Iranian culture and civilization
“Iran” which is also Aran in Persian is derived from the ancient concept of Ariana meaning the Aryan or Arian land. Aria means “Liberal” by which Iranians called themselves in ancient times. Liberal-mindedness is among the salient features of Iranians. In fact they were the first nation to demand freedom of belief.
Some 3500 years before the Christian Era (C.E.), there was a great anonymous civilization in southeastern Iran which was coeval with the Mesopotamian civilization. There are evidences about this civilization in the finding of ‘Tapeh Yahya” 250 km south of Kerman. Also some cuneiform inscriptions, belonging to Ilamite kingdom, have been unearthed in the ruins of Susa (Shoosh). These tablets are among the oldest inscriptions found thus far. Excavations of ancient hills of southwestern Andimedhk, show that nomadism existed in the region since 8,000 years ago. Iranians have a brilliant background not only in culture and civilization, but also in religious affairs. The Iranians have had an Islamic life for about 14 centuries. Their interest in Islam was obvious from the beginning. One of first companions of the Prophet of Islam was Salman Farsi. He was among the first ten people who served Islam on the side of the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam and Imam Ali.
Islam has had many impacts on Iranian lifestyle and even influenced Iranian architecture in a manner that the Islamic and Iranian architectures are inextricable today.
The involvement of Iranian in scientific affairs can be traced back to the time Achaemenians, but during the Sassanid era, due to exchange of information between the Iranians, Greek, Indian and Near Eastern nations, science developed tremendously, especially in medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. Some of the renowned scientists of those period are:
Jaber son of Hayyan, Avecinna, Abu Isaac Farabi, Mohammad son of Zakaria Razi, Hakim Omar Khayyam. During the Sassanid era, a religious movement backed the promotion of Greek sciences and establishment of several churches, which shows Iran’s tendency toward divine religions. The Iranians also developed several different scientific disciplines such as intellectual sciences, mathematics, philosophy, Islamic theosophy, astronomy, medicine and development of scientific writing in Islamic civilization. They also played an important role in different Islamic dynasties. During the early Islamic period, Moses son of Nasir was as Iranian commander of Islam’s army and conqueror of Andalusia. The role of Abu Muslim Khorasani, an Iranian, was very important in establishment of the Abbssid Dynasty. The main advisers of the Abbassid came from an Iranain tribe called the Barmakid.
Iran’s Scientific Progress
Iran enjoys a rich scientific-cultural background. Some of today’s sciences are rooted in Iran and have Iranian founders. Iran’s name has always been associated with the names of scientists such as Mohammad son of Zakaria Razi, Farabi, Kharazmi and Avecinna; so that Avecinna’s book, Law, in medicine, is still taught in world’s faculties of medicine. Also “Jondi Shapoor” University in Shush, today Ahwaz, is among the oldest scientific centers of world (241-271 A.D.) It shows the keen interest of Iranian in scientific progresses.
During the rule of despotic rulers Iran did not achieve much in the field of science and hence faced a period of scientific stagnation. This was due to domination of colonialism and dependence of Iranian governments on Western countries. Therefore Iran became a consumer of science. However after the victory of the Islamic Revolution and considering all boycotts and pressures against Iran during the imposed war, Iranian young scholars made great progresses through their national will and determination.
The brilliance of Iranian youth in international scientific fields, Olympiads, invention and writing scientific papers has been very conspicuous. Some of these achievements are as follows:
Despite problems imposed by war, the Iranian youth went to international Olympiads in 1987 for the first time, and surprisingly put many countries behind in mathematics.
From the beginning, Iran has achieved the highest place in mathematics among all Islamic countries. Presently, Iran is second next to China only. In the 46th mathematics Olympiads of Mexico which was held in 2005 with presence of 91 countries, Iran achieved the 4th place.
The Iranian youth have also made good progress in chemistry and biology Olympiads so that they became first in physics Olympiad and second in computer Olympiad.
Iranian students and researchers have submitted several presentations at scientific meetings. In 2004, about 900 Iranian papers in medicine and biology were published in international journals. More than half of these publications had been prepared in Tehran’s universities and research center while Shiraz was in second place and Isfahan, Tabriz and Mashhad were in third place. It should be mentioned that scientific progress is not limited to papers and Olympiads but Iranians have also achieved practical accomplishments. For instance “production of stem cells” in Iran is unique and has drawn international attention. Moreover, an Iranian doctor could make a mechanical helping-heart in 2005 which is a unique system charged by radio-frequency waves from outside the body and controlled by a computer.
These national achievements are not limited to men, women have also gained scientific achievements. They have also had an active presence in sport fields and Olympiads. Some Iranian women like Parvin E’tesami have had outstanding activities in literary fields.
Iranian Poets and Literary Figures
Iran is among the countries that are a cradle of rich literature and poetry. Several poets have been educated in this country with different literary styles, including lyrical, musical, epical, and Iraqi with many Arabic words or the Indian style and other styles.
Regarding their contents, the poems are divided into the following styles: complaint, eulogy and elegy, admonishment, epical poem, instructive poem, mystic-moral content and using the form of anecdote and allegories.
Poetical forms used by most Iranian poets are: ode, sonnet, distich (mathnavi – long poem with rhymed couplets), quatrain, and couplet. Iranians poets have been influenced by Islamic culture and Shiism.
Considering different styles, founded and developed in Iran, many poets appeared in Iran, for instance Hafiz, Sa’di, Ferdowsi, Rudaki, Hatef Isfahani, Baba Taher, Khayyam, Molavi, Attar Neishabouri, Sanaei some of whom are known in the world and their poetical works have been translated into many languages. Hafiz, Sa’di, Khayyam, Ferdowsi and Molavi (Molana) are among these poets. In some literary faculties of world, there are courses on some of the Iranian poets.
During the recent decades, great poets and literary figures and also styles of modern poetry have appeared in Iran; however they cannot be discussed in detail.
Food in Iran is a fundamental part of Iranian Heritage. Their ingredients reflect the geography of Iran, while the savor and colors accent the aesthetic taste of Iranians. The cuisines are associated with so many social events- births, weddings, funerals; and many other ceremonies and rituals- that culinary traditions are intertwined with a country’s history and religion.
Persian cuisine is ancient, varied and cosmopolitan. Eating habits and products from ancient Greece, Rome and many Asian and Mediterranean cultures have influenced and are affected by this unique cuisine. It has borrowed spices, styles and recipes from India and has in turn influenced Indian food. There are many dishes that are shared by both Iranians and Turks to the extent that it is hard to say who has borrowed what and from where. The archives at the major ancient Persian cities contain names of many food products, ingredients, beverages, herbs, and spices. Basil, mint, cumin, cloves, saffron and coriander were traded along with olive all over the ancient trade routes. The Parthian and the Sassanian records mention walnut, pistachio, pomegranate, cucumber, broad bean, pea and sesame in their trade records.
Iranians believed that disease was caused by fundamental imbalance in the body between certain opposed qualities, such as heat and cold (sardi/garmi), or wetness and dryness (tari/khoshki). The physicians proposed that health resulted from the equal influence of four bodily “humors” that was analogous to the four elements of the physics (earth, water, air and fire). Food became an important factor instrumental in maintaining the body’s balance.
The ideas of cold and hot foods are still believed by many Iranians and in planning for meals such considerations will be paid attention to. From region to region, the classifications may vary. In general, animal fat, poultry, wheat, sugar, some fresh fruits and vegetables, and all dried vegetables and fruits are considered as hot. Most beef, fish, rice, dairy products, fresh vegetables and fruits are considered as cold. In planning for meals people’s nature, season or illness, will be considered and cold or hot or a combination of the two foods will be produced. For instance, walnut, a hot food is usually combined in a dish that includes pomegranate, a cold food, to make the dish balanced and delicious. Or a variety of pickles are consumed when eating fatty or fried foods to neutralize the effect of too much fat. Iranians are avid consumers of dairy products and many still make their own yogurt and cheese at home.
Women have had a great influence in the history of cooking in Iran. The best chefs were and still are women. From the palaces of the Persian kings to the average housewife, women have had fabulous skills preparing exquisite cuisine. Iranians regard most foods at restaurants as second-class and homemade food is precious and more appreciated. Even for weddings and major parties when catering services are used, the food is expected to be the same quality as the best homemade food.
Central to the Persian cooking are the numerous rice dishes, some containing almonds, pistachios, glazed carrots or orange peels, and raisins; others with vegetables and spices; occasionally with meat. Most often perfected and finished by the use of specially prepared saffron from Iran and cooked slowly after boiling to have a hard crust at the bottom (tah dig). Other recipes include stews, dumplings, kebabs, and stuffed vegetables accompanied by different sauces. The sweetmeats and pastries are especially delicious. Many of the dishes are vegetarian, and the mixing of sweet and savory, such as grains stewed with fruit and spices produce unique meals. The result is a feast of flavors and textures as well as a visual delight.
Iranians use a variety of breads. The breads are mostly flat and all are baked in special ovens similar to clay ovens in Indian restaurants. In Iran the bread is bought fresh every day and sometimes for each meal, but in Europe and America most buy enough for several days and will freeze and toast them for meals. They are not the same quality as the breads in Iran and are baked in modern conventional ovens and some are similar to the Greek pita bread but not identical.
Iranians are great consumers of all kinds of meat. The meat has to be slaughtered in a certain way according to religious prescription called Halal. Halal means permitted and in foreign countries is normally referred to shops selling meat slaughtered according to the Islamic prescribed codes.
Persian cuisine is diverse, with each province featuring dishes, culinary traditions and styles distinct to their regions. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from chelo kabab (barg, koobideh, joojeh, shishleek, soltani, chenjeh), khoresht (stew that is served with white Basmati or Iranian rice: ghormeh sabzi, gheimeh, and others), aash (a thick soup:as an example Ash-e anar), kookoo (vegetable omeletes), pollo (white rice alone or with addition of meat and/or vegetables and herbs, including loobia pollo, albaloo pollo, Sabzi pollo , zereshk pollo, and others), and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran. The list of Persian recipes, appetizers and desserts is extensive.
Herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. The main Persian cuisines are combinations of rice with meat, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts, and herbs. To achieve a balanced taste, characteristic Persian flavorings such as saffron, dried limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately and used in some special dishes.
It is believed that rice (berenj in Persian) was brought to Iran from southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent in ancient times. Varieties of rice in Iran include champa, rasmi, anbarbu, mowlai, sadri, khanjari, shekari, doodi, and others. Basmati rice from India is very similar to these Persian varieties and is also readily available in Iran. Traditionally, rice was most prevalent as a major staple item in northern Iran, while in the rest of the country bread was the dominant staple. The varieties of rice most valued in Persian cuisine are prized for their aroma, and grow in the north of Iran.
There are four major Iranian flat breads:
• Nan-e barbari: thick and oval-shaped, also known as Tabrizi Bread or Nan-e Tabrizi, for its origins in and links to the city of Tabriz.
• Nan-e lavash: thin, crispy and round or oval, and is also the oldest known bread in the Middle East and Central Asia.
• Nan-e sangak: Triangle-shaped bread that is stone-baked.
• Nan-e taftoon: Thin, but thicker than Lavash, soft and round.
Iran has terrific agriculture, producing many fruits and vegetables, especially what a lot of countries consider “exotic” are easier to come by. A bowl full of fruit is common on most Persian tables and dishes of vegetables and herbs are standard sides to most meals.
Iran is one of the top date producers in the world; some of the most succulent dates come from there.
For generations, Iranians have been eating various fruits, vegetables, and herbs for their health benefits that have only recently been discovered in other parts of the world. For example, onions and garlic, pomegranate, and sabzijat (various green herbs) are regular ingredients in many Persian dishes.
While the climate of the Middle East is conducive to the growing of fruits, the orchards and vineyards of Iran produce fruits of legendary flavour and size. These are not only enjoyed fresh and ripe as desserts but are also imaginatively combined with meats and form unusual accompaniments to main dishes. When fresh fruits are not available, a large variety of excellent dried fruits such as dates, figs, apricots and peaches are used instead. The list of fruits includes fresh dates and fresh figs. Many citrus fruits, apricots, peaches, sweet and sour cherries, apples, plums, pears, pomegranates and many varieties of grapes and melons.
While the eggplant (aubergine) is “the potato of Iran”, Iranians are fond of fresh green salads dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a little garlic. Vegetables such as pumpkin, spinach, green beans, broad beans, courgettes, varieties of squashes and carrots are commonly used in rice and meat dishes. Tomatoes, cucumbers and spring onions often accompany a meal. A small sweet variety of cucumber is popularly served as a fruit. The term “dolmeh” is used to describe any vegetable or fruit stuffed with a rice or rice-and meat mixture: vine leaves, cabbage leaves, spinach, eggplant, sweet peppers, tomatoes, even apples and quince.
The traditional drink accompanying Iranian dishes is called doogh. Doogh is a combination of yogurt, water (or soda) and dried mint. Other drinks are several types of especially prepared sherbets called Sharbat and khak sheer. One favorite is Aab-e Havij, alternately called havij bastani, carrot juice made into an ice cream float and garnished with cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices. There are also drinks that aren’t served with meals. These are Sheer Moz (banana milk shake), Aab Talebi (cantaloupe juice), and Aab Hendevaneh (watermelon juice). These drinks are commonly made in stands or kiosks in streets on summer days and on hiking trails. Aab Anaar (pomegranate juice) is also popular and has recently (2007) become popular in North America, specifically for its supposed health benefits including its high anti-oxidant levels (much higher than green tea).
There are many dessert dishes, ranging from Bastani-e Za’farāni (Persian Ice Cream with saffron, also called Bastani-e Akbar-Mashti, later on called Gol-o Bolbol as well) to the faludeh, a sort of frozen sorbet, made with thin starch noodles and rose water. Persian Ice Cream is flavored with saffron, rosewater, and chunks of heavy cream. There are also many types of sweets. The sweets divide into two categories: “Shirini Tar” (lit. moist sweets) and “Shirini Khoshk” (lit. dry sweets). The first category consists of French-inspired pastries with heavy whole milk whipped cream, glazed fruit toppings, tarts, custard-filled éclairs, and a variety of cakes. Some have an Iranian twist, such as the addition of pistachio, saffron, and walnuts. The second category consists of more traditional sweets:
Shirini-e Berenji (a type of rice cookie), Shirini-e Nokhodchi (clover shaped, chickpea cookies), Kolouche (a large cookie usually with a walnut or fig filling), Shirini-e Keshmeshi (raisin and saffron cookies), Shirini-e Yazdi (muffins or cupcakes, originated in the city of Yazd), Nan-e kulukhi (a kind of large and thick cookie similar to clod inside without any filling), and more.
Three others—that is, Zulbia , Bamieh and Gush-e Fil are very popular. Bamieh is an oval-shaped sweet dough piece, deep fried and then covered with a syrup (traditionally with honey). Zulbia is the same sort of dough, also deep-fried, but it is poured into the oil so that it twirls,then covered with the same syrup (or honey) . It has become popular in other parts of the world, and is known as funnel cake in North America, and Jalebi in India. Goosh-e Fil (lit. Elephant’s ear) is also deep-fried dough, fried in the shape of a flat elephant’s ear and then covered with sugar powder. Of course, no discussion of Persian desserts would be complete without one of the classics, Halvardeh (Tehrani for halvā-arde, wirth halvā, an Arabic loan word meaning ‘sweet’ and arde, Persian for Arabic tāhini. Halvā comes in various qualities and varieties, from mainly sugar, to sesame seed extract, which is known as tahini in the west (the aforementioned Persian arde), with pestach, and Iran produces some of the best.
There are certain accompaniments (mokhalafat) which are essential to every Iranian meal at lunch (nahar) and dinner (shaam), regardless of the region. These include, first and foremost, a plate of fresh herbs, called sabzi (basil, cilantro, fenugreek, tarragon, Persian watercress or shaahi), a variety of flat breads, called naan or noon (sangak, lavash, barbari), cheese (called panir, a Persian variant of feta), sliced and peeled cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and onions, yoghurt, and lemon juice. Persian gherkins (khiyarshur) and pickles (torshi) are also considered essential in most regions.
Tea (chai) is served at breakfast. At other times it is served based on the region, usually many times throughout the day. For example, in the province of Khorasan it is served