What do the symbols and other visual elements on the currency say about a nation's values?
The central theme of the currency used by the Islamic Republic of Iran is religion, as the state is run as a theocracy. Symbols of the change of regime which took place in 1979 abound, removing the images of wealth and military might portrayed by the currency employed during the reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in favor of images which indicate the devotion of the Iranian state to Islam, to shrines honoring the state religion and to images of workers cooperating for the good of the nation, which suffered greatly from 1980 to 1988 during its time of war with neighboring Iraq. Interstingly, all Iranian currency contains messages in English, Arabic, Farsi (the native tongue of most Iranians) and Braille.

What is emphasized? Religion? Government? History? Abstract principles?
Devotion to Islam, its shrines and leaders are the dominant images on the currency. The 500 Rial note depicts worshippers at the Mosque in the Holy City of Qom, the adherents facing to the west, the direction of Mecca. The 100 Rial note depicts the Supreme Mullah Ali Khameni, the spiritual head of the theocratic government along, perhaps incongrously, with the international symbol for the atom, which highlights Iran's political stance to become a member of the "nuclear club" of nations. Buildings on the 100 Rial and 200 Rial Notes depict a famous Mosque and a Religious seminary respectively. The abstract notion of "working together" is reinforced by the farm workers which occupy the reverse of the 200 Rial note, perhaps referring to the period of reclamation and rebuilding which has taken place since the nation's war with Iraq. The scene of farmers working with antiquated agricultural technology sets to mind the notion that Iran must strive to bring itself to self sufficiency in a hostile world. Notable to each denomination of Iranian currency is a watermark containing the likeness of the Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual and political head of the regime which brought the theocracy to power, remaining ghost-like and approving on every denomination of bank note.

What colors are used? Why?
Muted reds, greens and blues adorn the notes of Iran to symbolize the colors often found in the hand woven rugs and tapestries for which the Iranian nation is famous. However, these are merely common colors associated with indigenous texties. No one color dominates any note nor sets a unifiying theme throughout the nation's currency. While the hues are reminiscent of the rich heritage of the Iranian state and its Persian forebears, there is no dominant color which seems to bind all of the others together. While obvious on the bills, if colors play a symbolic role it is only a small role in the whole scheme of Iran's currency. Perhaps more functional than symbolic, colors are a safeguard against the counterfeiting of currency.

What political statements or philosophies are being articulated through the symbols?
The supremacy of Islam is the unmistakable statement made on Iranian currency. There are subtle political statements presented by the cooperation of the workers following the end of the war with Iraq and the inclusion of the atomic symbol which seems to be a political statement of the nation's commitment to join the nuclear club despite international sanctions and opposition. Obvious political statements are imbedded in the religious themes as the nation is ruled as a theocracy. In short, the Iranian government seeks to show the dominance of Islam in the lives of Iranians. Secondary purposes appear to be unification around the notions of advancing into the nuclear age and rebuilding the nation's self-sufficiency in agriculture.

How might a traveler read the currency differently from a citizen?
The use of three languages on the currency suggests that the circulation of the Rial is international, when in fact it is not a currency that takes a prominent place on the world stage. The buildings and shrines shown on the bills are familiar to those who live in Iran and who are of the Shi'a sect of Islam, but hold no immediate recognition for the foreigner. The farm scene, other than communicating a bucolic setting of men at work does not necessarily connote the government's emphasis on rebuilding the agrarian stability of the nation and returning to self reliance in feeding the nation. Iranian currency reinforces the notion that Islam is the guiding force of the Republic, whether to the visitor or the citizen.

What is conspicuously absent? Why?
Elected members of the National Government and structures or monuments which emphasize the secular workings of government do not appear on the Iranian notes. The ruling regime prides itself on being set apart as a theocracy and not as a republican form of government. Institutions which glorify or highlight natural wonders, the works of man, the history of the nation or its pre-Muslim culture or the advances of humanity are muted, with the notable exception of the atomic symbol placed on the 100 Rial note.