A rugged landscape and a great wealth in the subsoil
An enormous territory, harsh and poor, but with the wealth of oil; the legacy of one of the most dynamic empires of antiquity, but with a strict attachment to religion: Iran mixes these contradictory ingredients and attempts a difficult development. A beautiful and problematic country, a people proud of their secular independence, a rich and multifaceted culture
The huge territory of Iran is mountainous and arid. Along its borders there are high mountains: to the north the Elburz, on the Caspian Sea, which reach 5,605 m (there is Tehran, the capital), and the Kopet-Dag chain (over 3,000); to the east, other ranges, reaching 4,000 m, dominate the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan; also to the south there is a whole succession of mountains, which continues with the Zagros, to the south-west, and with the mountains of Azerbaijan: here some peaks exceed 4,000 m, like others in the interior of the country. These are young mountains, part of the Alpine-Himalayan corrugation; there are many volcanoes, no longer active, and the region is heavily seismic. For Iran 2011, please check internetsailors.com.
Between these mountains there are plateaus and vast flat basins, however arid, at times really desert, like the great deserts of Kavir and Lut, covered with salt; even the lakes are salty. The humid air cannot overcome the mountains surrounding Iran, and rainfall is very scarce; the climate is therefore continental, with very cold winters and very strong differences between day and night and between summer and winter.
‘Useful’ plains lie to the southwest – where the Euphrates and Tigris and other Iranian rivers (Karun, Karkheh) flow into the sea – and in narrow strips along the Caspian Sea and the southern coast. Springs and rivers, and above all the abundant groundwater, form oases in the valleys between the mountains, where it is possible to cultivate the land, digging wells and conserving water very carefully; on the mountains and plateaus you can only graze cattle.
… And oil
Despite everything, the Iranian territory has been populated since ancient times, especially in the western and northern mountainous regions, where the main cities are (Tabriz, Mashhad, the splendid Isfahan, Shiraz). Here developed the great Persian civilization and an important state that has preserved almost the same territory over the centuries, also thanks to the ‘defense’ of the mountains. The population is almost all Muslim, but only half of it is made up of Persians: in the peripheral regions there are substantial minorities (Azeri, Kurds, Arabs), partly nomads.
In the twentieth century, immense oil fields were found, the real wealth of Iran. With other minerals (coal, gas, iron and other metals), oil has made it possible to no longer depend on agriculture (especially cereals and fruit) and on sheep farming (sheep: the famous Persian carpets are made with wool), to start an initial industrialization (metallurgy, textiles) and to improve the country’s infrastructure. This Western-style modernization was interrupted by the Khomeinist revolution. Today Iran is resuming growth and opening up to the outside world, despite the difficulty of relations with the United States and an overly rigid social organization, dictated by strictly applied religious rules. These reasons also hinder the development of tourism.