It may be part of the “Axis of Evil” and a scapegoat for many Middle-Eastern tensions, but underneath the layers of bad stereotypes lays a country with a rich and fascinating culture.

Roughly as big as one-fifth of the continental US, Iran is one of the world’s most mountainous countries. High, rugged chains like the Caucasus and the Zagros separate desert basins — namely Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut — and the dense Shomal rainforests in the north. Nearly every ecosystem has its place here.

What’s more, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations (with architecture to match), thousands of years brewing a warmth within a sophisticated culture. Get lost in the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan or eat some plain yogurt with the locals in the back streets of Tehran, and you’ll see this crossroads of warmth and sophistication yourself. But for now, scope out more about this fascinating country below.