Located in western Asia, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the second largest country in the Middle East. It is also special in global history as it is where some of the oldest civilizations first flourished. Rich with history and diversity, the name “Iran is often interchanged with “Persia”. This is because majority of the population in modern day Iran are part of the Persian ethnicity, which is mainly set apart through their language. There are many other languages spoken in Iran as well, including Gilaki, Mazandarani, and Azerbaijani. Another reason why the terms Iran and Persia are interchanged so frequently is because of the powerful kingdoms and empires of ancient Persia that dominated the region, which was centered within what would eventually become the modern day country of Iran.
With such a long history, the architecture of Iran has changed drastically over the many different historical eras and ruling Iranian dynasties. Considered unique to their culture, the architecture of Iran can broadly be divided into two groups. Namely, these are Zoroastrian (or Pre-Islamic) and Islamic. Some of the most famous Zoroastrian buildings included the Persepolis, which was burned down by Alexander the Great, the Naqsh-e Rustam, an ancient necropolis with elaborate rock reliefs etched into the cliff-face dating as far back at 1000 BC, and the ancient cities of Pasargadae and Hatra. Notable Islamic buildings include the Naqshe Jahan Square, the Goharshad Mosque, and the Jamkaran Mosque. Like many other cultures, many of Iran's traditional buildings had cosmic themes, as well natural and calligraphy-ornamented motifs.
Iranian cuisine is highly varied, with its influences being sourced from those of many other great culinary traditions, including those of Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and India. Due to ancient trading routes, Iranians had access to such exotic ingredients as mint, basil, sesame, and pistachios well before they had the means to cultivate them. Nowadays, Iranian staple foods are rice and bread dishes, and typical spices include saffron, cinnamon, and parsley. Most meals are a balance of different food dishes. Some typical Persian dishes are chelow kabab (their national dish, consisting of aromatic rice with roasted meat), kuku (a vegetable soufflé), and khoresh, a thick stew served over rice. Unlike many Western countries, the largest meal of the day takes place in the early afternoon.
As one of the oldest civilizations in the world, Iranians and Persians have contributed much to the historical timeline of mankind. They had a huge hand in developing the textile industry, which commenced in the region as early as the Neolithic Era. In modern times, Iranian craftspeople are quite famous for their beautiful, and elaborately designed, Persian rugs and carpets. Iranians were also said to have given the world such delicacies as ice cream, cookies, and wine. Private banking was first developed in Persia over 2,000 years ago, as were standardized weights, money, and measures. In 537 BC, Cyrus the Great created a written declaration of human rights. Following him, King Darius I had a far-reaching human rights charter written only shortly thereafter. These are among the earliest human rights documents to be discovered to date.
With the recent history of tension between the West and Iran, many may assume Iranians are disdainful of all of Western culture. However, this is more of a reflection of the country's government and its foreign policy rather than the stance of its people at large. While Iranians are very proud of their heritage and history, many of them, especially the younger population, have embraced many aspects of the West in their everyday lives, evidenced by such things as the presence of Western-styled malls and supermarkets, and the most recent electronics. Westernization and emigrations to other countries may pose as a threat towards the culture, but, having existed for so many centuries, there is little doubt that the Iranian culture will adapt and persevere well into the future.