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Isfahan is one of the world’s oldest cities, being nearly continuously inhabited since well back into the Paleolithic era, with the oldest organized, large-scale government dating back to 2700 BC. Empires led by rulers as (in)famous as Cyrus and Alexander called Isfahan home. In 1598, Isfahan became the capital for one of the more recent incarnations of the Persian Empire.

Why here? The city is perched on a high-altitude bowl, pulling it out of the oppressive heat and aridity of the Iranian deserts. Its arable pocket of land is of sufficient size to support a large population – more than 2 million people today. Yet Isfahan is located far from Persia’s frontiers and is surrounded by a series of mountain knots, making it a most excellent redoubt.

Isfahan today continues to leverage this mix of sustainability and defensibility: it is home to a large portion of Iran’s nuclear industry, both open and clandestine.

For more on the future of Iran, see Chapter 9 of The Accidental Superpower.