Iran, geography, economy and petrol

1 – Key features of Iran

Government Islamic republic
Surface area 1,648,195 km2
Population 82,801,633 inhabitants in 2016
Capital Tehran (8,846,780 inhabitants)
Religion Shia Islam
Language Modern Persian, Farsi, Indo-European language having adopted the arable alphabet
Currency Iran Rial

2 – Major cities of Iran

The average population density is quite low (49 inhabitants per square kilometer). Most Iranians live in centers located in the outskirts of the state or in the coolest oases inland.


Capital since 1976, its altitude is about 1200 meters and its number of inhabitants is 8 846 780 in 2011. Tehran is located in a vast plain at the foot of the Alborz. Its climate is suffocating in summer, cold in winter. Water is scarce there, and the surrounding countryside is not very fertile. Its importance came from its commercial and strategic location at a junction of high-traffic roads. It also has flourishing industries, mostly textiles and mechanical engineering.

Tabriz :

Elevation: 1,550 meters, 1,424,641 inhabitants in 2011. The city of Tabriz is built on a plateau, in a fertile zone, it is a very industrial city and a very active market.

Isfahan  :

Elevation: approximately 1,500 meters, number of inhabitants: 2,031,324 (2015).

The city of Isfahan was once a splendid and lively city, and declined as soon as Tehran had supplanted it as its capital. Today Isfahan has become an important industrial center for textiles and refining.


Mashhad :

Elevation: 1,000 meters. Number of inhabitants 4 156 321 in 2015. The city of Mashhad, a large shopping center, is connected with Turkestan and Central Asia.

3 – Relief and climate

The existence of a complex hydraulic development, dating from ancient Persian times, clearly indicates that the country is largely arid. On the map, Iran appears as a vast plateau surrounded by mountainous terrain. The most imposing are the Alborz Mountains to the north (with the majestic volcanic massif of Damavand which rises to 5,771 m) and the Zagros Mountains to the southwest.

Most of the plateau, bounded by the mountain barrier, is deprived of moisture from the sea and has a dry climate. The arid and desolate depression of the interior is practically lifeless.

The most impressive of these basins is the Dasht-e Kavir (in Persian: دشت كوير), a desert of pebbles cut from salty areas. The plateau is prey to wind, drought and salt marshes.

4 – Rivers, lakes and coasts

On this territory of 1,300 kilometers wide and over 2,000 kilometers long, the main river is the Karun (about 700 kilometers long).

Descended from the mountains, streams of water flow inland over a very short distance, because the hot climate dries them out as they enter the Iranian steppes.

Man needs water to live in these regions and to cultivate the land. He therefore considered building underground channels, called qanats, to preserve water from evaporation too quickly. Wherever water comes out of the ground, oases with rich market gardening crops and sturdy trees spring up. See our article on the Water Museum in Yazd.

Qanats in Iran

The Iranian plateau is often interspersed with huge basins full of water, vast brackish stretches rather than natural lakes.

In the north, Iran is bathed by the Caspian Sea, in the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The Caspian coast has a plain relief and is very fertile. Those bordering the Persian Gulf are high and desolate.

5 – Iran’s economic resources

Crops occupy only one-tenth of Iranian soil and are distributed mainly over the Caspian Sea. Here, the humid climate favours the intensive production of cereals (especially rice), tobacco, cotton and fruit trees.

This landscape was sung by Ferdowsi, the greatest Persian poet (935-1020), who describes this landscape as a true paradise on earth.

The high valleys irrigated by rivers are also fertile. Indoor oases produce cotton, vegetables and date palms.

Iranians fish consistently and fruitfully in the waters of the Caspian Sea (sturgeons).

Iranian Caspian Sea

On the plateaus, the main occupation of the inhabitants is cattle breeding (especially sheep and goats), practiced by more than 3 million nomads. The wool of sheep in the manufacture of fabrics and famous Persian rugs, traditional jewel of the Iranian industry.

6 – Oil production

Since the 20th century, a great event has transformed Iranian life: the exploitation of the first oil fields discovered in the north-west. A new era has begun for this country, which was hitherto extremely poor, devoid of industry, with little means of communication. The enormous wealth that oil brings to the state’s coffers is largely used to improve the country’s living conditions.

Middle Eastern petrol Iran

Production is growing rapidly and reaches 182.6 million tonnes per year (in 2015). A magnificent river port was born: Abadan (206,073 inhabitants in 2009), where oil arrives by pipeline. The precious fuel is distributed worldwide.

The Iranian economy has been penalized for a long time by the US blockade, but it has been gradually lifted since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iranian nuclear energy on 14 July 2015.