Discovering Persia

Photo essay: An American's journey in Iran

by Ellen Mack

The People (photos 1-27)
Iran, a country of 70M inhabitants, has great ethnic diversity. Persians and the Azari comprise approximately 50% and 25% of the population, respectively, but other ethnic groups include Kurds, Lurs, Baluchs, Turkmen and Arabs. Subgroups of some of these peoples still maintain a nomadic lifestyle. Although most citizens are Shia Muslim, the pre-Islamic Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism and other religions are also practice.

Street Scenes (photos 28-42)
The streets of Iranian cities are typically full of people busy with their daily errands. The evenings are equally hectic as many people are out socializing. Car traffic can be fierce although the road system in Iran is known to be amongst the best in the Middle East.

The Countryside (photos 43-66)
The Iranian landscape consists of two major mountain chains, the Alborz in the north and Zagros in the west, a high central plateau and two deserts, the sand and the salt desert, known to be amongst the most arid areas in the world. Human settlement are restricted to the mountain foothills where snow melt and natural springs provide water, the edge of the plateau and to desert oases.

Village Life (photos 67-79)
Forty percent of Iran' population live in rural areas. The buildings in many villages, especially those that are very rural or located in dessert areas, are constructed of mud and therefore take on the hues of the surrounding area, leading to a pleasant monochromatic effect.

The Great Bazaars (photos 80-95)
Bazaar is a Persian word, the use of which has since spread to India, Turkey and Arabia to indicate a marketplace or place of trade. A bazaar often functions as a city within a city and is a place for social interaction, politics and, of course, shopping. Bazaars are often organized into sections that specialize in various goods including carpets, textiles, jewelry, metal work, food and other goods. Together with caravansarais, hamams and the Friday Mosque, they are considered a key element of a Persian town.

Persian Tiles (photos 96-121)
Tiles, or glazed bricks, are an essential feature of Persian architecture and are the main decorative feature of religious buildings. The use of tiles dates back to the Elamite period but tile work blossomed in the Islamic period and reached its artistic zenith in the Safavid (16 - 17th C) period.

Doors and Windows (photos 122-136)
Doors and windows are a means of personal communication with the outside world. The Iranians often handled this in a most artistic manner.

Persepolis (photos 137-168)
Iran has a written history of at least 2500 years and in the Achaemenid period (6th to 4th C BC), it was the greatest empire known to mankind. The empire had 5 royal residences of which Persepolis was the grandest. Its construction began in 520 BC under the reign of Darius the Great. Persepolis, now a Unesco World Heritage site, is a testimony to the power and breadth of this empire. It's first leader, Cyrus the Great, was an early champion of human rights and ruled by respecting the cultures and religions of the 23 peoples that comprised his Empire.

Unesco World Heritage Sites (photos 169-185)
Iran can boast seven UNESCO World Heritage (UWH) sites. Persepolis is shown separately and five of the remaining are included here.

More Sites and Curiosities (photos 186-205)
Iran has a rich culture and history with too many points of interest to categorize under a few headings. Here are some aspects of Iranian culture and architecture that distinguishes it from other parts of the world.

>>> Ellen Mack's flickr page



sbglobe, I took more time

by Ellen Mack (not verified) on

I took more time than you can imagine but I enjoyed every moment of it and learned so much in the process. More importantly, I have had several teachers in the US and Canada contact me about using this slide show for educational purposes. That is what made me realize how well my time had been spent.


Nicksaf, Thank you for your

by Ellen Mack (not verified) on

Thank you for your kind words and I am pleased you enjoyed the photos. I would love to see the artwork you generate from it.


Shariar, You are very

by Ellen Mack (not verified) on

You are very welcome and I am happy you enjoyed the pictures. My purpose in putting them together and posting them online was educational so I am pleased to see they have achieved my goal.


Does anyone know how to?

by Majid on

Is it possible to download this photo essay or the other one "Friendliest people" on a CD ? OR photogrphers  have already done it themselves? and if so how can one obtain a copy?


Dear Ellen Thanks

by Monda on

for your time in sharing your travels with us. I'm saving your entire photo album to remind myself of the many spots in Iran that I'd love to discover once I do get to go back. 


just wonderful

by IRANdokht on

These are fantastic pictures, the colors, the people, the scenery, all of it was just amazing.
what a great job! I loved the introduction and the care you put into your work. Very impressive indeed.

Thank you



Payaam Jaan: JOb! Job! Job! ;)

by A Hassan Danesh, Ph.D. from UCR (not verified) on

Live Spirit

An Immigrant
Has come to settle
In another country
And with so many years passed
He has managed to prepare for himself
A relatively modern and clean place
That one can call it home
But the immigrant
Is nostalgic still
Longing for his own native home
Feeling his home
Is empty devoid of fire, life, and living spirit
As if living in planet moon
Abandoned and alone
He uses his mind and install a large mirror
Now from this vintage point large window
He call see a duplicate of his residence
In his own home native country
Yet imbued with life and spirit
Typical of the conditions present in planet earth
--Hassan Danesh


Still, I think Iran is the most diverse country on the globe.

by پیام on

Saman jan, each of the countries you named have their own beauties and diversities, but none in teh extent of Iran's. Having said that I hope to get the chance to visit those countries as well, of course after a thorough journey through Iran.


World is A Country and Country is a World: Big Idea

by Abol Hassan Danesh (not verified) on

...Of course with few exceptions such as the Tomb of Cyrys the great, many of these images taken and documented through and by Ellen's Lenses, could be the images of any place around the globle if the photographer had not provided the information about the specific places where the pictures where taken.

That is by eliminating the specific time and place information on these pictures one can begin to see and relate these images with fresh "Global" eyes to the entire world.

The earth home ! There is no place like home in the entire universe!

Indeed these are great photoes! Congradulation Ellen!

P.S. See my "Corridor of Hope" 1999. When I was a young man way back I used this Global eye method of mine to study the universal patterns of informal economy and the way it helps people to survive on their own when the state remains a distant apparatus and far and away from the needs of people at the ground Zero level.



by Saman on

Afghanistan, India, Brazil and Lebanon are some of my favorites. Ancient and diverse...


Great Discovery...

by Saman on

You discovered more than Persia ... you discovered Iran. "Persia" alone is incomplete. Loved the pix :O)


Took me nearly an hour to watch the pictuers...

by پیام on

... and read the footnotes, an hour well spent. Great job that portraits Iran at it's best. I particullary liked the note at picture no. 178:

 "Tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae: The tomb was known to already be desecrated at the time of Alexander the Macedonian who visited the site in 324 BC after his conquest of the Persian empire."

Alexander indeed was Alexander the Macedonier and not the way Greeks like to portrait him as Alexander the Great. He wasn't Greek to begin with and far from Great according to history.


A question in general:


Is there any other country more diverse and beautifull as Iran? 



by Majid on

My friend......I was referring to this poster:



How is it that a "foreigner" does a better job at this?

by objective (not verified) on Mon Jan 26, 2009 10:16 PM PST

How come photos of Iran taken by foreigners, such as this set, are more pleasing to the eye? They seem to be able to mine the gold. They appreciate and capture the beauty in ways most Iranians simply can't.

This set, in particular, is also very informative. I learned more about our history than the school system taught me in Iran. It is sad but true.

Why is it that foreigners seem to appreciate the beauty in Iran while Iranians take it for granted? I hope for a day when Iranians appreciate it just as much.



PS.  Too much smoking strong stuff....BAAAD!

       Being able to leave sensible comments.......GOOOD!

          Not knowing which one of your registered user names you're at.......BAAAD!

          Going to bed when you're stoned........EXCELLENT!

Nite nite buddy.......      

Moderator 1234

User gol-dust

by Moderator 1234 on

Your comment has not been deleted. It is where you left it on on the last photograph, #205.




by NeghNeghoo (not verified) on

What a beautiful journey. I enjoyed every moment of it.
All I can say is thanks.


Lesson #1: I shall not ask D photographer technical questions!

by gol-dust on

Last nite I asked the photographer about the kind of camera and lenses used, but my comment is deleted! This is despite complementing the beautiful photos! As a serious photographer I am always interested in that. Why should my comment be deleted? 

Lesson #2: I shall not redicule Iran for their sensorship either. those abroad who criticise IRI are involved in the same practice! "Nothing is secret" my foot!  


Objective: The world of Majic and Illusion and Witchcraft

by Hassan Danesh (not verified) on

Majid ... now shrink the afghan woman to 1.5 to 2 inch small photo that one attaches to a job application and now imagin you are on recruting committee who receives thousands of applicants. When this one comes on your task for your viewing how ordinary it appears after the the "SHRINKAGE"... tell me...

Of course... it becomes boring and mundane in an instant...

Allaho AKBAR! :)


Immanual Kand: Thing in itself vs. thing for itself (ob vs. sub)

by Hassan Danesh (not verified) on

Majid... don't understand with your so called "Ordinary" takes on things vs. the professional-- your example of family photo was indeed near a profession sociological take on the matter.

Of course the more professional and objective you become the more enthusiastic audience you will have that it could translate itself to some generous income.

Just take Bill Clinton the way he has been received and honored by different countries about his take on issues. He earned just 6 million dollars for sharing his "Objective" take on global issue...

Why am I saying this? well it is time for you too to have your audience begin to share your objective take on matters and hopefully it begin start making some "good money" to make your life around you more comfortable.

Do you know how much money I have already made from my posting on the You have no idea. But don't tell anybody for I then like Bill Clinton must start paying taxes to Obama-the-Ali-Baba-Governemnt.

Hurrrrray! :)(


Authentic & Worthy

by Anonymous.... (not verified) on

Thank you for sharing your taste and wisdom with us. You captured Iran's innocense! And let us extend our regrets for Navid's backward remark. Some of our youth need a hearty Gooshmali.

Cheers to your good health....and thank you JJ for making this possible.





دوست من , تا حدی حق با شماست، ولی بعضی ها کار بهتر و حرفه ای تری  ارائه میدن و بعضی ها ی دیگه دید متفاوتی دارن.
ما اینجا عکس های زیادی دیدیم،  بسیاری از دید یک توریست معمولی و تعداد کمی هم مثل این خانم و دوستانش که با مطالعه قبلی دیدار میکنند و بهمراهشون احتما لاً تصویر بردار حرفه ای هم دارند . ما خودمون هم اگر جستجو کنی افرادی رو داریم که کارهاشون با افراد معمولی متفاوت هست و از اون ها هم کار کم ندیدیم.
افراد معمولی (مثل خود من) وقتی به یک محل جالب یا یک منظره چشم نواز بر میخوریم میخوایم هر کسی رو هم که دم دست هست تو تصویر بگنجونیم و جلوی یک بنای تاریخی رو با هیجده نفر از اقواممون سد کنیم ، اون عکس ها فقط برای آلبوم خانوادگی هست و پز دادن بعدی که (منم اوجا بودم و ...چقدر هم خوش گذشت! ) .
اینجاست که تفاوت یک کار قابل عرضه و تحقیقی و یک کار ( آ لبومی ) مشخص میشه.


Fresh Air

by Hassan Danesh (not verified) on

Yes... Eveytime you see someone from a far way land comes show you the familiar scenes from his or her perspective ,,, then you see begin new cool wonderful stuff about the same ordinary things that you have never seen before... almost with this new set of eyes you have gone on a distant journey full of excitement and wonder right in your own boring familiar back yard...


cc. The ministery of Tourism



by Majid on

I don't know of any photo essay published in this site with these many photos, and normally I don't click on each and every one of them, but not only I clicked on every one of these 205 photos, some of them I went back and forth several times to get the details.

IMHO, one of the BEST published here and awsomely informative as well.

Thank you E.Mack



Awesome job!

by nicksaf on

This pictural truly shows the natural beauty of our beloved persian culture. Many thanks to the photographer, Ellen Mack for providing and allowing us enjoy our deep roots from thousands of miles. You may consider writing a memoir for this trip and include these pictures as well. I am a part-time artist and will use some of these awesome pictures for my drawings. Thanks alot for taking time. nicksaf A fan of Iran, Esfahan!




by sbglobe on

Dear Ellen, 

Congratulations on this outstanding work. I am sure that it took signification amount of time to select these pictures and add the captions. I hope that this work gets the attention it deserves. THANK YOU for taking the time.  And THANK YOU for showing the softer side of Iran and Iranian!


Dear Hajiaga

by ahmage-nejad (not verified) on

Please, for love of God go learn some English then create a web page.



by iri (not verified) on

Unlike most travellers' photos, these ones were accompanied w/ description that engaged the viewer as if s/he were there ... Thaks fo rtaking the time and your insightful documentary. Hope you had a good time there.

Navid K

Modernize Iran

by Navid K on

Iran is still a very BACKWARD and POOR nation in 2009 - It has a rich history yet it is such a BACKWARD country




I miss Persia

by Haj-Khanum on

Thank you for these wonderful photos. With your seeing eyes and hearing ears, YOU have captured the soul of my country as it was when I left it 35 years ago.



I just learned so much from the title of pictures.....

by cyclicforward on



I must say that I am totally ashamed. You do know more about Iran than I do and I call myself Persian!

Great pictures, organized extremely well and wonderful titles with useful information. Many thanks for sharing....


How is it that a "foreigner" does a better job at this?

by objective (not verified) on

How come photos of Iran taken by foreigners, such as this set, are more pleasing to the eye? They seem to be able to mine the gold. They appreciate and capture the beauty in ways most Iranians simply can't.

This set, in particular, is also very informative. I learned more about our history than the school system taught me in Iran. It is sad but true.

Why is it that foreigners seem to appreciate the beauty in Iran while Iranians take it for granted? I hope for a day when Iranians appreciate it just as much.