The crucible of civilizations for over 3,000 years, Iran has a culture with exceedingly deep roots. The ancient Achaemenids and Sasanians set the blueprint for a way of life that found its highest expression during the Safavid period in the 16th and 17th centuries. Painting, music, poetry, calligraphy and, above all, architecture were enthusiastically patronized by the Safavid rulers, particularly Shah Abbas I, whose splendid capital at Isfahan retains the most exquisite and refined buildings ever created in the Islamic world.
Travelling around modern Iran, the cultural legacy of the Safavid era is never far from the surface. In traditional tea houses and restaurants, you’ll frequently hear Classical Persian music played on the ‘tar’ (a slender stringed instrument) and ‘santur’ (hammer dulcimer), while the delicate spices of Persian cuisine reflect the country’s distinctive culinary heritage. Arts and crafts remain very much a part of the cultural scene too – particularly carpet making. In the wonderful medieval bazars of Isfahan, Shiraz, Kerman and Kashan, you’ll see master ceramicists at work, alongside metalworkers, painters, mosaic artists, weavers and goldsmiths.
Perhaps the most defining cultural trait experienced by travellers, however, is the traditional hospitality of Farsi-speaking people. As a visitor you are treated with unfailing courtesy wherever you go. The genuine warmth and good humour of Iranians could not be further from the implacable image of the Shia clergy who rule the country!