President Donald Trump has threatened to target Iranian cultural sites if the country retaliates in the wake of the U.S. drone strike that killed top military leader Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
Although other Trump administration officials have contradicted the president and said the United States would “behave lawfully,” Trump has repeated threats to target sites “at a very high level and important to Iran and the Iranian culture.”
The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict makes it a war crime to target cultural sites.
The threat has drawn sharp criticism from Iranian officials. “He doesn’t know international law. He doesn’t recognize U.N. resolutions either. Basically he is a veritable gangster and a gambler,” Iranian Maj. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, a senior military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, told CNN.
In Iran, there are two dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 22 of them cultural ones. The sites represent religious, economic, architectural and social achievements and history throughout Iran.
More on Iranian cultural sites:Trump again threatens to target Iranian cultural sites amid mounting tensions over Qasem Soleimani killing
Here’s a look at the 22 cultural UNESCO sites within Iran:
Armenian Monastic Ensembles of Iran
Located in the north-west of the country, these three monastic ensembles “are examples of outstanding universal value of the Armenian architectural and decorative traditions,” according to UNESCO. The buildings – the oldest of which, St. Thaddeus, dates back to the 7th century – are places of pilgrimage for the Armenian Church.
Bam and its Cultural Landscape
“Bam and its Cultural Landscape represents an outstanding example of an ancient fortified settlement that developed around the Iranian central plateau and is an exceptional testimony to the development of a trading settlement in the desert environment of the Central Asian region,” according to UNESCO. Dating back to the Achaemenid period in the 6th to 4th centuries BC, the site later became a crossroads for trade routes and silk and cotton garment production.
Bisotun, in western Iran’s Kermanshah province, is notable for its inscription carved on a limestone cliff. “It is unique, being the only known monumental text of the Achaemenids to document a specific historic event, that of the re-establishment of the empire by Darius I the Great,” according to UNESCO.
Cultural Landscape of Maymand
Semi-nomadic villagers live in this valley within Iran’s central mountains. “This cultural landscape is an example of a system that appears to have been more widespread in the past and involves the movement of people rather than animals,” according to UNESCO.
“The lavish Golestan Palace is a masterpiece of the Qajar era, embodying the successful integration of earlier Persian crafts and architecture with Western influences,” according to UNESCO. The palace is one of the oldest building complexes in Tehran, located in the historic center of the city.
The 53-meter tall Gonbad-e Qābus tower is a tomb for Qābus Ibn Voshmgir, Ziyarid ruler and literati, and evidence of Jorjan, a former art and science center destroyed in the 14th and 15th centuries. “It is an outstanding and technologically innovative example of Islamic architecture that influenced sacral building in Iran, Anatolia and Central Asia,” according to UNESCO.
Historic City of Yazd
Located in Iran’s deserts, Yazd is “a living testimony to intelligent use of limited available resources in the desert for survival,” according to UNESCO. The qanat system, underground channels built on slopes, supplies the city with water and building construction relies on the earth.
Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan
The oldest congregational mosque or Friday mosque in Iran, according to UNESCO, the Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan “can be seen as a stunning illustration of the evolution of mosque architecture over twelve centuries.”
Meidan Emam, Esfahan
This public square in Esfahan was built by Shah Abbas I the Great in the 17th century and is bordered by magnificent buildings on each side. “It is one of the largest city squares in the world and an outstanding example of Iranian and Islamic architecture,” according to UNESCO.
The first capital of the Achaemenid Empire, Pasargadae’s “palaces, gardens and the mausoleum of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization,” according to UNESCO.
“The royal city of Persepolis ranks among the archaeological sites which have no equivalent and which bear unique witness to a most ancient civilization,” according to UNESCO. Located in south-western Iran, Persepolis was founded by Darius I around 518 B.C. and stands as the “renowned as the gem of Achaemenid (Persian) ensembles in the fields of architecture, urban planning, construction technology, and art.”
Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars Region
Eight archaeological sites in three areas in the Fars Province make up this UNESCO site of fortified structures, palaces and cities. “The archaeological landscape reflects the optimized utilization of natural topography and bears witness to the influence of Achaemenid and Parthian cultural traditions and of Roman art, which had a significant impact on the architecture of the Islamic era.”
This “Burnt City” made of mud brick “bear witness to the emergence of the first complex societies in eastern Iran,” according to UNESCO.
Sheikh Safi al-din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil
A site of immense importance to the Sufi tradition, the Sheikh Safi al-din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil stands as an “artistic and architectural masterpiece and an outstanding representation of the fundamental principles of Sufism,” according to UNESCO. The site is also a small city with bazaars, public baths, squares, religious buildings, houses and offices.
Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System
This “masterpiece of creative genius” from the era of Darius the Great in the 5th century B.C. still provides water to the city of Shushtar. The system “bears witness to the know-how of the Elamites and Mesopotamians as well as more recent Nabatean expertise and Roman building influence,” according to UNESCO.
Soltaniyeh is the Mausoleum of Oljaytu, a ruler in the Ilkhanid dynasty. With a stunning turquoise dome, “Soltaniyeh is one of the outstanding examples of the achievements of Persian architecture and a key monument in the development of its Islamic architecture,” according to UNESCO.
“Archaeological research can trace in Susa the most complete series of data on the passage of the region from prehistory to history,” according to UNESCO. The site in the southwest of Iran consist of archaeological mounds and some of the excavated area contains residential and palace-like structures.
Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex
This bazaar stands as “one of the most important commercial centers on the Silk Road,” according to UNESCO. It still functions as a place for economic, social and religious activities.
Located in the West Azerbaijan province on a plain surrounded by mountains, Takht-e Soleyman “has strong symbolic and spiritual significance related to fire and water – the principal reason for its occupation from ancient times – and stands as an exceptional testimony of the continuation of a cult related to fire and water over a period of some 2,500 years,” according to UNESCO.
“The archaeological site of Tchogha Zanbil is an exceptional expression of the culture, beliefs, and ritual traditions of one of the oldest indigenous peoples of Iran,” according to UNESCO. It was founded by the Elamite king Untash-Napirisha around 1250 B.C
The Persian Garden
Nine gardens from various regions throughout Iran make up the Persian Gardens, “which tangibly represent the diverse forms that this type of designed garden has assumed over the centuries and in different climatic conditions,” according to UNESCO. The Persian Garden “materializes the concept of Eden or Paradise on Earth.”
The Persian Qanat
This ancient system supports agriculture and settlements throughout Iran’s arid regions. “The qanats provide exceptional testimony to cultural traditions and civilizations in desert areas with an arid climate,” according to UNESCO.
Contributing: William Cummings and Courtney Subramanian