Iran country overview

The culture of Iran

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Iran information index

The arts of Iran


Carpet looms are scattered throughout the country, each locality taking pride in its unique carpet designs and quality. These carpets, such as Kāshān, Kermān, Khorāsān, Eṣfahān, Shīrāz, Tabrīz, and Qom, are both used locally and exported. Despite facing tough competition from modern textile mills, the handwoven-cloth industry has managed to survive. Weavers produce a variety of textiles including velvets, printed cottons, wool brocades, shawls, and cloth shoes. Felt production is concentrated in the south, while embroidery on sheepskin is prominent in the northeast.

A wide range of articles, both practical and decorative, are crafted from various metals. The most well-known centers for metalworking are Tehrān (gold), Shīrāz, Eṣfahān, and Zanjān (silver), and Kāshān and Eṣfahān (copper). Khorāsān is renowned for its turquoise work, while the Persian Gulf region is famous for its natural pearls. The craft techniques employed are as diverse as the products themselves, with articles being cast, beaten, wrought, pierced, or drawn. Engraving, embossing, chiseling, damascening, encrustation, and gilding are the most commonly used techniques for ornamentation.

Wooden decorative articles are produced for both domestic and export markets in Eṣfahān, Shīrāz, and Tehrān, with inlay being a prominent technique. Rasht, Orūmiyyeh (formerly called Reẕāʿiyyeh), and Sanandaj specialize in carved and pierced wood. While machine-made ceramic tiles are manufactured in Tehrān, handmade tiles and mosaics, known for their intricate designs and vibrant colors, are still being produced.

Stone and clay are also utilized in the production of a wide range of household utensils, trays, dishes, and vases. Mashhad serves as the center of the stone industry, while potteries are scattered throughout the country, with Hamadān being the largest center.


Iran has a rich architectural heritage that spans ancient civilizations and dynasties. The Elamite, Achaemenian, Hellenistic, and other pre-Islamic rulers have left remarkable stone structures, such as Choghā Zanbil and Persepolis, which were recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1979. Additionally, three monastic ensembles significant to the Armenian Christian faith were collectively designated as a World Heritage site in 2008, showcasing a fusion of Byzantine, Persian, and Armenian architectural influences.

During the Islamic period, the architectural accomplishments of the Seljuq, Il-Khanid, and Safavid dynasties stood out. Cities like Neyshābūr, Eṣfahān, and Shīrāz became prominent centers in the Islamic world, boasting numerous mosques, madrasahs, shrines, and palaces that reflected a distinct Iranian architectural style within the broader Islamic context.

Under the Pahlavi monarchy, two architectural trends emerged. One was the imitation of Western styles, which did not align with the country’s climate and landscape. The other was an effort to revive indigenous designs. The National Council for Iranian Architecture, established in 1967, discouraged blind imitation of the West and encouraged the use of traditional Iranian styles adapted to modern needs. One notable example of this architectural program is the Shāhyād tower, later renamed the Āzādī tower, which was constructed in Tehrān in 1971 to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the Achaemenian dynasty.

Visual arts

The Islamic culture did not have a strong presence of indigenous visual arts schools, possibly due to the religion’s rejection of idolatry and graphic depictions. However, there were notable exceptions in Iran, where highly refined miniature painting flourished in schools like Jalāyirid, Shīrāz, and Eṣfahān. Persian miniature painting declined by the late Safavid period, but Iranian artists continued to excel in other mediums such as calligraphy, illumination, weaving, ceramics, and metalwork. In the late 19th century, Western classical painting and sculpture were introduced and adapted to Iranian themes. The visual arts faced restrictions after the 1979 revolution, but they still evolved through exhibitions and, more recently, with the advent of the Internet.


The development of formal musical disciplines was hindered by Islamic injunctions for centuries. However, folk songs and ancient Persian classical music were preserved through oral transmission from one generation to another. It was not until the 20th century that a music conservatory was established in Tehrān, which utilized Western techniques to record traditional melodies and promote new compositions. Nevertheless, in 1979, the previous restrictions on the study and practice of music were reinstated. Despite being officially prohibited, Western pop music has gained popularity among Iranian youth, leading to a thriving trade in musical cassette tapes and compact discs. Iranian pop groups occasionally perform, although they often face the risk of punishment. In 2000, Iranian authorities granted permission for Googoosh, the most renowned Iranian singer from the pre-revolutionary era, to resume her career after 21 years of enforced silence, albeit from abroad.


Iranian culture is widely recognized for its literature, which took shape in the 9th century and continues to influence contemporary Iranian authors. However, the publication and distribution of classical works have faced challenges due to conservative clerics deeming them inappropriate. Despite this, Persian literature remains a vibrant medium for Iranian culture, having been influenced by Western literary and philosophical traditions in the 19th and 20th centuries. It has also served as a means of cultural introspection, political dissent, and personal protest for influential Iranian writers and poets. Following the Islamic revolution in 1979, many Iranian writers sought refuge abroad, resulting in the production of much of the country’s best Persian-language literature outside of Iran. Nevertheless, the postrevolutionary era has also witnessed the emergence of a new feminist literature by authors such as Shahrnoush Parsipour and Moniru Ravanipur.


The cinema is the most popular form of entertainment in Iran and serves as a significant platform for social and political commentary. Despite a history of limited tolerance for participatory democracy, the Iranian government initially banned filmmaking after the 1979 revolution. However, they later provided financial support to directors who agreed to promote Islamic values. This period of ideology-driven filmmaking was short-lived, as the public showed little interest. Instead, films that focused on the Iran-Iraq War or explored more tolerant expressions of Islamic values, such as Sufi mysticism, gained popularity.

While the religious establishment disapproves of Western film imitation among Iranian filmmakers, they encourage the adaptation of Western and Eastern classic stories and folktales, as long as they reflect contemporary Iranian concerns and adhere to Islamic restrictions imposed by the government. In the 1990s, the fervor of the early revolutionary years gave way to calls for political moderation and improved relations with the West. Iran’s film industry flourished during this time, with Iranian film festivals held worldwide on an annual basis.

Renowned directors such as Bahram Bayzaʾi, Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Dariyush Mehrjuʾi produced award-winning films that received international recognition at festivals like Cannes and Locarno. Additionally, a new generation of female directors, including Rakhshan Bani Eʿtemad and Tahmineh Milani, emerged during this period.

Iran’s filmmakers are celebrated for their portrayal of various themes, including the lives of children, the concerns of teenagers, the beauty of nature, and social and psychological issues related to marriage, divorce, and polygyny. Films like “Bashu the Stranger,” “The White Balloon,” “Children of Heaven,” “The Need,” “Sweet Agony,” “Gabbeh,” “Leila,” “Two Women,” and “Red” have garnered acclaim for their exploration of these subjects.

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