Arak is the capital of Markazi province which is located about 300 km. southwest of Tehran. The city is a major industrial centre.
The term Arak remains from a name given to the region since the medieval period. It derives from Arabic al-ʿIrāq, meaning “root”, itself derived possibly from Akkadian Uruk. But new research has shown that the word Arak has the same roots with the words Iran and Arran, and the name Iraq is an Arabicized Persian word.
During the Seljuk era, a region comprising the whole territory of Media (northwestern Iran) and the lower part of Mesopotamia was referred to as Iraq; with the Median part called ʿErâq-e ʿAjam (“Iraq of the Ajam [non-Arabic speakers]”), and the Mesopotamian part called ʿErâq-e ʿArab (“Iraq of the Arab”).
Originally named Soltan Abad, the modern-day city of Arak was founded in 1808 by Yusef Khan-e Gorji, a pro-Iranian warlord of Georgian origin who was given refuge by Qajar ruler Agha Mohammad Khan following a territorial dispute with his cousins, who were supported by Russian empress Catherine the Great.
Between 1795 and 1797, Yusef Khan-e Gorji, renamed Yusef Khan-e Sepahdar by the Qajar ruler, settled his army in the fertile but poorly-controlled territory that would become the modern-day Arak. Hostile tribes in the region had operated autonomously from the Qajar rule. With the Shah’s approval, Yusef Khan diverted the main river to drive out the hostiles and build the war fortress of Soltan Abad to act as a buffer.
According to early modern historians, Yusef Khan built the city with the aid of effluents. Until 1892, the town remained a military base and fortress. The fortress of Soltan Abad had a thick wall surrounded by 7-meter-deep moats. Eight towers were constructed around the town and the governmental building was established in its northern part.
In 1891, shops, gardens, and government buildings of Soltan Abad were repaired by the order of deputy governor Mirza Hasan (Etemad os-Saltane). Large parts of the city were formerly annexed as personal property to the pre-existing army commanders and were then ultimately turned over to the state around 1918–1922.
Beginning by the last quarter of the 19th century, the city achieved major developments in the carpet industry, and eventually became Iran’s most important centre of carpet production for export markets, continuing up until at least 1940.
Under the reign of Reza Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty, the city was renamed Arak. Modern factories for vegetable oil, soap, sugar beet, and wool industries were established within the city. Arak also became an important station for the Trans-Iranian Railway, a major railway project directed by Reza Shah which was completed in 1938.
In 1972, two major state-owned enterprises were established in the city, including an aluminium smelter and a heavy engineering plant. The aluminium smelter was built under the Regional Cooperation for the Development project of the Central Treaty Organization, in cooperation with the company of Reynolds and Reynolds. The engineering plant was processed with equipment and technical advice from the Soviets, in return for gas sales to the Soviet Union.
The city officially became a metropolis on April 6, 2013, after the merger with Karahrud and Senjan.