are right there with you. The country has 25 public holidays every year and plenty of festivals to go along with them. Considering that Iran is an Islamic republic rather than a secular country, the government doesn't hesitate to condone the celebrations.
Shady Air Quality
Tehran is both the capital and the largest city in Iran, but it's also an eco-warrior's worst nightmare. Due to several reasons, the city has one of the worst air pollution problems in the world. The large number of factories and vehicles in continuous operation in the city are two of the most significant factors causing the problem.
Iran is made up of a surprisingly high number of young people, with the median age being just 32 years old. The young people of the country are among the most socially active in the Islamic world, and they consistently work to secure political change.
The King of All Carpets
While some small American towns boast novelties such as the world's largest ball of yarn, Iran once set a world record that is far more impressive. Back in 2007, the country produced the largest hand-woven carpet on Earth. The giant carpet was woven specifically for the Abu Dhabi mosque and is larger than a football field.
The Artist Formerly Known as Persia
Until 1935, Iran was known to the rest of the world as Persia. According to rumor, one of the reasons for its name change was that Hitler always mistakenly referred to the German people as Aryans.
Back in 2012, the Iranian chief of police developed some major skepticism about Google. He announced to the country that the renowned internet search engine was being used as a tool for spies to take unauthorized peeks into the country's business.
The Art of Taarof
As many tourists have discovered, Iranians pride themselves on being incredibly polite people. Young people are taught the art of Taarof, which is sort of like the Western equivalent of etiquette. Rooted in Persian tradition, it places a high value on humility and treating guests with the utmost respect.
Soccer Is the Star Sport
If there's one sport that Iranians love, it's soccer. Given how skilled many of its citizens tend to be at the sport, it's easy to see why soccer has become the sport of champions in Iran. Even Iranian women get in on the game, although they came up against a hurtle back in 2007 when FIFA banned hijabs from the field.
If you're ever invited to dine with an Iranian family, always observe Taarof by bringing a small gift, such as flowers. Don't forget to apologize for its inadequacy, no matter how worthy it may be. When it's time to be seated, don't be surprised if you're not guided to a kitchen table.
The Home of the Persian Cat
Given that Iran was known as Persia not so long ago, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it's the original home of fluffy Persian cats. These silky, long-haired little guys developed their impressive fur coats to help ward off the freezing cold temperatures in their native Iranian mountain habitats. That’s right — these adorable fur balls were originally mountain kitties!
When it comes to oil, the Middle East is undoubtedly where you can find it. About 60% of all the oil in the world comes straight from the Persian Gulf area, which is made up of Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.
The Secret Star of David
Israel once punked the country of Iran with a prank so epic, it went undetected for 30 years. When Google Earth first started releasing aerial satellite footage, Iranian officials were furious to discover that the star of David had been hiding atop a terminal at Tehran International Airport.
Great Persian Poets
While many Westerners think of Iran as a vast desert, it's actually known for its lush gardens and rich artistic culture. Even the word "paradise" comes from the heart of Persia, where it literally meant "enclosed garden." Given the country's love of beauty, it has also been home to some of the world's greatest poets.
The Asiatic Cheetah
If you've never seen an Asiatic Cheetah before, then rest assured that you're not alone. These days, the species is in critical danger of extinction and only exists in Iran. The few that remain in the country live in very isolated areas where they are able to remain protected.
The Rich Kids of Tehran
If you thought that a pesky national ban on social media could stop kids in Iran from surfing the internet, then the "Rich Kids of Tehran" want to set the record straight. These young Iranian kids have become Instagram celebrities by showing off all the luxuries their super-rich parents can buy.
Although Iran may seem like it's a world away, there are plenty of Iranian-Americans whose work has become a staple of Western culture. Pierre Omidyar (pictured above) may not look familiar, but he founded a little online marketplace called eBay. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
In It for the Short Haul
Every law has its loopholes, and according to some Shia schools, Sharia law is no different when it comes to sex. While sex outside of marriage is a crime, the practice of sigheh allows a couple to enjoy a short-term marriage and all the benefits that come along with it.
The Three Mysterious Wise Men
While it remains unverified today, many scholars suspect that the three wise men who visited baby Jesus were great Zoroastrian priests from Persia or modern-day Iran. Back in the 13th-century, the explorer Marco Polo even claimed to have visited their graves in a city near modern-day Tehran.
An Ally to the Trans Community
While homosexuality is considered unacceptable in Iran, the country has a completely different view of transsexuals. This is largely due to a woman named Maryam Khatoon Molkara, who was born as a man. Back in 1983, she convinced former Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa that allowed sex changes under Sharia law.
A Surprising Number of Ski Slopes
Skiing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Iran, but the sport is actually incredibly popular in the country. Iran is home to around 20 functioning ski fields, with the most popular ones located in Tehran, Western Iran and the Zagros Mountains.
A Haven for Refugees
Iran has traditionally been incredibly welcoming toward refugees from countries around the world. During World War II, the country took in thousands of people seeking asylum, such as this group of Polish children who were evacuated from the Soviet Union to Persia and Palestine.
Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims
In case you're not familiar with the religion, there are two separate sects in Islam. The split occurred soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE and began as a dispute over who his successor should be. Sunnis believed that the choice should be left up to the Islamic community.
Probably the Original Home of Polo
Although no one knows for sure when polo was first invented, there is evidence to suggest it was already around before the reign of Darius the Great in 521 to 485 BCE. Many scholars now believe the game originated in Iran as a way to train ancient members of the Persian cavalry.
Nose Job Nation
While Iran tends to be known for its fairly traditional society, plastic surgery has been on the rise for the past few decades. This is especially true when it comes to nose jobs, as the Western nose shape has become all the rage in Iranian society.
Iranian Women Get Stealthy
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, women have been forced by law to wear a hijab (or headscarf) and loose-fitting clothing in public. Back in 2014, however, an exiled Iranian journalist named Masih Alinejad began an online Facebook movement called "My Stealthy Freedom" to encourage national protest.
Plenty of History
The country we now call Iran is the current incarnation of one of the oldest civilizations in history. It is currently home to more than 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites, which range from a 5th-century water system to ancient palaces and gardens.
Yogurt to the Rescue
Iranians do not play when it comes to their collective love of yogurt. Known as "Persian Milk," the country has enjoyed a love affair with the tasty treat ever since the days of ancient Persia. These days, yogurt is used as everything from a standalone dish to a popular ingredient in natural medicines.
While many people around the world assume that Arabic is the national language of Iran, it turns out that's not actually the case. While some Iranians do speak Arabic, the language is mainly used for religious purposes, as it was the original language in which the Quran was written.