The version of Iran that Americans see in the media can certainly seem like a frightening, hostile place: stern mullahs, clandestine nuclear programs, angry (if often staged) anti-American protests. Yet Iran seen first-hand is very different, and much friendlier. Approximately half of Iranians are willing to tell pollsters they hold a favorable view of Americans, but when visiting the country it seems like many more share that view. The many Iranians I’ve met have been eager to tell me how much they like Americans and the U.S., the many commonalities they see between the two countries, and of course their desire to visit–and remain permanently if at all possible. I hope this other side of Iran comes through in these photos I’ve taken on my visits to the country. These are not nearly as disturbing or frightening as the Iran-related images you’re likely accustomed to, but they show the “real” Iran that outsiders rarely see.
Men laugh over the poultry at a bird market in Esfahan.
A boy walks with two mullahs in the courtyard of the Madraseh-ye Chahar Barg (religious school), built in the 18th century, of Esfahan.
Children play in a fountain in Esfahan’s Imam Squareon a summer evening.
A vendor grills corn at the Ganjnameh historic site, known for its cuneiform rock carvings, and near a nature area. It’s a popular destination for residents of nearby Hamedan on summer evenings.
Tourists stroll past the vendors at Ganjnameh.
Women walk past the waterfall at Ganjnameh historic site.
A couple walks through a public garden in Bagh-e Eram, Shiraz
People relax at the courtyard of the Tomb of Hafez, the grounds of the tomb of the Persian poet. This Shiraz spot is also known a clandestine rendezvous/pick-up point for young Iranians.
Iranians mill outside the Tomb of Hafez, Shiraz.
On a hot summer day just outside of Kashan, a girl walks through gardens meant to represent the classic Persian view of paradise, designed for Shah Abbas I.
A man relaxes at the Fin gardens on a hot summer day.
A woman kneels to better see the flowers at Fin gardens.
A smiling boy plays in Fin gardens.
A woman and group of schoolgirls smile for the camera at Esfahan’s Imam Square.
A young woman speaks on her phone at Bisotun, near Kermanshah, the site of ancient rock carvings from the sixth century B.C., and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Shoppers at a market in Esfahan.
An old man stands at Bisotun.
A woman dressed in pink looks over Imam Square on a summer evening.
A man works on his pottery in Bijar, a town of many such workshops, near Hamedan.
Two young girls try out rollerblades in Esfahan’s Imam Square.
Young women walk through the pool at Imam Square.
The sun begins to set over Imam Square.
Relaxing men gaze over Imam Square as children play in the pool.
Two mullahs talk on a bench.
Women study at Imam Mosque in Esfahan.
Two older women smile for the camera outside of Imam Mosque.
Shoppers peruse the spices at Esfahan’s bazaar.
A carriage-driver takes a group of girls on a tour through Esfahan.
A woman laughs at the chocolate tower at a snack stand near the White Palace (former summer palace of the shah) in Saad Abad, a large museum complex and park in north Tehran.
The city center near Imam Khomeini Square and the tomb of Esther and Mordecai.
Children play at Jamshidiyeh park in Tehran.
Young Iranians stroll on the popular mountain trail on the northern edge of Tehran, at the foot of the Alborz Mountains.
Men chat at a park at Sang-e Shir, the site of a famous lion statue left (some believe) by Alexander the Great.
Picnickers at popular park and walking area on the northern edge of Tehran.
*All photos taken by Babak Saidi