To best understand Iran and their people, one must first attempt to acquire an understanding of its culture. It is in the study of this area where the Iranian identity optimally expresses itself. Hence the first sentence of prominent Iranologist Richard Nelson Frye's latest book on Iran reads:
Iranians were not only open to other cultures, but freely adapted to all they found useful. Thus an eclectic cultural elasticity has been said to be one of the key defining characteristics of the Persian spirit and a clue to its historic longevity. Furthermore, Iran's culture has manifested itself in several facets throughout the history of Iran, as well as that of many Central Asia.
The article uses the words Persian and Iranian interchangeably, sometimes referring to the language and its speakers, and other times referring to the name of pre-20th century Iran, a nomenclature which survives from western explorers and orientalists. Both are not the same however, and the cultures of the people of Greater Persia is the focus of this article.
Iranian art has gone through numerous phases of evolution. The unique aesthetics of Iran is evident from the Achaemenid reliefs in Persepolis to the mosaic paintings of Bishapur. The Islamic era drastically brought changes to the styles and practice of the arts, each dynasty with its own particular foci. The Qajarid era was the last stage of classical Persian art, before modernism was imported and suffused into elements of traditionalist schools of aesthetics.
The Persian language has been in continuous use for over 2500 years. Yet it is a subset of the Iranian languages.
Persian literature inspired Goethe, Ralph Waldo Emerson and many others, and it has been often dubbed as a most worthy language to serve as a conduit for poetry. Dialects of Persian are widely spoken throughout the region sporadically from China to Syria and mainly in Iranian Plateau. Two important dialects of Persian serving as languages are Tajiki and Dari respectively spoken in Tajikistan and Afghanistan as official languages.
Contemporary Iranian literature is 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.
With 300 international awards in the past 25 years, films from Iran continue to be celebrated worldwide. Perhaps the best known director is Abbas Kiarostami.
There are nearly countless numbers of traditional teahouses (chai khaneh) throughout Iran, and each province features its own unique cultural presentation of this ancient tradition. However, there are certain traits which are common to all teahouses, especially the most visible aspects, strong chai (tea) and the ever-present ghaluyn. Almost all teahouses serve baqleh, steam boiled fava beans (in the pod), served with salt and vinegar, as well as a variety of desserts and pastries. Many teahouses also serve full meals, typically a variety of kababs as well as regional specialities.
The Persian Garden was designed as a reflection of paradise on earth; the word "garden" itself coming from Persian roots. The special place of the garden in the Iranian heart can be seen in their architecture, in the ruins of Iran, and in their paintings.
Examples of traditional Iranian food include cheleh kabob, khorest te sabzi, doulmeh, and coutlet. Today in Iran you can find fast food restaurants serving pizza, hamburgers, chicken burgers, fries, etc.
Iran has been the birthplace of many of the world's most influential religions and religion in Iran has always had a direct impact on its culture. Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, Manichaeism, Mazdakism, Yazdanism, Bábí Faith and the Bahá'í Faith are some of the religions that originated there. Now many Iranians are Muslim.
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 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 Islamic Republic of Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Northern Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan originate from the same or similar stock, and are related to one another as part of the larger group of peoples of Greater Iran. Armenia, Georgia, and Daghestan were also 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)
In particular, Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan have been able to almost fully retain their Persian identity, while the other aforementioned entities still exhibit considerable traces of their Iranian past.
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 Iran.
An ancient ice house, called a yakhchal, built in ancient times for storing ice during summers.