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The evolving kaleidoscope of Iran

6 June 2017

Iran. There is simply nowhere like it in the world.

An ancient Empire, golden deserts, a mystical religion, noble mountains and wonderful people - Iran takes the best of every civilisation which has ever called this land home to produce a nation of immeasurable beauty and fascinating culture.

Despite this, Iran remain criminally unrepresented on top destination lists across the world. Where Vietnam, Switzerland and the countries of Scandinavia regularly claim the top spots, the enigmatic wonders of Iran are forgotten and overlooked, left to be discovered by only the most intrepid explorers.

To rectify this, we give you our top five reasons why Iran is swiftly becoming a top tourist spot for travellers across the world:

1. Rarely visited UNESCO World Heritage sites

The golden resplendence of the Golestan Palace echoes hundreds of years of architectural revisions and revolutions, producing a glittering building of colour and regal charm. At the centre of Isfahan City in Iran, the ever-impressive Naqsh-e Jahan Square features some incredible buildings topped by onion domes and pillared balconies, constructed in the 16th century. Harking back to the days of the indomitable Persian Empire, Persepolis is an ancient Persian city, and one of the finest archaeological finds in history. These, and many more sights are off the beaten track and ripe for exploration. As the focal point of one of the largest empires ever to have existed, Iran is full of fabulous monuments, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, from both the imperial days of the Persian Empire and onwards through the ages up to the conversion of the nation to Islam.

2. Diverse and enigmatic culture

There can be few countries on the planet which can lay claim to the cultural heritage as Persia does. As one of the first bastions in civilisation in the world, dozens of empires have left their footprint on Persian soil, including the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great's Greece and the Mongols of Genghis Khan. Added to that is the cultural influence of religion. One of the oldest and most fascinating religions in the world was founded in Iran at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE. Zoroastrianism is unlike any religion, and yet, it was thought to influence Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It places huge importance on a central ethical set of maxims which promote the idea that if a person is good in their actions, then just reward will come accordingly. Contrary to popular belief, Zoroastrians do not worship fire, but rather see fire as a manifestation of the purity and sanctity of God.

3. Wonderful people

Ask any visitor to Iran, and they will tell you that the Iranian people leave a lasting impression on foreigners in their country. Hospitality is a source of national pride here, and it is not uncommon for visitors to be sat down for a cup of tea or to be invited to sit down for a meal in somebody's house. In fact, Iranian culture places such importance on hospitality and etiquette, that they have a specific word for it - Taarof. Taarof is a way of behaving towards other people which can see Iranians insist on paying for items, or saying no to an offer of food, so as to be polite. Immense pride is also taken in the country itself and many Iranians are keen to extol the virtues of their superb country and all of the beauty, natural or otherwise, which comes with it.

4. Extraordinary modern and ancient cities

No two cities in Iran are alike. From the bustling modernity of stylish Tehran with its skyscrapers and trendy shops, to the infinitely remarkable city of Yazd with its sand coloured skyline and a monument on every corner, it is possible to immerse yourself in both a contemporary metropolis and an ancient imperial city during your time here. Yazd itself is perhaps the most iconic city in Iran, with an exquisite range of Zoroastrian and Persian architecture forming much of the cities grand buildings. The jewel in this classic city's crown is the glorious Amir Chakhmaq Complex, a magnificent mosque complex comprised of alcove buildings which under twilight, become bathed in the golden glow of the falling sun.

5. A country of astonishing natural beauty

Outside of the cities and far from the people, Iran becomes a natural paradise. In the far north of the country, below the Caspian Sea, stands the noble Mount Damavand. This enormous stratovolcano is instantly recognisable for its near perfect pyramidal shape and its remarkable isolation. In the south lie the picture perfect and unblemished sands of Dasht-e Kavir, an untouched desert home to a variety of superbly adapted wildlife including Persian gazelles and leopards. Near the city of Sari, in the north, sits the geological wonder of Badab-e Surt. These shelves of sedimentary rock give off beautiful colours of golds and reds and the springs which cause these colours are famously thought to have healing properties.