The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
MODERN GEOGRAPHY OF IRAN
Iran is situated in south-western Asia and borders the three CIS states, the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the Republic of Turkmenistan, as well as the Caspian Seas to the north, Turkey and Iraq to the west, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to the south and Pakistan and Afghanistan to the east.
Mountains The Zagros range stretches from the border with the Republic
of Armenia in the north-west to the Persian Gulf, and then eastward into
Baluchistan. As it moves southward, it broadens into a 125-mile-wide band of
parallel, alternating mountains lying between the plains of Mesopotamia and the
great central plateau of Iran. It is drained on the west by streams that cut
deep, narrow gorges and water fertile valleys. The land is extremely hard,
difficult to access, and populated largely by pastoral nomads.
The Alborz mountain range, narrower than the Zagros but equally forbidding,
runs along the Zagros but equally forbidding, runs along the southern shore of
the Caspian to meet the border ranges of Khorassan to the east. The highest of
its volcanic peaks is 18,600-foot, snow-covered Mt. Damavand. On the border of
Afghanistan, the mountains fall away, to be replaced by barren sand dunes.
The arid interior plateau, which extends into Central Asia, is cut by two smaller mountain ranges. Parts of this desert region, known as dasht, are covered by loose stones and sand, gradually merging into fertile soil on the hillsides. Where fresh water can be held, oases have existed from time immemorial, marking the ancient caravan routes. The most remarkable feature of the plateau is a salt waste 200 miles long and half as wide, knows as the kavir (deserts). It remains unexplored, since its treacherous crust has been formed by large, sharp-edged salt masses which cover mud. Cut by deep ravines, it is virtually impenetrable.
Deserts The vast deserts of Iran stretch across the plateau from the
north-west, close to Tehran and Qom, for a distance of about 400 miles to the
south-east and beyond the frontier. Approximately one-sixth of the total area of
Iran is barren desert.
The two largest desert areas are known as the Kavir-e-Lut and the Dasht-e-Kavir. Third in size of these deserts is the Jazmurian. It is often said that the Kavir-e-Lut and Dasht-e-Kavir are impossible to cross except by the single road which runs from Yazd to Ferdows, but in recent years, heavy trucks and other vehicles have travelled over long stretches of these deserts which contain extensive mineral deposits -chlorides, sulphates and carbonates - and it is only a matter of time before they are exploited.
LAKES AND SEAS
Other Lakes Along the frontier between Iran and Afghanistan there are
several marshy lakes which expand and contract according to the season of the
year. The largest of these, the Seestan (Hamun-Sabari), in the north of the
Seestan &Y Baluchistan province, is alive with wild fowl.
Real fresh water lakes are exceedingly rare in Iran. There probably are no
more than 10 lakes in the whole country, most of them brackish and small in
size. The largest are: Lake Urmiya (area: 3,900-6,000 sq. km. depending on
season) in Western Azerbaijan, Namak (1,806 sq. km.) in the Central province,
Bakhtegan (750 sq. km.) in Fars province, Tasht (442 sq. km.) in fars province,
Moharloo (208 sq. km.) in Fars province, Howz Soltan (106.5 sq. km.) in Central
The Persian Gulf is the shallow marginal part of the
Indian ocean that lies between the Arabian Peninsula and south-east Iran. The
sea has an area of 240,000 square kilometres. Its length is 990 kilometres, and
its width varies from a maximum of 338 kilometres to a minimum of 55 kilometres
in the Strait of Hormuz. It is bordered on the north, north-east and east by
Iran, on the north-west by Iraq and Kuwait, on the west and south-west by Saudi
Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, and on the south and south-east by the United Arab
Emirates and partly Oman. The term Persian Gulf is often used to refer not only
proper to the Persian Gulf but also to its outlets, the Strait of Hormuz and the
Gulf of Oman, which open into the Arabian Sea.
The most important islands of the Persian Gulf on the Iranian side are:
Minoo, Kharg, Sheikh Saas, Sheikh Sho'ayb, Hendurabi, Kish, Farur, Sirri, Abu
the Greater and Lesser Tunb Qeshm, Hengam, Larak, Farsi, Hormuz, Lavan, The
notable ports on the Persian Gulf coast are: Abadan, Khorramshahr, Bandar Shapur
(Khomeini), Mahshahr, Deilam, Gonaveh, Rig, Bushehr, Bandar Lengeh, Bandar Abbas.
The Iranian shore is mountainous, and there are often cliffs; elsewhere a
narrow coastal plain with beaches, intertidal flats, and small estuaries borders
the gulf. The coastal plain widens north of Bushehr on the eastern shore of the
gulf and passes into the broad deltaic plain of the Tigris, Euphrates and Karun
rivers. It is noticeably asymmetrical in profile, with the deepest water
occurring along the Iranian coast and a broad shallow area, which is usually
less than 120 feet deep, along the Arabian coast.
There are some ephemeral streams on the Iranian coast south of
virtually no fresh water flows into the gulf on its south-west side. Large
quantities of fine dust are, however, blown into the sea by predominant
north-west winds from the desert areas of the surrounding lands. The deeper
parts of the Persian Gulf adjacent to the Iranian coast and the are around the
Tigris-Euphrates Delta are mainly floored with grey-green muds rich in calcium
The Persian Gulf has a notoriously bad climate. Temperatures are high, though
winters may be quite cool at the north-western extremities. The sparse rainfall
occurs mainly as sharp down pours between November and April and is heavier in
the north-east. Humidity is high. The little cloud cover is more prevalent in
winter than in summer. Thunderstorms and fog are rare, but dust storms and haze
occur frequently in summer.
Until the discovery of oil in Iran in 1908, the Persian Gulf area was
important mainly for fishing, pearling, the building of dhows, sailcloth
making, camel breeding, reed mat making, date cultivating, and the production of
other minor products, such as red ochre from the islands in the south. Today
these traditional industries have declined, and the economy of the region is
dominated by the production of oil.
The Persian Gulf and the surrounding countries produce approximately 31 per
cent of the world's total oil production and have 63 per cent of the world's
proven reserves. The Persian Gulf area will probably remain and important source
of world oil for a long period.
DRAINAGE AND SOIL
Dams Dams have always played an important role in harnessing Iran's
precious water reserves. The Amir Kabir dam on the Karaj river is a
multi-purpose dam that supplies Tehran with hydroelectric power and much needed
water. With its sailing and water-skiing facilities, the dam is a popular
weekend summer resort. Among others, the Manjil dam on the Sefidrood, the
Mahabad dam on the Mahabad river (which supplies water for irrigation of 2,000
hectares of land, as well as domestic water and hydroelectric power), the Martyr
Abbaspur dam on the Karun, and the Dez dam on the Dez river to the north of
Dezful are noteworthy.
Soil Patterns Soil patterns vary widely. The abundant subtropical
vegetation of the Caspian's coastal region is supported by rich brown forest
soils. Mountain soils are shallow layers over bedrock, with a high proportion of
unweathered fragments. Natural erosion moves the finer textured soils into the
valleys. These alluvial deposits are mostly chalky, and many are used for
The semi-aired plateaus lying above 3,000 feet are covered by brown or
chestnut-coloured soil that supports grassy vegetation. The soil is slightly
alkaline and contains three to four per cent of organic material. The saline and
alkaline soils in the arid regions are light coloured and infertile. The sand
dunes are composed of loose quartz and fragments of other minerals. Except where
protect by vegetation, they are in almost constant motion, driven by high winds.
CLIMATE, VEGETATION AND FAUNA
Low pressure patterns in Pakistan generate two regular wind patterns: the
Shamal, which blows from February to October north-westerly through the
Tigris-Euphrates Valley, and the 120-day summer wind, which sometimes reaches
velocities of 70 miles per hour in the Seestan region near the Pakistan
frontier. Warm Arabian winds bring heavy moisture from the Persian Gulf. The
gulf area, where the heat and humidity are unbearable, stands in sharp contrast
to the Caspian coastal region, where moist air from the sea mingles with the dry
air currants from the Alborz to create a soft nightly breeze.
In the summer, temperatures vary from a high of 123 F (50o C) in
Khuzistan at the head of the Persian Gulf to a low of 35 F (1o C) in
Azerbaijan in the north-west. Precipitation also varies greatly, ranging from
less than two inches in the south-east to about 78 in the Caspian region.
The high Alborz mountains, which seal off the narrow Caspian Plain, wring
moisture from the clouds, trap humidity from the air, and crete a fertile
densely populated semitropical region with think forests, swamps, and rice
paddies. Temperatures may soar to 100 F (39o C), the humidity to 98
per cent. Frost is rare.
In Iran, the change from one season to the next is fairly abrupt. By 21
March, the beginning of the Iranian year (Nowruz), the fruit trees are in
full bud and fresh green wheat covers the fields. Later, while the orchards are
in bloom, wild flowers carpet the stony hills. Later, the summer heat burns and
kills the flowers, and autumn is not marked by a display of bright colours and
the soft haze of Indian summer; instead, there is a rapid transition from summer
Vegetation Topography, altitude, water supply, and soil determine the character of the
and Fauna vegetation. Approximately 11 per cent of Iran is forested,
most extensively in the Caspian region. Here one finds the broad-leafed,
vigorous deciduous trees, usually oak, beech, linden, elm, walnut, ash, and
bornbeam, as well as a few broad-leafed evergreens. Thorny shrubs and fern also
The Zagros Mountains are covered by semi-humid oak forests, together with elm
maple, celtis (a hackberry), walnut, pear and pistachio. Willow, poplar and
plane trees grow in the ravines, as do many species of creepers. Thin stands of
juniper, almond, berberies (a prickly-stemmed shrub with yellow flowers),
cotoneaster (an old-world flowering shrub of the rose family), and wild fruit
trees grow on the intermediate dry plateau. Thorny shrubs form the ground cover
of the steppes, while artemisia (a kind of wormwood) grows at medium elevations
of the desert plains and the rolling country.
There are acacia, dwarf palm, kunar trees (Jerusalem thorn),
and scattered shrubs below 3,000 feet. Desert sand dunes, which hold water,
support thickets for brush. Forests flow the courses of surface or subterranean
waters. Oases support tamarisk, poplar, date palm, myrtle, oleander, acacia,
willow, elm, plum, mulberry trees, and vines. In swamp areas, reeds and grass
provide good pasture.
Iran has long been famous for its fruit, and Iran's old language, Persian, has
provided the European languages with their words for lemon, orange and peach.
The Caspian region produces citrus fruit, while dates and bananas grow along the
Persian Gulf. On the central plateau, temperate fruit such as apples, pears,
peaches, grapes and cherries grow well, and almost every region has it
distinctive kind of melon.
The wildlife of Iran includes many wolves, foxes, leopards, and lynx. Seals
are found in the Caspian. In addition to wild goats, deer and gazelles abound,
as do sheep and boars. Rodents are ubiquitous and 98 varieties of lizard are
found. Domestic animals include horse, donkeys, cattle, water buffalo, sheep,
goats, dromedaries, camels, dogs and cats.
There are three communities: rural, urban and nomadic.
Plain villages follow an ancient rectangular pattern. High mud walls with
towers from the outer face of the houses, which have flat roofs of mud and straw
supported by wooden rafters. In the open centre of the village is an occasional
mosque, sometimes serving as a school, too.
The cattle that used to be herded there are now usually kept outside.
Mountain villages are situated on the rocky slopes above the valley floor, they
are surrounded by terraced fields, usually irrigated, of grain and lucerne
(alfalfa). The houses are square, mud-brick, windowless buildings with flat or
domed roofs. The stable is usually under the house.
Caspian villages are completely different. Here, where there is an abundance
of water, the scattered hamlets have two-story wooden houses, frequently built
on pilings, with a gallery around the upper floor. Separate out-buildings
(barns, hen-houses, silk worm houses) surround an open courtyard.
Urban settlement has a long precedent in Iran. At present, around 50 per cent of the population lives in the big and medium-size cities. The biggest city of all is the capital, Tehran. Other big cities are Mashad, Shiraz, Rasht, Isfahan, Tabriz, followed by the medium-size cities like Ahvaz, Saari, Kermanshah, Hamedan, Kerman, Yazd and others. Traditional architecture and town planning have undergone notable changes in the last few decades. The European designs have largely replaced the old ones. Nevertheless, old buildings are still around in the medium-size cities, but fewer can be found in the big ones.
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