Souvenirs in Iran | Ultimate guide on what to buy

Souvenirs of Iran

Iran has a very extensive variety of eye-catching souvenirs and handicrafts

Traveling is not only visiting cities and attractions and having fun but about creating memories and experiencing. Majority of people have many photographs and video clips on their smartphones when they come back home, but it is not enough. We need something more special and unique to carry home from our travels, things that remain from an unforgettable trip for you. Buying local souvenirs can be a good idea. Are you familiar with souvenirs of Iran?

Iran is a great place to buy souvenirs due to its old civilization, geographical location and rich cultures. Iran has a very extensive variety of eye-catching souvenirs and handicrafts which can satisfy different tastes of different people. By walking in one of the historic markets or its great bazaars in different cities such as Shiraz, Tehran, Isfahan, Kerman, Yazd, Tabriz and so on, you will face up to hundreds of unique souvenirs and artistic crafts that are made with passion, love and care. They are unique to each city, still quite genuine and you cannot find most of them in any other parts of the world. On the other hand, they can easily confuse you if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Thus, arriving to Iran with some basic knowledge can really save you some time and money. below is a list of the best and most popular Iranian souvenirs which can make your trip to Iran memorable

At present (2020), having registered eight cities and two villages as UNESCO Creative Cities by the UN cultural body, Iran stands first in terms of the number of the registered sites.

Carpet

Blue-Tabriz-Rug-Blue-Persian-carpet

The most well-known and popular souvenirs of Iran are Persian handmade Carpets (or Persian Rugs), due to their unique designs and high quality. They are heavy and pile-woven textiles made for a wide variety of utilitarian and symbolic purposes. Some believe that the first carpet in the world is a Persian rug. Persian carpets perfectly shows how Iranians express their thoughts and ideas in the handicrafts. They are an excellent combination of art, math and philosophy to expose a creative and unique design that amazes everyone.

There are some rough types of carpets such as Gabbeh, Kilim (Gelim), Soumak, Suzani, mat and so on which are smaller and cheaper than carpets and rugs, and tourists can easily pack them on their suitcases. Generally, hand-woven carpets are expensive due to their rich complicated designs that are quite hard to weave, but totally worth to buy.

The fact is Carpet weaving is an essential part of Persian culture and Iranian art. In 2010, the “traditional skills of carpet weaving” in Fars Province and Kashan were inscribed to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Read more about carpet on Wikipedia

Different kinds of Persian Carpets are available in:

  • Kashan
  • Tabriz
  • Yazd
  • Mashhad
  • Isfahan
  • Nain
  • Qom

Minakari (Enamel utensil)

Persian Minakari Enamel Classy Bowl

Mina means heaven in Persian, and the ancient art of Minakari is the process of painting and coloring the surfaces of metals and ceramic tiles through enameling. Enamel utensil, which is called Minakari in Iran, is one of the most famous handicrafts in Iran, especially Isfahan. This art involves intricate designs (mainly using geometric shapes and designs) or paintings (birds, animals and floral patterns) on the surface of metals such as gold, silver, and  mostly copper, and is applied as a decorative feature to serving dishes, containers, vases, frames, pots, plates, cups, etc. They are usually painted mostly in beautiful Persian blue beside red and green, which is really eye-catching. Read more about Minakari on Wikipedia

Available in:

  • Isfahan

Saffron

flower saffron spice

Saffron flower, a red gold in Iran

Saffron, the Red Gold, and the most expensive spice in the world, is derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, and is dried and used as a spice to flavor foods and drinks and as a dye to color foods and other products. Saffron from Southern Khorasan is one of the best kinds in the world and has been exported to many countries. Producing over 90 percent of the worldwide produced Saffron makes Iran the biggest manufacturer in this field, and many people believe that Saffron is originated in Iran (wikipedia).

Saffron has a powerful Antioxidant, Improve your mood and treat depressive symptoms, have cancer-fighting properties, reduce appetite and aid weight loss, and lot of other health benefits (for more info click here).

Available in:

  • Mashhad & Southern Khorasan
  • Estahban in Fars province
  • all markets around Iran

Persian Tiles

iran souvenirs Persian tiles Hasan Almasi

History of tile in Iran goes back to the prehistoric period. It has an important position among the various decorative arts in Iranian architecture including stone carvings, brick work, stucco and tile panels. Tiles were used to decorate monuments from early ages in Iran. The earliest evidence of glazed brick is the discovery of glazed bricks in the Elamite Temple at Chogha Zanbil, dated to the 13th century BC. Mosaic patterns were the first step in the evolution of tile decoration. In the Achaemenian period full use was made of glazed and decorated fired bricks in yellow, green and brown on the palaces of Susa and Persepolis. Fired and glazed bricks were an important advancement in tile technique. to read more about history of Persian tiles click here.

As a matter fact, Iran has the most beautiful tile work in the world. So, when tourists travel around Iran and visit astonishing palaces, mosques and monuments which are mostly designed and decorated with colorful Persian tiles, they aspire to have one of them as a souvenir. Fortunately, There are lots of markets and shops near touristic areas, especially in Isfahan, Kashan, Kerman and yazd which give you the opportunity to buy different kinds of colorful magic tiles. For example, some them are small and equipped with a magnet.

Available in:

  • Kashan
  • Isfahan
  • Yazd
  • Shiraz
  • Kerman

Iran Traditional Fabrics

Ghalamkari is a kind of traditional print that is applied to textile in which floral and geometric patterns are pressed by wooden stamps onto cotton clothes, or drawing on them by hand in a traditional way. You can find it in many shapes and sizes which is suitable for your tables. It is one the artistic products with a very ancient history. Some believe this craft to be originated from India. It is a great idea for decorating your house with Persian handicrafts. The handicrafts of Isfahan are so popular and prosperous that this city was chosen as the World Crafts City by the World Council of Handicrafts in 2015.

Pateh is an Iranian traditional needlework folk art. It is an astonishing hand-woven wool or silk fabric with many different designs and flourishes of paisley patterns, natural color paintings, and sizes. Pateh originated and developed in Kerman province. Although its exact origin is unclear, it is assumed that it was influenced by Kerman rug weaving and thus does not predate the latter.

Termeh is a persian hand-woven silk fabric which has fine threads of gold in it, available in various forms such as wallets, shoes, tablecloths, jewelry boxes, etc. Weaving Termeh is a sensitive, careful, and time-consuming process and requires a good wool with long fibers, which takes around one day to produce maximum 30 cm. It is woven by an expert with the assistance of a worker called a Goushvareh-kesh. Termeh has been admired throughout history. There is an argument between researchers about its origin. Some believe that it has been made in Kashmir and then brought to Iran. Others say that Iranians have been the innovators of weaving Termeh and this material has been taken into concentration like other handicrafts in other parts of the world.

Persian Handmade Footwear of Giveh is a kind of soft, comfortable, durable and handwoven-top traditional shoes made from a woven leather pad and woolen vamp common in mountainous and rural areas in west of Iran, especially in Kermanshah Province. It can be found also in Yazd. Giveh is made up of two parts: sole and upper. The sole is usually rubber or leather the upper is woven thread. Before the arrival of rubber industry to the area, Giveh-makers would use a kind of wild-bull leather to make giveh and the upper was of wool or cotton thread. With the arrival of rubber industry, lower-class people have used rubber in the sole of their givehs. nowaays we can see a combination of modernism and tradition in our ancient shoe called “Klash”. From ancient times up to now, lots of Iranians in west of Iran are used to wear this type of shoe specially in summertime to keep their feet cool, due to its specific and natural materials. This traditional footwear used to be very popular all over Iran in the past. The lightweight and breathable footwear was originally intended to wear by men. You can find some news related to Giveh by clicking here.

Persian Gemstones

Natural Persian Turquoise Nishapur Mine

Natural Persian Turquoise from Nishapur Mine in Iran

Iran is one of the most important mineral producers in the world and has different mines stone. Many people use these gemstones for decorations or as a jewelry such as Ruby, Emerald, Opal, Turquoise, Pearl and so on. You can use them for earring, rings, and bracelets. In each region of Iran there are shops you can buy attractive gemstones and eye-catching jewelry.

Natural Turquoise Gem stone, is one of the most beautiful, stunning and widely known gems in the world. Turquoise was among the first gems to be mined. Turquoise is one of the Iranian souvenirs, that is not specific to Iran, but Persian Turquoise has the best quality in the world. The legendary home of the world’s finest turquoise is the mines at Nishapur in the Razavi Khorasan province. The city was named by Iranians initially “pirouzeh” meaning “victory” and later it changed to “firouzeh”. Actually, beautiful blue Turquoise is the national Gemstone of Iran (Persia).

The color, texture and matrix of natural turquoise gemstone are more important than the cut, carat weight or clarity as the deciding factors of its price. It was used extensively for protection and healing for over 1,000 years and found its way into religion, art, trade, treaty negotiations and jewellery. It is believed that the first sample of turquoise to which the Europeans were exposed probably came from. In the Ancient World, Nishabur was an essential stop along the fabled Silk Road. From here, turquoise gems would make their way to both Europe and Asia.

Turquoise, in various forms of jewelry, are mostly found in Mashhad and Neyshabur but also other jewellery stores all over Iran. They can also be seen in the form of Firouzeh Koubi which is the art of embedding turquoise onto the copper vessels.

Available in:

  • Neyshabur
  • Mashhad
  • Jewelry markets around Iran

Miniature

persian miniature by master Mahmoud Farshchian

Persian miniature by master Mahmoud Farshchian

Persian miniature is a traditional style of painting on paper with an artistic process that usually represent a mythological or religious theme. It is a kind of design which is created on painting canvas or on the wall and door of constructions, or painted in the books and manuscripts or on decorative boxes. The bright and pure coloring of the Persian miniature is one of its most striking features. You will find excellent miniature paintings while visiting palaces and gardens such as Hasht-Behesht, Chehelsotoun, Ali Qapu, Fin Garden and so on. The fact is, miniature is one Iran’s artistic heritages due to its long history in Iran.

Persian art under Islam had never completely forbidden the human figure, and in the miniature tradition the depiction of figures, often in large numbers, is central. This was partly because the miniature is a private form, kept in a book or album and only shown to those the owner chooses. It was therefore possible to be more free than in wall paintings or other works seen by a wider audience.

Iran is the only place you can find miniature shops and the best place is Isfahan, the capital of miniature. Two well-known miniature painters in Iran are Mahmoud Farshchian and Hossein Behzad who are famous around the world. The price of each miniature artwork varies depending on the artist and his/her skills. The price depends on the size and theme of the picture, as well.

Available in:

  • Isfahan

Khatam

Inlay, also known as Khatam or Khatam Art or Khatam Kari, is one of the precious arts in the Orient. Khatam is a kind of art that is applied to almost anything. For instance, for decorating wooden surfaces with small and delicate pieces of wood, bone, and metal with a pattern of regular polygons with a special glue, to create works such as jewelry boxes, mirrors, pens, furniture, photo frames, backgammons, different decorating parts and so on which will catch every viewer’s eyes. The more delicate and fine these pieces are, the more desirable the result will be. The best types of Khatam are the ones with no space between the polygons. Objects made of Khatam are mainly practical objects, therefore they can be very useful souvenirs.

To be honest, you my be cheated in the bazaar if you don’t take enough care. Some shops give you a fake version with patterned stickers instead of an actual wood. A real Khatam Kari takes many hours just for a small piece, and it is not so cheap.

Available in:

  • Isfahan
  • Shiraz
  • Tehran

Ghalamzani

Tea Services-Coffee Services Engraving ghalamzani

Tea & coffee Services | A sample ghalamzani from Isfahan

Iranian metalworks are famous worldwide. The ancient Ghalamzani is the name for Persian hand engraving art of carving superb drawings and designs on the surface of various metals such as copper, brass, silver, bronze and gold. Ghalamzani has a long history in Iran, and the city of Isfahan is the main center for it, but there are many other artists in other cities such as Shiraz, Kerman, Kermanshah, and Tehran. Ghalamzani is mostly done on dishes such as vases and big plates. The diversity is infinite and the design is unlike any other in the world.

Available in:

  • Isfahan
  • Shiraz
  • Kerman
  • Kermanshah
  • Tehran

Persian Calligraphy

Sheikh-Lotfallah-mosque Calligraphy in Iranian architecture

Calligraphy in Iranian architecture | Sheikh Lotfallah mosque

The art of calligraphy is one of the most revered arts throughout the history of Iran. The glorious art of calligraphy and its numerous decorations have always been praised by Iranologs. The importance of the art of calligraphy among Iranian arts is such that some arts seem to be imperfect, without decorative calligraphy. Iranians more than any other nation have used various calligraphy to enrich and beautify earthen-ware, metallic vessels and historic buildings.

Most of the handwritten books of Iran specially the Holy Quran, and collections of poems such as Shahnameh, Hafez, Golestan, Boostan and Khayam have been recognized as precious artistic works because of their graceful and delicate calligraphy. For more information click here.

Clay works and Pottery

A collection of Persian pottery bowls and a vase

A collection of Persian pottery bowls and a vase

Pottery and ceramics have been an important part of human culture for thousands of years. Pottery is generally considered to be containers made from clay such as cooking or storage vessels. It is hardened by high temperature heat. Making pottery was the first functional art to emerge during the Upper Paleolithic, after body painting. This is the product of man’s thought and cheap with its raw material so abundantly accessible in nature. After the period of food collecting, when humans produced food, the need to restore foodstuff led to make storage vessels like jars by clay.

Persian pottery, the masterpiece of pottery art, has a very long history as a craft which its antiquity goes back to the 7th millennium BC. Persian potters developed their work to perfection, they responded to cultural changes and adopted many new designs as part of their style. Persian ceramics and pottery vessels are other well-known gifts of Iran. When tourists visit the museums of Iran, especially Museum of Ancient Iran in Tehran, they will find the importance of pottery in old Iran. Most Iranian cities have shops that sell hand-painted dishes, Cups, mugs, Plates, or ceramics and other kinds of potteries. Some of these artworks are designed with traditional colors and patterns and others combine modern design with the old ones. The good point is that they can remind you of all the ancient potteries which you have visited in Iranian museums. The center of this art in Iran is the city of Lalejin in Hamedan, which is known as the center of pottery in the Middle East. Also, Meybod in Yazd is considered to be one of the main centers for producing such handicrafts.

The World Crafts Council (WCC) in UNESCO registered Kalpourgan village, southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan Province, as the first handicraft village in the world. Kalpoorgan pottery has 7000 years old history.

For more information about Persian pottery click here.

Available in:

  • Hamedan
  • Kalpourgan
  • Yazd
  • Natanz
  • Minab
  • Gonabad
  • Tabriz
  • Gilan
  • Semnan
  • Qom
  • Mazandaran
  • Saveh
  • Shahreza
  • Isfahan

Persian Foodstuffs (Nuts and Sweets)

Persian nuts

Iranian foodstuffs are popular worldwide and most tourists will be amazed by the variety of sweets and nuts around the country. Interestingly, each city of Iran has their own foods, sweets and cookies. The fact is, Iranian people are really sweet love, and they have special kinds of pastry for every occasion. Iranian people are also really expert in cooking. Some them can be consumed even as food, or as a desert, or served with tea or coffee. Ajil is a general term Iranians use for any type of mixed nuts.

Since ancient times, roses have been used medicinally, nutritionally, and as a source of perfume. Rose water, one of the pleasant and lovely products of Iran, is a flavored water made by steeping rose petals in water. Additionally, it is the hydro-sol portion of the distillate of rose petals, a by-product of the production of rose oil for use in perfume. It is used to flavor food, as a component in some cosmetic and medical preparations, and for religious purposes throughout Europe and Asia.

The cultivation of various fragrant flowers for obtaining perfumes, including rose water, may date back to Sassanian dynasty, where it was known as Golaab from Gul (rose) and Aab (water). Nowadays, in Iran, it is cultivated mostly in Kashan. The original high-quality rosewater is a drink you cannot resist to. Once you open the door of rosewater bottle you can amazingly smell it all over the place at home. It is one of the most important ingredients of many sweets and foods in different part of Iran.

Moreover, every year during the second half of May, festival of Rose and Rose Water is being held in Kashan. Many people from different parts of the country and abroad visit Kashan, the hub of Mohammadi Rose in Iran. The season for picking rose and preparing rosewater is from early May to mid-June.

Gaz is an Iranian sweet nougat originated in Isfahan. It is widely known as Persian Nougat in American and European countries. Gaz is one of the most popular souvenirs of Isfahan. This delicious Persian dessert counts as nougat because it is garnished with nuts. The raw material for this famous sweet is manna which is obtained around the city. The history of making Gaz in Isfahan backs to 450 years ago which was made in the different types of flour, bread, including pistachios, almonds, chocolate and rose water in traditional and industrial workshops. Gaz is served with tea or other drinks in ceremonies and on special occasions such as Nowruz or the Persian New Year.

The pistachio is a small tree originating from Central Asia and the Middle East. The tree produces seeds that are widely consumed as food. Pistachio nuts are not only tasty and fun to eat but also super healthy. Generally, nuts in Iran is cheaper than other countries. Beside that, there are high quality nuts in Iran with good taste, so it worth to buy a pack mixture of nuts such as pistachio, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and so on. Among all nuts, pistachio is the local souvenir of Iran. Iranian pistachios can be salted, roasted, flavored with lime, spice or eaten plain.

As of 2017, Iran accounted for over half the world’s production of pistachios. Pistachio is widely popular in Iran and many people call it “green gold”. To buy fresh Iranian pistachio the best time is September and October.

Available in:

  • Kerman (Rafsanjan)
  • Damghan
  • Sabzevar

Qottab is an almond-filled deep-fried Iranian cuisine pastry, prepared with flour, almonds, powdered sugar, vegetable oil, and cardamom. Ghotab is the most important sweets in Yazd, which is a heaven for those with a sweet tooth. The history of the first cooking of this sweet dates back to hundreds years ago.

Available in:

  • Yazd
  • Kerman

Sohan (sowhan) is a traditional Iranian saffron brittle toffee, available in the religious city of Qom. Its ingredients consist of wheat sprout, flour, egg yolks, rose water, sugar, butter or vegetable oil, saffron, cardamom, and slivers of almond and pistachio.

Pashmak is a form of Iranian candy floss and widely known as Persian Cotton Candy, which is made from a mixture of water and sugar, by moving hot and humid air above the sugar. Pashmak has a wonderful flavor and is served on its own or as an accompaniment to fruits, ice creams, cakes, puddings and desserts. It is suitable for all ages. This lovely sweet sometimes garnished with ground pistachio nuts. Pashmak originated in the Iranian city of Yazd known for its various traditional Persian sweets such as Baghlava, Qottab, and Gaz during Safavid Empire.

Lavashak is a popular Iranian snack with a sour and salty taste, made from fruits such as plums, kiwi, apple, etc. It is a dream snack for many Iranians especially kids. Homemade Lavashak is the best, and they dry fruits under the sun in summer days. Fortunately, you can buy them almost anywhere in Iran.

Caraway (Cumin)

Caraway, also known as meridian fennel and Persian cumi (called “Zireh” in Persian), is a unique spice long used in cooking and herbal medicine. Kerman is the birthplace of this excellent plant in Iran. Caraway seeds are highly aromatic and have a distinctive mild anise flavor that adds a welcome and subtle licorice hint to many dishes. Their taste is earthy, with a hint of citrus and pepper. In fact, emerging research suggests that the aromatic compounds responsible for its distinct taste may also provide health benefits, such as improved digestion.

There are various kinds of Zireh in Iran. For instance, the black one has the top quality while all the types can be cooked or smashed to be used as special spices in different kinds of foods. Caraway is used as a spice in breads, and also is used in desserts, liquors, casseroles and so on. It is also found in European cuisine. Arabs make a dish by mixing it with pepper and honey, and Iranians usually use it try caraway with rice. In Hungary and Serbia, caraway is commonly sprinkled over home-made salty scones. To learn how to use it in cooking click here.

Available in:

  • Kerman

Persian Dates

Date fruit, Black Gold of Iran, is one of the highest quality tropical fruits which can only be grown in particular regions of the world. Palm trees for breeding dates require a hot and humid climate. Iran, because of its diverse climate, has been successful in date cultivation. Iran is one of the oldest and the second-largest producer of Persian dates in the world. The Persian dates are one of the most valuable and best varieties of dates in the world.

Iranian dates are tasty, delicious, very diverse and quality. They are used as a main food or a sucrose substitute, such as baby food in some parts of the world. Date fruit palms are thought to possibly be the world’s first plant used by humans for food. Persian Gulf region is said to be the origin with the palms being cultivated since 6000 BC. Finally, dates have a ton of health benefits, from heart health to strengthening bones, and are one of the best souvenirs of Iran.

Available in:

  • Khuzestan
  • Kerman
  • Bushehr
  • Hormozgan
  • Sistan and Baluchestan
  • All markets around Iran

Persian Caviar (Black Pearl)

Together with oil, carpet, pistachio and dates, Caviar is one of the Iran’s main exports. This pricey delicacy is called “khaviaar” in Persian, and is eaten as a garnish or a spread. The roe can be “fresh” (non-pasteurized) or pasteurized, with pasteurization reducing its culinary and economic value. Traditionally, the term caviar refers only to roe from wild sturgeon in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. Iran is known for its perfect caviar from the Caspian sea in many countries, and is the world’s biggest exporter of this luxury food. Caviar is expensive because sturgeon are in danger of extinction and are in the IUCN red list, and they are banned from fishing in the southern Caspian Sea basin for several years. The female gender maturity’s age reaches to 15 years old and caviar can be obtained from it after it ,the price of this product is high.

Many believe that the history of caviar dates back to the 4th century B.C, and then, people of the Persian Empire were the first to taste caviar, believing it had medicinal properties and was a source of energy.

Iran is the leading exporter, and have a worldwide reputation for top quality Iranian Caviar. The fact is, Caviar is super luxury and very expensive, so it is not easy to find it in restaurants or Persian cuisines. You may find it hotels markets or duty-free shops in the airport.

Available in:

  • Golestan
  • Mazandaran
  • Gilan

*Written by Mohammad Naderi.

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