Iranian souvenirs are artisanal handicrafts unique to each city and made with lots of love. While walking through the bazaars is a feast for the eyes, it can become overwhelming if you don’t know what to look for. Check out our list of the best souvenirs to buy from Iran to bring a part of this unforgettable country back home with you.
Persian carpets and rugs of various types were woven in parallel by nomadic tribes, in village and town workshops, and by royal court manufactories alike. As such, they represent different, simultaneous lines of tradition, and reflect the history of Iran and its various peoples. The carpets woven in the Safavid court manufactories of Isfahan during the sixteenth century are famous for their elaborate colours and artistical design, and are treasured in museums and private collections all over the world today. Their patterns and designs have set an artistic tradition for court manufactories which was kept alive during the entire duration of the Persian Empire up to the last royal dynasty of Iran.
Carpets woven in towns and regional centers like Tabriz, Kerman, Mashhad, Kashan, Isfahan, Nain and Qom are characterized by their specific weaving techniques and use of high-quality materials, colours and patterns. Town manufactories like those of Tabriz have played an important historical role in reviving the tradition of carpet weaving after periods of decline. Rugs woven by the villages and various tribes of Iran are distinguished by their fine wool, bright and elaborate colours, and specific, traditional patterns. Nomadic and small village weavers often produce rugs with bolder and sometimes more coarse designs, which are considered as the most authentic and traditional rugs of Persia, as opposed to the artistic, pre-planned designs of the larger workplaces. Gabbeh rugs are the best-known type of carpet from this line of tradition.
The art and craft of carpet weaving has gone through periods of decline during times of political unrest, or under the influence of commercial demands. It particularly suffered from the introduction of synthetic dyes during the second half of the nineteenth century. Carpet weaving still plays a major part in the economy of modern Iran. Modern production is characterized by the revival of traditional dyeing with natural dyes, the reintroduction of traditional tribal patterns, but also by the invention of modern and innovative designs, woven in the centuries-old technique. Hand-woven Persian carpets and rugs have been regarded as objects of high artistic and utilitarian value and prestige since the first time they were mentioned by ancient Greek writers.
Although the term “Persian carpet” most often refers to pile-woven textiles, flat-woven carpets and rugs like Kilim, Soumak, and embroidered tissues like Suzani are part of the rich and manifold tradition of Persian carpet weaving.
the inhabitants of the Iranian plateau created copper ornamentation and strings of colorful beads in 3000 to 1300 B.C. Silverworks started to be made in 2000 B.C.
During the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C, jewelry was made in Susa in form of bracelets and necklaces with melon shaped beads and hollow gold spacers. Both men and women wore them.
During the same period, at the north and northwest of Iran, artists were using the same kinds of techniques and designs in jewelry. Simultaneously, the inhabitants of Shahr-e-Sookhteh, the ancient city in Sistan & Baluchestan province, jewelry was made by local craftsmen.
The 1st Millennium B.C
A combination of several previously inhabited ethnic groups and newcomers from overthrown dynasties in Mesopotamia on one hand and Aryan nation from the north on the other hand formed an enriched variety of traditions in the 1st millennium.
These artistic traditions were discovered in some archaeological excavations. For example, at a grave in Azerbaijan province datable to 1000 to 800 B.C, a girl’s bones were found ornamented by bronze discs, headband, bracelets, rings, anklets and seven strings of beads.
Handmade cloths in Iran vary depending on the city you are visiting. Ghalamkâri is the traditional textile printing of Esfahan which uses wooden stamps to press floral, geometric, and arabesque patterns into cotton cloths. Native to Kerman is pateh, a naturally dyed, hand-stitched decorative cloth made of wool. Meanwhile, Yazd is famous for its termeh, a luxurious, hand-woven silk fabric with fine threads of gold woven in. Termeh in particular is also made into different forms such as purses, shoes, tablecloths, and jewelry pouches.
Sweets, nuts, and spices for the foodie
Those who have a sweet tooth will feel an absolute need to bring back the buttery brittle, sohan, from Qom or the Persian nougat, gaz, from Esfahan. As a leader in the pistachio market, what better place than Iran to pick up the real deal? Try the ones roasted in lemon juice for a kick of tangy flavor. To add some exotic flavors to your cooking, look out for saffron. This “red gold”, as it’s often called, is used extensively in Persian cooking, and the hub of the industry is Mashhad. Another essential ingredient particularly for Iranian desserts is rosewater from the fragrant Mohammadi roses, the best of which comes from Kashan.
Once you visit Esfahan, you realize that it’s a city concerned with aesthetic beauty, so it’s no wonder that many handicrafts come from there. One of the most famous is minâkâri, or enamelwork. Copper surfaces are traditionally decorated by a fine-haired brush with miniature birds and floral patterns on a background which is most commonly azure, though green and red can also be found. Minâkâri comes in plates, vases, chalices, and other decorative items, and it’s not uncommon to see artists hard at work creating new pieces in the old section of Esfahan’s bazaar.
Khâtamkâri is the Persian art of marquetry. Fine pieces of wood, bone, and metal are inlaid to create all kinds of decorative objects including jewelry boxes, picture frames, backgammon boards, and others. While some are pure khâtamkâri, others have miniatures painted on the top, another typical form of Iranian art. These make great gifts for friends although you’ll probably want one for yourself, too.
The city of Neyshabur in the northwestern part of Iran is not just famous for the poet Omar Khayyam, but also for the purity of its turquoise. Just outside this town are mines from which this precious stone is extracted, then shaved and shaped in to pendants, rings, and other jewelry. Turquoise is also used in art forms such as firoozeh koob, the art of hammering small pieces of turquoise into copper. In Persian culture, turquoise is said to have healing properties, detoxify the body, and protect against the evil eye. Shades of blue are omnipresent in Iranian mosques and palaces, and turquoise is a way to take it back home.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. The vivid crimson stigmata and styles, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food.
As you wind your way through Esfahan’s bazaar towards the sounds of steady banging, artists engaging in metal engraving will come into view. The art of ghalamzani involves skilled craftsmen embossing gold, silver, bronze, and copper to create elaborate designs on trays, plates, vases, and silverware. What could make this souvenir even more memorable is that you might pick up a personalized piece that the artist just finished.
Giveh are traditional footwear common in the mountainous areas of the Kermanshah province. These espadrille-like handmade shoes consist of a leather sole (though rubber is also available) and a white woven cotton upper. Especially practical during the summer months due to their breathable fabric, Giveh have made a comeback in recent years thanks to local artists giving them a modern twist to appeal to the younger generation’s leisurely style. Upgrade your wardrobe with this statement piece that is sure to turn heads and have people asking where you got them.