Iran has an ancient artistic heritage. Beautiful stone carvings survive from 2,500 years ago, and for many centuries Iran has been famous for carpets, miniature paintings, jewelry and poetry. Each wave of invaders in Iran brought new artistic traditions. The tile architecture for which Iran is famous is a legacy of the Mongols, while the Iranian tradition of calligraphy dates from the reign of the Arab caliphs. The greatest collection of Iranian art in Canada is in Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum; a smaller collection is in the Redpath Museum, at Montreal's McGill University.

As in all Islamic cultures, art in Iran tends to be non-representational, working with colour, patterns and geometric or floral shapes rather than figures. Iranian architecture is known for its use of exterior ornamentation and colour. Tiles coat the walls, domes and minarets of mosques and often decorate public buildings. The country has numerous famous architectural sites, including tombs, monuments and mosques. The Jameh Mosque, located in Esfahan in central Iran, is one example.

Persian carpets in many varieties are traditionally made by hand but now sometimes by machine. Weavers use wool, cotton or silk, and incorporate designs that are symbolic or everyday. Common designs include the miri-bota or leaf pattern. A kilim (or gelim) is a flat rug used as a prayer mat or wall hanging.

Calligraphy has had an important place in Iran because of its connection to reproducing verses from the Koran. The names of Allah and Mohammed, as well as holy verses, are commonly used as decorations for buildings. Scripts have many styles, ranging from the simple to the highly decorative.

Most famous Iranian writers have been poets, and poetry is still tremendously popular. Great classical poets include Firdauzi, known for the Shah-nama (Book of Kings); Hafez; Saadi; and Omar Khayyam, who is best known for his poem Rubaiyat. Well-known modern writers include novelists Sadeq Heydat and Simin Daneshvar. Recently, Iranian filmmakers such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Kandahar) and Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) have gained international recognition.

  Did you know?
The most famous Persian carpet is the Ardabil Carpet from 1568, on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Measuring 10.7 by 5.3 metres, it contains one million knots (an excellent carpet today will have 500).