President Donald Trump has doubled down on his threat to target Iran’s rich array of cultural and heritage sites in his standoff with Tehran after the killing of a top Iranian commander last week.
Iran has vowed revenge after General Qasem Soleimani died in a targeted US drone strike in Baghdad, and Trump reiterated his warnings about Iranian historic treasures Sunday.
This raised warnings from the United Nations that an attack on such sites would constitute a war crime. UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said Monday there were several legal agreements ratified by the US and Iran, which bar attacks on cultural locations.
Azoulay also stressed “the universality of cultural and natural heritage as vectors of peace and dialogue between peoples, which the international community has a duty to protect and preserve for future generations.”
Iran is home to 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Here’s a look at them:
Armenian monastic ensembles of Iran
The site comprises three Armenian Christian monasteries — St. Thaddeus, St. Stepanos and the Chapel of Dzordzor — in the northwest of the country. The oldest of these, St. Thaddeus, dates back to the 7th century.
The monasteries are “living witnesses of Armenian religious traditions through the centuries,” according to UNESCO.
Situated on the southern edge of the Iranian high plateau, this medieval town in the desert was at its peak between the 7th and 11th centuries, when it was known for its silk and cotton garments. Bam “represents an outstanding example of an ancient fortified settlement,” says UNESCO.
A multilingual inscription carved into a limestone cliff in western Iran. Written in Babylonian, Old Persian and Elamite, this rock relief “records the way in which King Darius, after the death of Cambyses II (who reigned 529-522 BC), killed the usurper Gaumata, defeated the rebels, and assumed the throne,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Cultural landscape of Maymand
This semi-arid valley in Iran’s central mountains is inhabited by “semi-nomadic agro-pastoralists.” These villagers tend to their livestock on mountain pastures and move around with their animals to temporary settlements and cave dwellings depending on the season, according to UNESCO.
A popular tourist destination, this opulent palace is located in the heart of historic Tehran and its most eye-catching features date back to the 19th century when it was the royal residence of the Qajar family.
“The glories and excesses of the Qajar rulers are played out across this complex of grand buildings decorated with beautifully painted tiles and set around an elegant garden,” writes travel guide Lonely Planet.
This soaring 53-meter-high brick tomb was built in 1006 AD for Qābus Ibn Voshmgir, the ruler of the ancient city of Ziyarid.
The tower in northeast Iran “illustrates the development of mathematics and science in the Muslim world at the turn of the first millennium AD,” says UNESCO.
Historic city of Yazd
Located inside the present-day city of Yazd, this historic settlement in the middle of the Iranian plateau is “living testimony to intelligent use of limited available resources in the desert for survival,” says UNESCO.
Located close to the Spice and Silk Roads, the buildings here are made of earth, and water is brought in by a qanat, or underground tunnel system.
Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan
Covering over 20,000 square meters (215,300 square feet), this is one of the largest mosques in Iran and construction started here in 841 AD. The site shows the evolution of mosque architecture over many centuries and is “a prototype for later mosque designs throughout Central Asia,” says UNESCO.
Meidan Emam, Esfahan
One of the largest city squares in the world and bordered by important historic buildings. The plaza was built in the 17th century and tourists “can easily spend an entire day here marveling at the architectural feats on each side,” according to Culture Trip.
The 160-hectare archaeological site features palaces, gardens and the tomb of Cyrus the Great, the ruler who founded the Achaemenid Empire, which endured for more than two centuries after his death.
UNESCO describes Pasargadae, which was founded in the 6th century BC, as “exceptional testimony to the Achaemenid civilization in Persia.”
The magnificent ruins of the ancient royal city of Persepolis are some of the best-known of Iran’s cultural sites.
Founded in 518 BC, it was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire and “is among the world’s greatest archaeological sites,” according to UNESCO.
Sassanid archaeology of Fars region
This comprises eight archaeological sites, across three separate areas of the southeast province of Fars. The location include palaces and city remains dating back to the Sassanid Empire, which stretched across the region from 224 to 651 AD, says UNESCO.
Excavations of this Bronze Age settlement in the Iranian plateau in 1967 revealed an advanced stoneworking technique, the possibility of metalworking and an advanced trade network, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Sheikh Safi al-din Khānegāh and Ardabil shrine ensemble
This Sufi spiritual retreat was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. It includes a library, a mosque, a school, mausolea, a cistern, a hospital, kitchens, a bakery, and some offices, says UNESCO.
Shushtar historical hydraulic system
According to UNESCO, this 5th century “masterpiece of creative genius” still provides water to the city of Shushtar today.
“The system comprises bridges, weirs, canals and tunnels, but the most impressive component is a series of ancient watermills powered by human-made waterfalls,” says Lonely Planet.
The 14th century Mausoleum of Oljaytu is located in the northwestern city of Soltaniyeh. It rises “starkly above the dusty plains like an ancient starship,” according to Lonely Planet.
An ancient urban settlement in southwest Iran that was developed as early as the fifth millennium BC. “Until sometime after the 14th century AD the city was a flourishing center of a district known for silk, sugarcane, and oranges,” says Encyclopedia Britannica.
Tabriz historic bazaar complex
One of the Middle East’s oldest and largest bazaars, this centuries-old labyrinth of covered passages sells everything from jewelry to carpets and shoes. It is “one of the most complete examples of the traditional commercial and cultural system of Iran,” according to UNESCO.
This archaeological site in northwest Iran’s volcanic mountain region has “strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water,” according to UNESCO.
According to the organization, it “stands as an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some 2,500 years.”
The ruins of the holy city of the Kingdom of Elam are surrounded by three huge concentric walls, and date back to 1250 BC, according to UNESCO.
The Persian garden
This entry consists of nine gardens, in different regions of Iran, dating back to separate periods since the 6th century BC. “With water playing an important role for both irrigation and ornamentation, the Persian garden was conceived to symbolize Eden and the four Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water and plants,” says UNESCO.
The Persian qanat
This vital irrigation system consists of 11 qanats — the ancient method of “tapping alluvial aquifers at the heads of valleys, and conducting the water along underground tunnels by gravity, often over many kilometers,” according to UNESCO.
Along with 22 UNESCO cultural sites, Iran also boasts two world heritage-listed natural sites — the Hyrcanian forests and Lut desert.
The forests stretch 850 kilometers (528 miles) along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, and date back 25 to 50 million years, according to UNESCO.
They are home to at least 180 species of birds and 50 species of mammals.
In the Persian language “Lut” refers to bare land without water and devoid of vegetation, according to UNESCO.
This sandy desert is located in the southwest of the country. It boasts spectacular corrugated ridges, due to the strong winds that sweep through the region between June and October each year.