Historical reliefs of Naqsh-e Rostam

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iran [Updated 2020]

Time to read: 12 Mins | Published on July 14, 2020
Iran UNESCO world heritage sites are the most valuable destinations for tourists visiting Iran. Here, we will have a brief introduction to them.

UNESCO world heritage sites are landmarks that have unique cultural or historical importance. UNESCO officially chooses these sites every year, and international treaties will legally protect them. Iran is among the countries with the highest number of world heritage sites. Moreover, UNESCO world heritages in Iran are 24. Two of the UNESCO world heritages in Iran are natural including Hyrcanian forests and the Lut Desert. The rest of them are cultural sites belonging to various historical eras in Iran. These historical eras include Elamite, Achaemenes, Sassanid Empires and the Empires after Islam. In other words, UNESCO world heritages in Iran include sites from almost 1200 B.C to one hundred years ago.

Each of these sites is unique in its own way. For instance, Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System can show you how people used water systems at least two thousand years ago. Or, the Hyrcanian forests date back to 25 to 50 million years. Each of these sites has been surviving for a long time and has a story to tell. We are the ones who should listen to them!

Following, we have a brief introduction to each of these sites. Moreover, we have put these Iran UNESCO sites into groups according to their location.

Western Iran UNESCO Sites

1. Bistoun

It’s a historic site that used to be on the route which linked Mesopotamia and Iran. This site has remains of different civilizations in Iran from the pre-historic era to after Islam. UNESCO has submitted many features of this historical site as UNESCO world heritages in Iran.

A tourist is standing next to the inscription in Bisotun

Photo by Reza Goudarzi

2. Susa

The city of Susa belongs to 7000 B.C. It has different sections that belong to multiple periods of history. This city used to be the capital of the Elamite Empire. The location of Susa is between two important rivers in Iran; Dez and Karkheh. Also, there is a cemetery near this city with more than 2000 graves in it. Each of the coffins in this cemetery has vessels with patterns.

a cemetery near the castle of Susa in Iran

Susa is one of the oldest city in the world – Photo by : Babak Sedighi

3. Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System

This hydraulic system is a collection of dams, bridges, and canals in Khuzestan province. It shows us how Achaemenes and Sassanid empires provided water for the Shushtar city. Jane Dieulafoy, the French archeologist, called this complex the biggest industrial system before the industrial revolution.

Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System

Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System

4. Chogha Zanbil

Chogha Zanbil is a Ziggurat (massive structures from ancient Mesopotamia) and is a place for prayer. Many of the researchers know this Ziggurat is the first religious building in Iran. Moreover, this Ziggurat in one of the few Ziggurats out of the Mesopotamia and belongs to 1250 B.C.

a group of tourists in front of Chogha Zanbil

Chogha Zanbil

Southern and Central Iran UNESCO Sites

5. Meidan Emam, Isfahan

Naqsh-e Jahan is a 560 meters long square, including two mosques, a bazaar, and Ali Qapu Palace. The square belongs to the Safavid era and the best Iran tours always include this square as one of their destinations. Shah Abbas, the Safavid king, ordered building this square when he moved his capital from Qazvin city to Isfahan.

an old man walking in Naqsh-e Jahan Square in front of Imam Mosque

Naqsh-e Jahan Square is the largest square in Iran

6. Jameh Mosque of Isfahan

For the last 14 centuries, different governments and dynasties have been changing and renovating this site. Also, adding new parts to it. The building of this mosque is on a land that used to be a fire temple. Moreover, the main part of this mosque belongs to the Seljuq era. Other parts of it have significantly changed during the Timurid, Illkhanid, Safavid, and Qajar era.

Masjed-e Jame of Isfahan

Masjed-e Jame of Isfahan

7. Historic City of Yazd

The city of Yazd is the historical capital of Yazd province in the middle of the desert. The houses of Yazd are clayey, and you can see windcatchers on top of them. Windcatchers use a unique system to keep the houses cool. The access of this city to water is through a historical Qanat (an underground for leading water) system. Moreover, this city is the center of Zoroastrians in Iran and has the most important fire temples in it.

a view of yazd city with lots of Windcatchers

Yazd – Photo by Hasan Almasi

8. Sassanid Archeological Landscapes of Fars Region

It includes 8 UNESCO world heritages in Iran in the Fars province. They include remnants of palaces and fortifications. Following, we will have a brief look at these 8 Iran UNESCO sites.

  • Palace of Ardashir: Ardashir, the first built this castle near Firuz Abad. He was the king who established the Sassanian Empire.
Palace of Ardashir

Palace of Ardashir

  • Qal’eh Dokhtar: This castle in on a mountain in Firuz Abad, which has three levels. Also, this castle has the first dome in the world dating back to almost 1800 years ago.
Qal'eh Dokhtar

Ancient Sassanian fortress.

  • Shapur cave: Shapur cave is 800 meters high, and what makes it remarkable is the statue of Shapur I, made out of stalagmite. Shapur I was the second king of the Sassanian Empire. Moreover, this statue has remained whole for 1700 years.
Shapur Statue in Shapur Cave

Shapur Cave

  • Bishapur: It’s an ancient city near the Persepolis; Shapur I has ordered building it. People lived in Bishapur untile almost 800 years ago. Also, the interior design of the houses of this city is very similar to the Roman style.
Bishapur

Bishapur City

  • Sarvestan Palace: This palace is another palace belonging to the Sassanid era. The complications of this palace’s architecture make it unique among the sites from the Sassanid era.
a group of tourists in front of Sarvestan Palace

Sarvestan Palace

  • Victory Relief of Ardashir: Victory relief of Ardashir is the hugest stone craving in Iran. It has 4 meters’ height. Furthermore, it depicts the battle of Ardashir, the first Sassanid king, and the last Parthian emperor.
  • Ardashir Khurra: The city of Ardashir Khurreh is a city with a round shape near Shiraz. It used to be the seat of the Sassanian courtiers. Also, it’s the first round city in Iran.
  • Ardashir Investiture Relief: Another stone craving from the Sassanid era showing Ahura Mazda giving Ardashir the ring of Kingdom. Ahura Mazda is the creator of the Zoroastrian religious beliefs.

9. Persepolis

As one of the most popular Iran destinations, Persepolis is the remnants of the center of the great Achaemenes Empire. Alexander (the king of Macedonia) burnt down this city when attacking Iran. Yet, he couldn’t completely ruin it because of its stone texture.

Persepolis Fars

Persepolis is the remnants of the center of the great Achaemenes Empire.

10. Pasargadae

This city is the first example of the Achaemenes Empire’s architecture. It has gardens and palaces. Moreover, the mausoleum of Cyrus the great is the most important part of this Iran UNESCO site. Cyrus the Great was the first king of Achaemenes empire.

Tourists in Pasargadae near the mausoleum of Cyrus

the mausoleum of Cyrus the great is the most important part of Pasargadae

11. Persian Garden

The Persian Garden is an architectural style for building gardens. The garden in Pasargadae is the first example of Persian gardens. Therefore, many believe that Cyrus the Great was the person who ordered building gardens with this style. Chehel Sotoun, Fin Garden, Dowlat Abad Garden, Pahlavanpur Garden, and Shazdeh Garden are some of these Iran UNESCO world heritages.

Shazdeh Garden in Kerman

Shazdeh Garden in Kerman

12. Cultural Landscape of Maymand

It’s an ancient hand-carved stone village at the hillside of the Mountains in Kerman. Maymand village dates back to 12000 years ago and is a portrayal of how ancient Aryans lived. This village also owes its significance to the potteries archeologists found in it belonging to 6000 years ago. Also, in parts of this village, you can see shapes and art on the stones belonging to the Sassanid era. Maymand village still is a lively village and has inhabitants.

Maymand Village Kerman

Maymand village dates back to 12000 years ago and is a portrayal of how ancient Aryans lived.

North-Western Iran UNESCO Sites

13. Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran

Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran includes three monastery ensembles in West and East Azerbaijan Province. Different historical and natural incidents, such as wars and earthquakes, have affected these three monasteries.

  • Thaddeus: St. Thaddeus is the oldest Iranian monastery dating back to the Sassanid era. This site is in the Western Azerbaijan province. The local people also call it Qare Kelisā, which means “Black Church”. Every year, many Armenians from inside and out of Iran gather in this monastery to perform Christian ritual
  • Stepanos: It’s the second important Iranian monastery in the south of Aras River near Julfa in a place called “Red Monastery”. It originally belongs to the 62 A.D. Moreover, this church went through different circumstances during different areas of Iranian history. Most importantly, during the Safavid era, this church was the center of a war between Ottomans and Iranians.
  • Chapel of Dzordzor: Is the third Armenian monastery of this UNESCO world heritage in Iran. This monastery has a rood shape and dates back to the 14th
Monastery of Saint Thaddeus in Azerbaijan

St. Thaddeus is the oldest Iranian monastery dating back to the Sassanid era.

14. Bazaar of Tabriz

This famous historic bazaar is in the capital of East Azerbaijan province in Iran. It is the hugest lidded bazaar in the world. This site dates back to almost one millennium ago. Also, during the 14th century, it thrived because of being on the Silk Road. Jameh Mosque of Tabriz is on the western side of this complex.

15. Sheikh Safi al-Din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble

This large complex includes many parts including the tombs of Sheikh Safi al-Din, the leader and the founder of Safavid order. The Safavid order was the base of Safavid rule during the 7th century. Also, Shah Ismail’s body, the first king of the Safavid dynasty, lies in this complex. This complex is one of the leading destinations for Iran cultural tours.

Sheikh Safi al-Din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble

Sheikh Safi al-Din, the leader and the founder of Safavid

16. Takht-e Soleyman

Many believe this UNESCO world heritage in Iran was the birthplace of Zoroaster (an ancient Persian Prophet). Takht-e Soleyman is a mystical historical Iranian treasure and has played different roles throughout history. It used to be one of the most important religious centers during the Sassanid Empire. Also, it has seen attacks from the Roman empire and Mongols. This archeological site has some natural elements as well, including a conical mountain and an artesian lake.

a female tourist next to the lake of Takhte Soleyman

Many believe this UNESCO world heritage in Iran was the birthplace of Zoroaster

17. Soltanieh

Soltaniyeh city in Zanjan province used to be the capital of the Ilkhanid dynasty during the 14th century. The Soltaniyeh Dome’s octagonal architecture and its turquoise-blue dome, has turned Soltaniyeh into one of the best sites in Iran. The peak of this city’s flourishing was during King Öljaitü, the eighth king of the Ilkhanid dynasty’s rule.

Soltaniyeh dome was built by the order of the Mongol king Oljaito.

Tourists next to Soltaniyeh dome, Soltaniyeh, Oljeitu mausoleum

North and North-Eastern Iran UNESCO Sites

18. Golestan Palace

This palace belongs to the Safavid era, almost 440 years ago. During the Qajar era, this palace became the seat of the government. Also, the tile paintings and decorations of this palace are from the Qajar era. These decorations are a mixture of traditional Iranian paintings and western influences.

Tourists visiting Golestan Palace in Tehran

During the Qajar era, this palace became the seat of the government.

19. Gonbad-e Qabus

As one of the Iran cultural UNESCO heritage sites, it’s the tallest brick tower in the world. It’s the tomb of Qabus, the Ziyarid ruler, and the tower dates back to 1006 A.D. Also, this tower is the only remnant left from the Zyarid dynasty after the attack of Mongols to Iran.

Gonbad-e Qabus in Golestan

it’s the tallest brick tower in the world.

20. Hyrcanian Forests

Hyrcanian forests are one of the two Iran natural UNESCO heritage sites and the newest UNESCO world heritage in Iran. These forests are the oldest in the world, dating back to the Jurassic era! That’s why they are also known as live fossils. These forests cover northern parts of Iran, on the south of the Caspian Sea. Moreover, these forests are home to more than 290 bird species.

a group of hikers in Hyrcanian Forest

These forests cover northern parts of Iran, on the south of the Caspian Sea.

Eastern Iran UNESCO Sites

21. The Persian Qanat

Because of the desert nature of the lands in Iran, Iranians have used Qanats to provide water. Qanats are underground water supplies that have tunnels from the water sources to the places of living.

Aerial image of the Iranian qanat

Persian Qanat

22. Lut Desert

The other name of this desert is the Dasht-e Lut and is another Iran natural UNESCO heritage site. Lut desert covers Kerman and Sistan Balouchestan provinces in the south-east of Iran. This desert has been the hottest place on the earth between 2003-2010 with a 70-degree centigrade temperature.

Tourists on a sand hill in the Lut desert

This desert has been the hottest place on the earth

23. Bam and Its Cultural Landscape

Bam is a military fort complex which on the way to the Silk Road. The texture of this complex is clay and stone. Furthermore, according to the documents, it dates back to the Achaemenes Empire. Yet, people were still living in it until the Qajar era (almost 200 years ago). Unfortunately, a massive earthquake in 2003 seriously damaged many parts of it. However, the damaged parts have been repaired under the supervision of UNESCO.

Arg-e Bam in Kerman

Bam is a military fort complex which on the way to the Silk Road.

24. Shahr-e Sukhteh

This UNESCO world heritage in Iran is a mysterious ancient city in Sistan and Balouchestan province. The city dates back to the Bronze age and used to be one of the largest cities at its time. Also, the documents show the contact of this city with other civilizations around it.

Remains of Shahr-e Sukhteh in Iran

Iran Sites in UNESCO’s Tentative List

Not all the valuable Iranian cultural and natural sites are in the list of UNESCO world heritages in Iran. In fact, there is a tentative list of sites in Iran which UNESCO might submit as a world heritage. For example, Damavand Mountain, the tallest volcanic summit of Asia, is one of them. Damavand is one of the best sites in Iran for trekking activities. Moreover, Tepe Sialk is another archeological attraction of Iran in this list. This ancient archeological site is near Kashan dating back to 7500 years ago. Abyaneh village in Isfahan province one of the oldest villages in Iran dating back to 1500 years ago. Abyaneh is on the mountain slopes which gives this village a stair-shape. In other words, the yard of each house is on the roof of the house below it in Abyaneh.

The top sites in Iran that we mentioned above are only a few of the sites on this long list. There is no doubt that many other sites that deserve to be on the list of Iran UNESCO sites. UNESCO recognizes a number of these sites each year and adds them to the list of UNESCO world heritages in Iran.

Iran Heritage Tours

Certainly, the experience of seeing images and information of a historical or natural monument on the website is never like being in that place. You can choose your desired tour to travel to Iran right now.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iran

Niusha Akbari

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