The whole area of Iran can be divided into four parts: 1/2 mountains as one part, and 1/4 deserts and 1/4 fertile plains as the other part. There are two major ranges of mountains called the Alborz and the Zagros.
- The Alborz have been extended all the way from Azerbaijan to Afghanistan passing through the southern part of the Caspian Sea.
- The Zagros have covered a region from Azerbaijan to the west and SE of the country.
These two ranges function as walls blocking meteorological phenomena from entering inside central Iran. In addition to these ranges, there are mountainous regions in central and eastern Iran.
The Alborz Massif
The highest and widest area within the Alborz is at central Alborz with the highest peak of Iran called “Damavand”, 5671m ASL. It is a burned-out volcano with a crater of 400m width. At times, sulfur gas ascends to the top and covers the peak like clouds.
The Alborz mountain range forms a barrier between the south Caspian and the Iranian plateau. It is only 60–130 km wide and consists of sedimentary series dating from Upper Devonian to Oligocene, prevalently Jurassic limestone over a granite core. Continental conditions regarding sedimentation are reflected by thick Devonian sandstones and by Jurassic shales containing coal seams. Marine conditions are reflected by Carboniferous and Permian strata that are composed mainly of limestones. In the Eastern Alborz Range, the far eastern section is formed by Mesozoic(chiefly Triassic and Jurassic) rocks, while the western part of the Eastern Alborz Range is made primarily of Paleozoic rocks. Precambrian rocks can be found chiefly south of the city of Gorgansituated in the southeast of the Caspian Sea and in much smaller portions in the central and western parts of the Central Alborz Range. The central part of the Central Alborz Range is formed mainly of the Triassic and Jurassic rocks, while the northwestern section of the range is made mainly of the Jurassic rocks. Very thick beds of the Tertiary (most of the Eocene) green volcanic tuffs and lavas are found mainly in the southwestern and south-central parts of the range. The far northwestern part of the Alborz that constitutes what is called the Western Alborz Range or the Talish Mountains is made mainly of the Upper Cretaceous volcano-sedimentary deposits with a strip of Paleozoic rocks and a band of Triassic and Jurassic rocks in the southern parts, both in a northwest-southeast direction. As the Tethys Sea was closed and the Arabian Plate collided with the Iranian Plate and was pushed against it, and with the clockwise movement of the Eurasian Plate towards the Iranian Plate and their final collision, the Iranian Plate was pressed from both sides. The collisions finally caused the folding of the Upper Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Paleogene rocks, and the Cenozoic (chiefly the Eocene) volcanism to form the Alborz Mountains mainly in the Miocene. The Alpine orogeny began, therefore, with Eocene volcanism in southwestern and south-central parts of the Alborz and continued with the uplift and folding of the older sedimentary rocks in the northwestern, central and eastern parts of the range during the orogenic phases of importance that date from the Miocene and the Pliocene epochs.
Mount Damavand, a potentially active volcano, is a stratovolcano which is the highest peak in Iran and the highest volcano in Asia; the Kunlun Volcanic Group in Tibet is higher than Damāvand, but are not considered to be volcanic mountains. Damāvand has a special place in Persian mythology and folklore. It is in the middle of the Alborz range, adjacent to Varārū, Sesang, Gol-e Zard, and Mīānrūd. It is near the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, in Amol County, Mazandaran Province, 66 kilometers (41 miles) northeast of the city of Tehran.
Mount Damāvand is the 12th most prominent peak in the world, and the second most prominent in Asia after Mount Everest. It is the highest volcanic mountain in Asia, and part of the Volcanic Seven Summits mountaineering challenge.
Damavand is a significant mountain in Persian mythology. It is the symbol of Iranian resistance against despotism and foreign rule in Persian poetry and literature. In Zoroastrian texts and mythology, the three-headed dragon Aži Dahāka was chained within Mount Damāvand, there to remain until the end of the world. In a later version of the same legend, the tyrant Zahhāk was also chained in a cave somewhere in Mount Damāvand after being defeated by Kāveh and Fereydūn. Persian poet Ferdowsi depicts this event in his masterpiece, the Shahnameh:
بیاورد ضحاک را چون نوند
به کوه دماوند کردش ببند
He brought Zahhak like a horse to mount Damavand, And tied him at the peak tight and bound
The mountain is said to hold magical powers in the Shahnameh. Damāvand has also been named in the Iranian legend of Arash (as recounted by Bal’ami) as the location from which the hero shot his magical arrow to mark the border of Iran, during the border dispute between Iran and Turan. The poem Damāvand by Mohammad Taqī Bahār is also one fine example of the mountain’s significance in Persian literature. The first verse of this poem reads:
ای دیو سپید پای در بند
Ey dīve sepīde pāī dar band,
Oh white giant with feet in chains
ای گنبد گیتی، ای دماوند
Ey gonbade gītī, ay Damāvand
Oh dome of the world, Oh Mount Damāvand
Mount Damavand is depicted on the reverse of the Iranian 10,000 rials banknote.
The origins and meaning of the word “Damavand” are unclear, yet some prominent researchers have speculated that it probably means “The mountain from which smoke and ash arises”, alluding to the volcanic nature of the mountain.
The Alborz extend to the NE of Iran and forms Khorasan mountains. Khorasan Mountains can be subdivided to some smaller ranges. The northern range is extended from “Kopet Dagh” to a river called “Hari Rud”. The central range is around Bojnurd and Quchan, with their highest peak at the south of Quchan 3520m ASL, create a marvelous view for the province. The southern range consists of some individual peaks with lower altitudes.
The most western foothills of the Kopetdag mountains are known as the ‘Kyurendag Ridge’.
The Zagros Range
The peaks and altitudes of the Zagros have steep slopes, deep valleys, and very narrow gorges. The major altitudes of the North are Border Mountains near Maku, Khoy, and Qotur.
The central Zagros consists of several peaks more than 3000m ASL. The highest and wildest altitudes of the Zagros are Bakhtiari Mountains between Luristan and Shiraz plains.
Their highest peak “Zard Kuh” is 4547m ASL. “Dena”, another peak in Fars province, is 5200m ASL. The altitude decreases as one goes southward.
The Zagros fold and thrust belt were formed by the collision of two tectonic plates, the Eurasian Plate and the Arabian Plate. This collision primarily happened during the Miocene and folded the entire rocks that had been deposited from the Carboniferous to the Miocene in the geosyncline in front of the Iranian Plate. The process of collision continues to the present and as the Arabian Plate is being pushed against the Eurasian Plate, the Zagros Mountains and the Iranian Plateau are getting higher and higher. Recent GPS measurements in Iran. have shown that this collision is still active and the resulting deformation is distributed non-uniformly in the country, mainly taken up in the major mountain belts like Alborz and Zagros. A relatively dense GPS network which covered the Iranian Zagros also proves a high rate of deformation within the Zagros. The GPS results show that the current rate of shortening in the southeast Zagros is ~10 mm/a (0.39 in/year), dropping to ~5 mm/a (0.20 in/year) in the northwest Zagros. The north-south Kazerun strike-slip fault divides the Zagros into two distinct zones of deformation. The GPS results also show different shortening directions along the belt, normal shortening in the southeast and oblique shortening in the northwest Zagros. The Zagros mountains were created around the time of the second ice age, which caused the tectonic collision, leading to its uniqueness.
Tochal is a mountain and ski resort located on the Alborz mountain range, adjacent to the metropolitan area of Tehran in northern Iran. It includes a 12-kilometer-long (7.5 mi) ridge. Its highest peak, also called Tochal, is at an elevation of 3,964 meters (13,005 ft).
A gondola lift runs from Tehran to the Tochal ski resort and hotel, all as a part of Tochal Complex.
Colorful Mountains of Tabriz
One of the most magnificent natural wonders that usually gets passed over, though, is the spectacular colorful mountains of Tabriz.
The city of Tabriz is tucked into Iran’s northwestern corner, and it’s partly this geographical location that makes it different from the rest of the country. The first major bout of culture shock experienced by visitors, including Iranians, is the local language. Azeri Turkish is spoken in Tabriz, and locals are not keen on speaking Persian. In fact, questions asked in Persian are often answered in Turkish.
Another factor making this area unique is the geography. East Azerbaijan Province, where Tabriz is located, enjoys a cooler climate and varied topography including mountains, dormant volcanoes, and glacial lakes.
These cultural and geographical differences start to become apparent on the road to Tabriz from central Iran. Passing the city of Zanjan, an interesting mountain chain appears and is painted with hues of copper, red, green, orange and yellow. This work of art by mother nature, the Aladaglar Mountains, shares its name with a mountain range in Turkey, but the two should not be confused.
These painted mountains exist in a few places on earth, such as the Zhangye National Geopark in China, Hornocal mountain range in Argentina and Ausangate mountains in Peru. In China, these mountains are said to be the result of millions of years of minerals and sandstone being pressed together and oxidized. This is likely what happened elsewhere in the world, too, making these phenomenal mountains look like giant layer cakes. Many tourists travel to Iran unaware of this natural beauty, but nature photography enthusiasts and visitors, in general, should take a road trip to Tabriz to experience these trippy mountains for themselves and have an adventure off the beaten track.
A good place to start would be the Dome of Soltaniyeh, a UNESCO-listed site with a glowing turquoise dome, before moving on to the numerous attractions of Zanjan. Continuing northwest and nearing the village of Bostanabad, some 60 km outside Tabriz, is when the landscape starts to change, making you wonder if there was something in your water (or tea). The perfect spot for a picnic stop, this magical place is otherworldly, giving the feeling of walking on Mars. You’ll surely be delighted to explore it on foot, capture the colors on film and discover hidden villages nearby.
Shirkooh –which means Lion Mountain-, is part of a group of mountains which encircles the west side of the central desert of Iran known as (Dashte Kavir). Shirkooh, Barfkhaneh, and Asemankooh are the most famous summit in that area, which is located in the south part of Yazd city. Ascent to the peak of Shirkooh is possible even for beginners and inexperienced mountaineers in all seasons. Blizzard and avalanche make the winter ascent difficult and dangerous, but when the condition of weather is good there won’t be much problem.
One-day ascent is possible even in the wintertime if you are fit enough. Skilled mountaineers can easily reach to the top in 7 hours.
The Mountains of Iran at the North
Arasbaran Mountains at the NW of Iran are located along the banks of a border river, Aras, with the highest peak called “Neshan Kuh” 3700m above sea level (ASL).
- Sahand Mountains are located at the NW of Iran with the highest peak 3710m ASL.
- Sabalan Mountains are located at the NW Iran with the highest peak 4811m ASL.
- Talesh Mountains are located at the south of the Caspian Sea with their highest peak called “Aq Dagh”, 3200m ASL.
The Mountains of Iran at the East
Extended from Khorasan to Sistan and Baluchestan provinces, there stand the Eastern Mountains of Iran that can be categorized into three major zones:
- “Jaam” in South Khorasan, is generally extended in E-W direction.
- “Qaen” to the south of “Jaam”, includes “Ahangaran” peak, 2877m ASL.
- “Makran” is extended from “Zabol” to “Bam Posht” at Sistan and Baluchestan province. The highest peak in this region is called “Taftan”, a burned-out volcano, which stands in the SE of Iran with an altitude of 4050m ASL.
The Mountain Ranges in Central Iran
There are uninterrupted altitudes in central Iran. Some of them are connected to the Alborz or the Zagros. They can mainly be categorized into “Qahrud” and “Banan” mountains. “Qahrud”, which are longer and higher, start from around Kashan and the south of Tehran to Kerman. “Banan” is the continuation of the former one to “Makran” area in Sistan and Baluchestan province. At these ranges, “Shir Kuh” near Yazd is 4075m ASL.
The central part of Iran is a very significant region as far as minerals are concerned. There is a little rainfall during the year, sudden changes in weather, strong winds, a few permanent rivers and flood-producing rivers in this region.