Heaven on earth

The reshaping and renaming of cemeteries in the Islamic Republic of Iran

  • Faegheh Shirazi
Keywords: Islamic Republic of Iran, cemetery names, Ithna Ashari, Ma‘sūmin, landscape change, attitude change towards death, imagery, innovative cemetery technology


This article reports on the physical changes within a number of cemeteries in Iran since the Islamic Republic replaced the Pahlavi monarchy in 1979. It notes changes relating to funerary traditions, such as the placement of imagery and other material culture connected to the martyrs of the eight-year Iran–Iraq war, the etching images of the faces of the departed on gravestones and the renaming of many cemeteries after members of the house of the Prophet Mohammad.
Urban cemeteries around Iran were visited during several research trips (2006, 2009, 2011), and a number of official websites of the Islamic Republic of Iran were consulted for data related to the use of new technology and government plans for the expansion or closing down of some cemeteries. The official Iranian government graveyard websites were also accessed. This study illustrates how the reshaping and the renaming of specific landscapes in a sacred place, in this case cemeteries, creates an earthly image of heaven for the Iranian Shi'i population.