Up to 1935, the Europeans knew Iran as Persia. Sprawling on 1,648,195 square kilometers, Iran covers a large segment of Southeast Asia and connects the Arab world, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Iran’s eastern borders are where the Middle East ends.
The Iranian territory is a semi-desert plain whose diversity of landscapes is much more than meets the eye. Thanks to this extensive diversity, one can see arid deserts, thickly wooded forests and humid jungles. There are other contradictory sceneries in the country like high mountains and plain lands on the shores. A large segment of Iran’s land is covered with an arid desert, formerly the bed of a sea, at an altitude of 1,000 meters. This large territory includes mountainous regions, salty water lakes and desert lands. In the eastern half of the country, one can see large swaths of deserts. Kavir Desert is in the center and Loute Desert is in the south.
The driest zone in Iran, Loute Desert, covers an area of 80,000 square kilometers. Plain lands are productive for agriculture, notably near the Caspian Sea and Mount Alborz.
Iran lies in the beach of two seas – Caspian Sea in the north and Indian Ocean in the south. The Caspian sea, the largest land-locked lake in the world, measures more than 371,000 square kilometers. Its water is a bit salty and its water lies at a level lower than high seas. The deepest spot in the Caspian Sea is 995 meters. Water from the Indian Ocean flows into the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf.
The Persian Gulf begins from the Strait of Hormuz and is home to lots of islands, the largest of which is Qeshm covering an area of 1,491 square kilometers. Other islands in the Persian Gulf are as follows: Kish (90 sqm), Lavan (76 sqm), Larak (48.7 sqm), Hormuz (42 sqm), Hangam (36.6 sqm), Kharg (20.5 sqm) and Hendourabi (21 sqm). There are also islands covering areas less than 20 sqm: Sirri, Bani Farvar, Farvar, the Lesser Tunb, the Greater Tunb, Abu Moussa, Farsi and Minoo.
The largest lake in Iran is Urmieh Lake with an area of 4,868 sqm. Its water is salty and its deepest spot is 20 meters. The lake is located between East and West Azerbaijan provinces. Other big and salty lakes are as follows: Salt Lake surrounded by Isfahan, Qom and Semnan provinces with an area of 1,806 sqm, Jazmourian Lake shared by Sistan Balouchistan and Kerman province with an area of 1,097 sqm and Hamoun Lake near border with Afghanistan.
Mount Alborz and Mount Zagros are famous in Iran. Alborz creates a crescent stretching from west to east between East Azerbaijan and North Khorasan provinces. Some mountains in the Alborz mountain range are of heights above 4,000 meters. Damavand, a volcanic mountain and 5,671 meters tall, is the tallest mountain Iran. The plain lands located between Alborz mountain range and Caspian coasts benefit from the Caspian humidity.
Zagros is the second important mountain range in Iran. It begins from Turkey and stretches from northwest to southeast and Persian Gulf. The range measures 1,000 kilometers long and 190 kilometers wide. Some of its summits are more than 4,000 meters high.
Mokran Desert, in the south of Iranian Plateau, has summits below 2,000 meters high. There are two other mountain ranges in the central parts of the Iranian Plateau and in the southwest of Khoasan provinces. The highest summits in these mountain ranges are Morghoum, 2,846 meters high and Nayband, 2,993 meters high. Along the border with Pakistan, Taftan –a dormant volcano – measures 4,024 meters high.
Due to dry climatic conditions, Iran does not have significant rivers. The largest river is 900-kilometer-long Karoun River. Stemming from Mount Zagros, Karoun River flows into the Persian Gulf. In this region, there are also other rivers serving agriculture. Sefidroud River, 800-kilometer long, is the second most significant river in Iran. Some other rivers end in salty lakes.
Forestlands in Iran are seen in the northern parts of Zagros. Oaks, European ash and elms are widely seen. There are also pine and cypress trees.
Compared with other countries, Iran enjoys more biodiversity. Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, Mount Alborz and Mount Zagors, arid lands and deserts are attractive places. In the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman, diverse species of fish live. In the shores, turtles reproduce.
Caspian Sea is a unique habitat. There are few creatures in it shallow parts due to the lack of oxygen. Caspian turtle is famous. Sturgeon is also well known there as it produces the best caviar in the world.
Antelopes live in the mountainous forests. Gray bear, boar, wolf, leopard and wild cat also live in these jungles. In the high mountains of Kerman, Mazandaran and Khorasan provinces, two precious rams live. In the desert and arid lands live deer, gazelle and zebra. Iranian cheetah, a rare species, lives in the deserts, also home to hyena and jackal. A symbol of desert is single-hump camel which nomads used for transportation. Flamingos are among migratory birds.
Generally speaking, Iran’s climate could be divided into semi-hot, arid and semi-arid. Foreign tourists may get confused with Iran’s weather conditions. Iran is very large and its climatic conditions from one point to another. Difference in temperature between different spots at the same time is significant. For instance, in October, it might be 42 degrees Centigrade in Bandar Abbas and 2 degrees Centigrade in Tabriz at the same time.
Alborz Mountain Range is the most significant geographical factor affecting climatic conditions in northern regions. This mountain range blocks winds and changes their direction. Humid weather from Caspian Sea strikes these mountains and causes rainfall. Precipitation is low in Iran with average rainfall at 240 millimeters. The region with lowest precipitation is Loute Desert with half a millimeter per year and the highest precipitation is in Astara, north of Iran, with 2,000 millimeters per year. The rainy seasons in Iran are autumn and winter. The temperature climbs in Iran between April and September. Winters are cold and snowfall covers northern mountains and some parts of the west. Other seasons experience moderate weather conditions.