Tourist Attractions

Hyrcanian Forests, Iran’s Unique Natural Attraction

Hyrcanian Forests in Gilan Province
Gilan province forests from a hill overlooking Lahijan city

UNESCO has inscribed the Hyrcanian Forests to its World Heritage List in 2019. This is a natural attraction located at the north of the Alborz mountain range of Iran and south of the Caspian Sea.

The local people call the Hyrcanian Forests living fossil, the center of the world, the Caspian forests, the natural museum, etc. It’s a very valuable green zone in the north of Iran.

In antiquity, Hyrcania was an administrative region on the territory of the current Iranian provinces of several Iranian provinces as well as part of Turkmenistan. In classical antiquity, the Greeks and Persians called the Caspian the Hyrcanian Ocean.

The Hyrcanian forests are a strip of 800 kilometers long, extending from northwest to the northeast of Iran. The name of these forests originates from the old name of Gorgan, which was formerly called Hyrcan. Today, this city is the capital of Golestan province, at the southeast of the Caspian Sea. The biodiversity and originality of the region and its rare and unique species of vegetation and animals attract visitors.

This natural attraction, together with its natural diversity, has created an interesting variety in the cultural, social and economic conditions of its inhabitants. It increases the importance of the ancient Hyrcanian forests.

History of Hyrcanian Forests

Natural vegetation of Hyrcanian forests
A scene from the prehistoric forests of north Iran

The studies show that the formation of Hyrcanian Forests dates back to the third period of geology (Jurassic), or the Age of the Dinosaurs. The importance of this history increases when we understand that the fourth period of geology is contemporary with the Ice Age. In this era, the cold destroyed all the forests except the Hyrcanian Forests. Because they are located between Alborz mountain range and Caspian Sea, where there is a temperate climate, the Hyrcanian Forests were safe against freezing.

Hyrcanian Forests are the mother of the forests of Europe and North America because the similarity of the vegetation root of the forests suggests that the changes following the Ice Age separated the European forests from Hyrcanian forests. Even when it comes to the birds living there, you can compare them to those of Europe too.

Geography of Hyrcanian Forests

Hyrcanian Forests, extending from east to west, cover parts of five provinces of Iran:

  • North Khorasan Province
  • Golestan Province
  • Mazandaran Province
  • Gilan Province
  • Ardabil Province

Located also in southeast Azerbaijan, this ecoregion includes the Lankaran Lowland and the Talysh Mountains.

The total area of Hyrcanian Forests has decreased from 3.6 million hectares in early of the current century to 1.9 million hectares. 1.85 million hectares of that is located in Iran.

Studies show that there are three climatic regions in Hyrcanian forests:

  • Humid subtropical, in middle altitude locations
  • Oceanic
  • Humid continental, in the mountains
Hyrcanian Forests 002
Another scene from the Caspian Sea’s forests

The factors like the density of the forest, gradient, distance to the Caspian Sea are among the factors affecting the climate of the forests.

The maximum rainfall occurs in the spring and late fall and winter. The average temperature in the forests is between 15°C and 18°C.

The forests’ soils are productive and rich in minerals and organic matters.

Fauna and Flora

Flora

The flora of Hyrcanian forests varies according to its altitude from the sea level. Once, Chestnut-leaved Oak, Black Alder, Caucasian Alder, Caspian Poplarnd and Caucasian Wingnut covered the Caspian Sea coastal plains but they have been almost entirely converted to urban and agricultural land.

The lower foothills of Talysh and Alborz Mountains below 700 meters with diverse humid forests contain Chestnut-leaved Oak, European Hornbeam, Persian Ironwood, Caucasian Zelkova, Persian Silk Tree and Date-plum.

At middle elevations between 700 and 1,500 m, the cloudy zone, the dominant trees are the hardwoods such as Oriental Beech, Chestnut-leaved Oak, Caucasian Oak, European Hornbeam, Oriental Hornbeam, and Sweet Chestnut.

Caucasian Oak, Oriental Hornbeam, shrublands, and steppes are located at the upper mountain and subalpine zones.

Fauna

Some species of animal such as Caspian Tiger once lived in these forests, but today they are extinct. However, there are still other mammals like Caucasus leopard, lynx, brown bear, wild boar, wolf golden jackal, jungle cat, badger, and otter. Hyrcanian Forests are also a particular type of habitat for birds.

Tourism Potential in Hyrcanian Forests

For many people in the northern part of Iran, a visit to the area where this green zone is provides the ultimate pleasure. From Tehran alone, there are 4 main roads leading to the Hyrcanian Forests. Almost in any national holidays, millions of people travel there. There are resorts, hotels, local villas, etc to choose from.

It provides a great change for those who live in the dry climate of Tehran, central Iran, and similar places. The Caspian Sea shorelines are the hot spots where a huge number of people visit every year to swim, picnic in the forests, enjoy the large variety of local dishes, etc. Therefore, as there’s abundant rich culture there, as an international traveler, you will find a lot to explore there. The Hyrcanian Forests are highly recommended to everyone to visit.

Rahman Mehraby

Rahman Mehraby is the founder and owner of Destination Iran. He plans and customizes quality Iran tours. Also, he provides tourism marketing consultation and services for tourism businesses.

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