MASHHAD – SACRED CITY
“ I learned, long ago, to look with suspicion at Middle-Eastern cities from the outside, so little resembling their interiors, but I could not help but be struck in admiration as I first gazed upon Meshed. With the exception of Istanbul, viewed from the Bosphorus, nothing compares with its beauty, and I could easily understand the effect on the imaginations of pilgrims whose pious eyes, having suffered for months along dusty roads, first fell upon the vision of the scared city in all its glory.”
Edmond O’Donovan ( 19th century)
The mausoleum of Imam Reza, 15th-17th century
The first sacred city in Iran, the history of Mashhad began in 809, where lived and died Harun al-Rashid, the famous Abbasid Calif who led a campaign against Khorasan. Ten years later, in 818, Ali al-Reza, the 8th Imam of the Shi’ites, died and was entombed in the same city that was to be named, little by little, “Mashhad” – the martyr’s tomb . The sanctuary attracts larger and larger numbers of pilgrims each year and promotes an intensive religious and intellectual lifestyle. Throughout the centuries, the city has suffered violence that has not always spared its sacred sites: The tribe of Oghuz in 1161, the Mongolians in 1296 then the Uzbekistans of the 15th century, pillaged the city and massacred its population. From the 16th century, Mashhad became the most important centre of the Shi’ite faith, imposed by the Safavids. In the 18th century, Nader Shah made it his capital for a time (1727-1735). Linked to Tehran by bus, train and plane, it is today, the 8th largest city in the country. Pilgrimage attracts 15-20 million people annually, mainly from Iran, but also from Arab countries and from Pakistan. The sanctuary is managed by a private foundation that dates back to the 16th century, called The Astan-e Qods-e Razavi (the Sainted Shrine of the Imam Reza). It owns factories, hospitals, libraries and real estate property in Mashhad and throughout the entire province of Khorasan. It is the second most powerful city in Iran.
Mosque Gowhar Shad, in the mausoleum of the Imam Reza, 15th century (photograph: Astan-e Quds-e Razavi)
The sanctuary of Imam Reza; the Shrine of Khwadjeh Rabi: the 72 Tan Mosque;
Anthropologic Hammam-Museum ; Shrine of Gonbad-e Sabz , mausoleum-Museum Nader Shah ;Gonbad-e Khesti mausoleum ; Musalla ; Ferdowsi Mausoleum, the mausoleum called Haruniyeh and the citadel of Tus.
Mosque 72 tan, 15th century
One day is sufficient to visit the essential sights and to make an excursion to Tus. The Imam Reza Sanctuary is closed to non-Muslims, who may nevertheless access the Museums (Central Museum, Carpet Museum, Museum of Corans), situated within the sacred perimeter.
Mausoleum of Ferdowsi at Tus, near Mashhad, built in 1934