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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Read More: Religions in Iran
As one of the most popular Iran destinations, Persepolis shiraz 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 tour 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
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