Persian art or Iranian art has one of the richest art heritages in world history and has been strong in many media including architecture, painting, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and sculpture. At different times, influences from the art of neighbouring civilizations have been very important, and latterly Persian art gave and received major influences as part of the wider styles of Islamic art. This article covers the art of Persia up to 1925, the end of the Qajar dynasty; for later art see Iranian modern and contemporary art, and for traditional crafts see arts of Iran. Iranian architecture is covered in that article.
From the Achaemenid Empire of 550 BC–330 BC for most of the time a large Iranian-speaking state has ruled over areas similar to the modern boundaries of Iran, and often much wider areas, sometimes called Greater Iran, where a process of cultural Persianization left enduring results even when rulership separated. The courts of successive dynasties have generally led the style of Persian art, and court-sponsored art has left many of the most impressive survivals.
In ancient times the surviving monuments of Persian art are notable for a tradition concentrating on the human figure (mostly male, and often royal) and animals. Persian art continued to place larger emphasis on figures than Islamic art from other areas, especially in sculpture. The general Islamic style of dense decoration, geometrically laid out, developed in Persia into a supremely elegant and harmonious style combining motifs derived from plants with Chinese motifs such as the cloud-band, and often animals that are represented at a much smaller scale than the plant elements surrounding them. Under the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century this style was used across a wide variety of media, and diffused from the court artists of the shah, most being mainly painters.
Iran is a great place to buy souvenirs and you will find it hard not to indulge yourself. In fact due to its very old civilization, rich cultures and also geographical location, has an important role in the world arts and crafts.
Mass production is not common, prices are low and the quality is generally high, even at the budget end of market. Naturally, the bazaar is the best place to start looking, although much of what is on sale in places like Kerman, Kashan and Hamadan is more likely to suite local tastes.
Conversely, in places like Isfahan and Shiraz where foreign tourists are more common, the goods may be more inviting. if you are not keen on haggling and don’t have much time to look around, the government – run Iran handicrafts organizations has fixed – price shops in most provincial capitals.
Various places in Iran specialize in specific products. Often, knowing the best place to buy something is as important as getting a good price.
Iranian souvenir is varied in many different types from food and drink to clothing or handicraft. Here is a list of most important ones:
One of important and most valuable handicrafts, which has a worldwide reputation, is Gelims, a double sided flat-woven mat without knots. These rugs are thinner and softer than knotted carpets and rarely used as floor coverings. They are popular as prayer mats and wall hangings.
The best known Iranian cultural export, the Persian carpet, is far more than just a floor covering to an Iranian. A Persian carpet is a display of wealth, an investment and integral part of religious and cultural festivals and used in everyday life, e.g., as a prayer mat.
Iran Writing and calligraphy:
Calligraphy is the calligraphy of Persian writing system. It has been one of the most revered arts throughout Persian history. It is considered to be one of the most eye catching and fascinating manifestations of Persian culture.
Iran Ceramics & Pottery:
Ceramic Industry is one of the oldest industries in the world. The first ever-excavated ceramic objects belonging to 10 to 12 thousand years ago were explored in Zagros mountain range in Iran that indicate a long and shining history in it. Archeological studies in Iran have shown that pottery in Iran has a history as old as 8,000 years.
A miniature is a richly detailed miniature painting which depicts religious or mythological themes from Iran. These delicate, lush paintings are typically visually stunning, with a level of detail which can only be achieved with a very fine hand and an extremely small brush.
Iran Tile working:
Although the art of enameled brick making dates back to 3500 years before, the works remaining since the Achaemenid time made 500 Be and the enameled bricks with particular designs narrate the Iranian science on this art. Long after, in particular, during the Islamic periods, this art was used through new applications along with new designs and various methods as golden colored and seven colored inlaid works (Moarragh as it is called in Persian).
Persian Tile Work
Persian Khatam -Inlaidwork:
It is one of the finest handicraft artworks of Iran. The oldest specimen obtained so far belongs to the Safavids period. Iran of today is the most important center of the inlaid work in the world .The materials used in the construction of inlaid articles can be in gold, silver, brass, aluminum and twisted wire. Artworks with smaller inlaid pieces are generally more highly valued.
The silverworks discovered in Sialk mounds belonging to the fourth millennium BC indicates that the people of this area of Iran had been familiar with silver and making handicrafts with. The engraved designs on silver left by the artists of the past are indicative of national morale and the phenomena of their time. It is believed that silver dishes and trinkets would be exported to other countries in Sassanid and Seljuk periods.
Iranian Silver Work
As Iran souvenirs, you should definitely consider some Persian sweets as they are unique and delicious.
By far my favorite Iranian sweets are the pistachio baklava made in Yazd. The best baklava in Yazd can be found at Haj Khalife Halirahbar shop in central Amir Chakhmaq Square (Meidan-e Amir Chaqmaq, میدان امیر چقماق) Expect a long queue, because there always is, but trust me, totally worth your time.
Gaz is the nougat Persian style traditionally from Isfahan, a sweet mixed with chopped pistachios and almonds. Much sugar-based, I confess I’m not crazy about it.
Sohan is another type of Iranian confectionery, a Persian-style toffee with chopped walnuts and pistachios mixed in it. The city of Qom is famous for its sohan as it’s traditionally from there and considered the best in Iran. There are many different types such as sohan gol, sesame sohan, honey (sohan hasali), and walnut, ginger or cinnamon sohan. Sohan gol is the original and my favorite. A kilo of good quality Iranian sohan costs anywhere between 300-400,000 rials (30-40,000 toman).
Halva zard and saffron ice cream can’t be shipped or carried in your luggage, but are definitely to try as they are delicious.
In Isfahan Grand Bazaar you can also find beautiful objects in silver and miniature painted boxes made with camel bone. In this market, don’t shy away from performing your best haggling skills.
One of the Iran souvenirs that I never miss buying, either to bring as a gift or for myself, is the beautiful Termeh of the city of Yazd.
Soft and delicate hand-woven fabric, Termeh is mainly made of silk and wool and the threads colored with natural painting materials used in traditional Iranian designs. The most common use of Termeh was for aristocratic clothes, curtains, praying rugs and home decorations during Shah Abbas era by royal and rich families.
Now Termeh is being used in many shapes and for different purposes such as furniture fabric or to make purses, small bags, shoes, wallets, cushions or tablecloths.
You will find some Termeh also in Isfahan’s main bazaar but the best quality is in Yazd. All over and around Yazd Grand Bazaar, you will see Termeh shops. The original, traditional and best quality Termeh producers in Yazd is the shop Termeh Kojasteh in Azadi Square.
Gulab in Persian (gul means flower, ab means water), rose water is also something you might like to buy in Iran. It’s the water taken from the perfumed flowers, in Iran called Gul Mohammadi that has been planted for 7,000 years. The purest and most desirable rose water is being produced in places of Kashan County such as Qamsar, Niasar and some remote high elevated villages near Kashan such as Van, Vadqan, Sur and Sadeh.
If you happen to be in Kashan between mid-april to mid-May, try to join the crowd at the beautiful Gulab Giri ceremony. Some 1000-year-old traditional ceremony where you can see how the Gulab is produced
Because of its nice taste and smell, it has been used for many things such as ice cream, sweets, tea and some traditional foods. It’s one of the best Iran souvenirs you can bring to friends who love cooking and trying new recipes. It’s also very nice if some drops are added to a cup of tea.
The word saffron derives from the Arab word zafaran, meaning yellow, and it was mentioned as far back as 1500 B.C. in many classical writings, as well as in the Bible. Saffron is one of the few things that truly are worth its weight in gold. Its botanical name is crocus sativus and been introduced as the most expensive spice in the world.
The Iranian caviar as the best caviar in the world is a very lucrative export of Iran, with roughly half being collected from sturgeons near Bandar –e torkaman. Its tiny grey pearls make the ever body’s eyes sparkling. One tastes it “like a sea candy, filled with iodine and powdered with mystery” (Robert Courteline).
Iran’s pistachio as an exclusively Iranian fruit is one of the best pistachios in the world. Even today, with the introduction of the product from some other countries, Iranian pistachio still ranks first in international market thanks to its rich taste, unique way of processing, nutritive attributes and the eye catching appearance that has made it famous worldwide as smiling pistachio.