At the crossroads of the Middle East and with a history stretching back to 3,200 BC, Iran has an especially rich heritage that has had a profound - albeit sometimes little-known - influence on the modern world. The Safavid dynasty, which ruled from the 16th to the 18th century over present-day Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and parts of central Asia, shaped the Persian Empire and subsequently Iranian identity. Historians point out that art from that period showed how their reign also spurred an aesthetic Renaissance similar to the one witnessed in Europe. A permanent exhibition to Islamic art will open at the Louvre in Paris next year featuring such Safavid-era pieces as the Garden of Scents by Sa'adi. Persians have also excelled in the field of invention, with scientists in ancient times coming up with ground-breaking innovations that continue to be employed today in one form or another. American academic Arthur Pope, who spent many years studying in Iran, declared that many of the greatest industrial developments were the result of scientific work carried out by the Persians. One of the earliest inventions was a primitive form of air-conditioning. It is believed that as far back as 3,000 BC building design incorporated a curved roof that helped circulate air through the house, rendering the interior comfortable even in the summer when temperatures can reach 37 degrees Celsius. Later, in about 900 AD, wind towers were developed that were more efficient at sucking air in and out of houses. They remain a feature of many of the country's older buildings. A parallel invention, the windmill, was first used in Iran for milling grain as early as the 7th century AD. It was probably trial and error that led to the first ice house in Iran, but the system was simple. By filling a shallow north-facing pond with water on a winter evening and building adobe walls around the south, east and west sides, the pond would freeze overnight. The ice could be cut up and stored underground until summer when it was used to refrigerate food and cool drinks. Indeed, there have been some claims that ice cream was also invented in Iran. Equally simple, yet an enormous boon to farmers, the Persian Wheel continues to be used in many parts of the world as a low-tech irrigation device. Buckets are attached to a vertical wheel that is partially submerged in a river or stream, while draft animals that have been yoked to a horizontal wheel - which in turn is linked to the vertical wheel - are driven in a circle. As the animals move, so the wheels turn and the buckets are filled and emptied into a trough that drains onto arable fields. Of a similar vintage, the qanat is reckoned to have been developed in about 1,000 BC. Farmers deduced they could greatly increase the flow of water to their fields by digging a gently sloping tunnel from a spring back towards its mountain source. The resultant increase in produce from well-irrigated fields was so enormous it is thought to have been one of the reasons behind the rise of the Persian Empire. An estimated 40,000 qanats remain in use today, supplying half the water required for agriculture. Polo is believed to have originated in about 500 BC in Iran during the reign of Darius the Great, whose cavalry went on to forge an enormous empire. Polo quickly spread to neighbouring countries and is now enjoying a resurgence of popularity in clubs in and around Tehran. Darius also ordered the design and construction of the Persian Royal Road, the world's first pre-planned thoroughfare. Stretching some 2,400 kilometres across the empire, use of the road was primarily intended for Darius himself, but it was also used for imperial communications and to transport goods required at the royal court. More widely played than polo, and certainly less energetic, Poker is also thought to owe its antecedents to Iran as it bears a strong similarity to the Persian card game called as nas. The game enjoyed strong popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries, with four or five players using cards that had been intricately hand-painted on cardboard and then lacquered. Such decks remains highly prized collectors' items today. At about the same time, Persian artisans developed a procedure for creating jigsaw-like mosaics arranged in an intricate pattern known as quasicrystal that was symmetrical but did not repeat itself regularly, granting the interiors of many buildings a sophisticated decor that was as mathematically fascinating as it was aesthetically pleasing. Of wider importance, the idea of postal relays - as revolutionary as the concept of e-mail when it was introduced - seems to have originated in the Persian Empire several thousand years ago, though it may have developed simultaneously in several Middle Eastern countries. Parts of the superbly organised mail system outlived the Persian Empire and continued to operate in Egypt, where it was seen and copied by Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, in about 5 BC. While modern international banking systems are gradually dispensing with paper cheques, it is thought that the original cheque was devised in Iran to save itinerant merchants from having to carry large amounts of cash. The device was quickly imitated by Christian traders in Syria, from where it spread to Europe and the rest of the world. Trousers are so much an accepted part of clothing around the world that it seems inconceivable that there was a time when they did not exist. The Persians are credited with the introduction of both seamed, fitted coats and trousers - the latter were especially beneficial when riding and were worn by both men and women. Rather more recently, in 1960, Iranian scientist Ali Javan was the driving force behind the invention of the first gas laser, while cardiologist Tofy Mussivand invented and developed the first artificial cardiac pump, the precursor of the artificial heart. From ancient times to the modern day, the influence of Iranian heritage has spread far and wide to benefit almost every sphere of human existence.