Iran

By Clifford R. Barnett; Wendell Blanchard et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
GEOGRAPHY AND POPULATION

Because of Iran's strategic position as a land bridge, world empires have occupied themselves in seizing or defending it. Ancient caravan routes traversed this bridge, skirting the barren wastelands, setting up market places where the caravan routes crossed, exchanging goods and ideas from India, Cathay, Russia, and the Mediterranean community. The routes of the traders, also used by invaders, have been extremely influential in shaping the character of Iranian culture.

Iran is slightly smaller than Mexico and about one-fifth the size of the United States. It is about 628, 000 square miles in area, roughly the combined size of Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. It lies between 25 degrees and 40 degrees north latitude, approximately the latitudes of Torreon, Mexico, and Denver, Colorado, respectively. It lies between 44 degrees and 64 degrees east longitude, a spread equivalent to that between Reno, Nevada, and Abilene, Texas.

The Iranian state today is bounded on the west by Iraq and Turkey, on the north by the Caspian Sea and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (specifically the Armenian, Azerbaijan, and Turkmen SSR's), on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, and on the south by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf (see Fig. 2). Its mountain, sea, and desert frontiers have never been great barriers to human movement.

Iran is in the western half of the Iranian plateau, which is between three and five thousand feet above sea level. Iran and Afghanistan are physically part of one plateau. Fringing the plateau in the Iranian section are two mountain chains; in the north the Elburz links up with the Hindu Kush to the east and the Armenian Knot to the west; the western and southern chain is the Zagros. The highest peak, Mount Damāvand in the Elburz, rises to 18,602 feet.

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