Physical map of Iran
Source: CIA (2001)
Political map of Iran
Source: CIA (2001)
Among its immediate neighbors, Iran is surpassed in size only by its Saudi rivals across the resource-rich Persian Gulf. Tehran, Iran’s largest city and capital, is situated at the foot of the lofty Elburz Mountains, with the vast desert landscape of the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut unfolding to the south and east. A two-hour drive south of the capital, the holy city of Qom is both a venerated pilgrimage site for Shi’a Muslims and the site of a nuclear enrichment facility (Fordow) at the center of the international debate over Iran’s nuclear program. Another three-hour drive leads to Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city and site of the country’s only uranium-conversion facility.
The vast Zagros Mountains to the west separate the dry basin of central Iran from the country’s 900-mile border with Iraq. This region of western Iran, home to the majority of the country’s seven million ethnic Kurds, was ground zero for an eight-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. While Iran does not directly border Syria, the theocratic regime in Tehran is widely suspected of using Iraqi airspace to transport cash, military equipment, and personnel to Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
To the north, Iran shares territorial rights to the world’s largest lake—the salt-water Caspian Sea—with four other oil- and natural gas-exporting countries: Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Near the Iranian border with Turkmenistan lies Iran’s third-largest city Mashhad, a major economic hub along the famed Silk Road.
Located immediately to Afghanistan’s west, Iran played a critical role in establishing an interim government in Kabul after U.S.-led military action removed the Afghan Taliban from power in 2001.
Wedged between the Gulf of Oman and the remote border with Pakistan in Iran’s southeast corner lies the country’s equivalent of the “Wild West”—Sistan-Baluchestan province. At its southern-most point, Sistan-Baluchestan lies nearly 1,200 miles from Tehran—eclipsing the driving distance between Washington, DC and Kansas City, Missouri.
Finally, the lifeblood of Iran’s economy—commodity exports—depends heavily on the country’s claims to much of the Persian Gulf. Iran boasts the fourth largest proven crude oil reserves in the world, as well as the world’s second largest deposits of natural gas.
Iran and the region
Geography of Iran
- Columbia University’s Gulf2000 project is an excellent source for maps of the region. Among the highlights is a colorful feature mapping the ethnic groups of the Middle East, as well as maps charting the languages, religious composition, and population density of Iran.
- BBC’s “Iran in Maps” feature, though slightly dated, allows visitors to explore Iran’s population centers, transportation networks, nuclear and energy infrastructure, and demography.
- On the nuclear question, BBC and The Economist map the locations of Iran’s nuclear sites, as does Google Maps and the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
- For visual representations of fossil fuel reserves in the Persian Gulf and the region, check out the following maps by the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Gulf 2000.