Mashhad is the holiest city of Iran, a country that is quite rich in holy places. It is located in the north-east corner of the country, in the mountainous region that is known as the Khorazan.
The name Mashhad means place of martyrdom and the Martyr in question is Imam Reza. Back in the 9th century, this Shiite leader was poisoned here the city. His position made his tomb a sacred place for pilgrims to worship. Millions of people come as pilgrims to the shrine. There are plenty of priceless objects and unique manuscripts in the shrine’s library.
By Iranian standards Mashhad can be considered a tourist city with many hotels of various categories as well as a great number of guest houses for the pilgrims who come to this city from the other parts of the country everyday by tens of flights, trains and buses.
In earlier times Mashhad had been a village called Sanābād (also called Nūqān). It was long overshadowed by the pre-Islamic city of Ṭūs. Both the ʿAbbāsid caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd (ruled 786–809) and the eighth imam of Shīʿite Islam, ʿAlī al-Riḍā (died 818) were buried in Sanābād. Al-Riḍā is the only imam buried on Iranian soil, and the belief that he was martyred by poisoning explains the name of the city, which literally means “place of martyrdom.”
Contemporaries apparently began to call the village of Sanābād by the name Al-Mashhad al-Riḍāwī (Arabic: “The site of the martyrdom of ʿAlī al-Riḍā”) in the late 10th century, more than a century after the imam’s demise. The great traveler Abū ʿAbd Allāh ibn Baṭṭūṭah reached the city about 1330 and referred to it by that appellation. It appears that the unadorned name, Mashhad, entered into conventional usage after the Mongol destruction of Ṭūs in 1389.
The shrine of ʿAlī al-Riḍā and the Friday Mosque, the city’s architectural jewels, suffered damage but survived numerous raids and invasions by Uzbek and Afghan forces, whose depredations did not spare the people of the city. Those repeated attacks had the effect of isolating the city and its province for long periods of time. Under the Afshārid ruler Nādir Shah (ruled 1736–47), who tried but failed to reconvert the population of Iran to Sunni Islam, Mashhad became the imperial capital. Under his grandson, Shāh Rokh (died 1796), Khorāsān was essentially a vassal territory tributary to Herāt, autonomous from the Iranian monarchy.
The new dynasty, the Qājārs (ruled 1794–1925), brought Khorāsān and its capital city back into the orbit of the Iranian state in 1803. However, the Qājārs struggled to hold the region, alternating control with local rebel groups from 1825 until 1850. In 1905 the Iranian Constitutional Revolution broke out, greatly undermining the authority of the government. The government’s loss of legitimacy was exacerbated by the Anglo-Russian Entente (1907), which virtually partitioned Iran between Russia and Great Britain. In 1912 Russian forces bombarded Mashhad in an action that coincided with the seizure of power by Yūsuf Khan, who had rebelled against Tehrān in 1911. The bombing damaged the shrine of ʿAlī al-Riḍā and generated widespread indignation and anger among the people. Although Khan was eventually captured and executed, the Qājār dynasty was clearly on its last legs. In 1919 the British tried to impose a protectorate over Iran, a stratagem that failed when the Majles (parliament) refused to ratify the project.
It was in those circumstances that Col. Reza Khan, commander of the Cossack Brigade, effected a coup d’état and appointed himself minister of war in 1921, prime minister in 1923, and shah of Iran in 1925, taking the name Reza Shah Pahlavi. The transition to Pahlavi rule brought about changes to Mashhad’s governance. Under the Qājārs, members of the royal family were appointed to rule the province of Khorāsān and simultaneously served as the administrator (mutawallī) of the shrine complex. The latter had grown dramatically in importance as properties and shops were brought under its aegis, and its annual revenues made it economically one of the most-profitable enterprises in Iran. The Pahlavi shahs did not follow the Qājār model in appointing members of the dynasty to serve as governors and shrine administrators but rather appointed loyal aides to those positions. The crown thus controlled the shrine’s assets and made all the key decisions about pilgrimage, prayer, infrastructure investment,madrasah activities, and curricular affairs.
Reza Shah (ruled 1925–41) pursued anticlerical policies, such as declassing the ulama (religious scholars), removing them from their posts in the Ministries of Education and Justice, taking over their assets, defrocking clergymen, and conscripting them into the army. In 1935, angered over popular resistance to Reza Shah’s order that men wear European-style hats and that women appear in public without veils, officials ordered troops to open fire on a crowd in Mashhad that had formed to commemorate the Russian bombing of the city in 1912. Scores were killed.
Under Reza Shah’s son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (ruled 1941–79), Mashhad’s shrine complex was subjected to a major urban-renewal project that removed the bazaar shops, inns, hotels, and workshops adjacent to the property, leaving a vast plaza with a modern avenue leading to it. The shrine was then renovated and expanded. After the Iranian Revolution (1978–79) the Khomeini regime and its successors expended much effort on maintaining the prestige of the shrine as well as underwriting the general cultural, educational, economic, and political growth of the city. However, the administrative reform that broke Khorāsān into three separate provinces in 2004 somewhat diminished the lustre of the city as a whole.
Mashhad’s cultural scene is rich. Religious life is centred on the shrine at the burial site of ʿAlī al-Riḍā. Shīʿite pilgrims come to pay their respects there from all over Iran and from many countries of the world. Also in Mashhad is the magnificent Friday Mosque, the construction of which is attributed to Gawhar Shād—wife of the Timurid ruler, Shāh Rokh (ruled 1405–47). The city maintains parks, a zoo, museums, and libraries. Just outside Mashhad is the mausoleum of Abū Qāsim Ferdowsī (c. 935–c. 1020–26), the incomparable poet and author of the Shāh-nāmeh (“Book of Kings”).
Long a center of secular as well as of religious learning, Mashhad has been a center for the arts and for the sciences. The largeFerdowsi University of Mashad, named after the great Iranian poet, is located here. The Madrassa of Ayatollah Al-Khoei, originally built in the seventeenth century and recently replaced with modern facilities, is the city’s foremost traditional centre for religious learning. The Razavi University of Islamic Sciences, founded in 1984, stands at the centre of town, within the shrine complex. The prestige of traditional religious education at Mashhad attracts students, known as tolaban, internationally.
Mashhad is also home to one of the oldest libraries of the Middle-East called the Central Library of Astan-e Quds Razavi with a history of over six centuries. The Astan-e Quds Razavi Museum, which is part of the Astan-e Quds Razavi Complex, is home to over 70,000 rare manuscripts from various historical eras. There are some six million historical documents in the foundation’s central library.
What To See
- Imam Reza Shrine Complex
The Imam Reza Shrine (Persian: حرم امام رضا) in Mashhad, Iran is a complex which contains the mausoleum of Imam Reza, the eighth Imam of Twelver Shiites. It is the largest mosque in the world by dimension and the second largest by capacity. Also contained within the complex are the Goharshad Mosque, a museum, a library, four seminaries a cemetery, the Razavi University of Islamic Sciences, a dining hall for pilgrims, vast prayer halls, and other buildings.
The complex is one of the tourism centers in Iran. The shrine itself covers an area of 267,079m2 while the seven courtyards which surround it cover an area of 331,578m2 – totaling 598,657 m2 .
Every year the ceremony of Dust Clearing is celebrated in the Imam Reza shrine.
- Nader Shah Park & Mausoleum
Nader’s body, after his assassination in Fath-abad (Qouchan), 1740, was buried in a tomb, build by himself, in Meshed. That tomb, in political tensions after Nader and passing of time, was destroyed.
In 1876, Qavamossaltaneh, governor of Khorasan, founded a new building on the tomb, which was heading to ruin soon after.
In 1957, structure of current building, which was designed by eng. Houshang Seihon whom is architect of Mausoleum of Ferdosi, Kamal ol-Molk, Khayyam &…, started and finished in 1962. It was opened on April 1963.
This structure with inspiration from Nader’s aggressive manner and his gypsy way of life, is constructed from rough and uneven rocks on a platform similar to a gypsy tent.
Bust of Nader in Marble & Huge Burnt Cast Bronze statue is work of Abolhasan Sedighi.
It also includes a very interesting museum which displays antique guns, swords and other military equipment mostly from Nader Shah time (1700s). A small library located in west of Mausoleum.
“Colonel Mohammad Taqi Khan Pessian” is buried on a corner of this site.
- Ferdowsi Park & Mausoleum
Ferdowsi Tusi is the author of Shahnameh (Translation: The Book of Kings), the national epic of Iran and arguably the most influential work of Persian literature. Ferdowsi is therefore considered the greatest Persian poet. He was born in 940 in Paj and died in Tus in 1020 (both cities are near modern day Mashhad).
The Mausoleum of Ferdowsi is in Mashhad just north of Tus. The building was opened to public in 1934 coinciding with the millennium celebration of Ferdowsi’s literary achievement. A ceremony was held, to which many notable Iranian and European scholars were invited. It was one of the most important cultural events of the century.
The design of the tomb combines the style of Persepolis and Cyrus the Great’s tomb in Pasargad. The structure can be divided into three sections. The middle section holds the marble gravestone measuring 1.5 x 1 x 0.5 meter. It’s situated in the center of a platform. The second section is a square hall also made of marble and decorated with tiles. Inside, it has four tall pillars with two large columns at the corners. The southern side of the main building is covered with carvings of men with wings, which is the style of Persepolis. The third area contains a marble staircase leading to the room where Ferdowsi’s poetries are engraved on the wall.
- The Coin and Medals Gallery
Coin and Medals gallery contains precious collections which have been presented by different people during the history, and their number exceed to 400. The existing coins include 308 numbers and their dates are from fourth century (L.C.) up to the Safavid period.
Among them, the medals belong to many scientific and cultural figures and Iranian world wrestler, Gholam Reza Takhti, can be seen, as well. Some of the coins in gallery are follows: The most important silver coins of Imam Reza.
The crown prince ( 817-818 )
The coins of Alexander the Great.
- Virani Carvansary
Virani is the name of an old and fertile village which located in 6 kilometers from Mashhad. This village had various name like : Viraeyo and Virayo . then after Islamis revolution changed to Noorabad , There is a carvansaray in this village which is belonging to the 8th century. In 1377 A.H.S.,this carvansary repaired and at present is used as traditional coffee shop for tourists.
Where To Eat
- Hezardestan Traditional Teahouse
Hezardestan Traditional Teahouse is one of Mashhad’s most picturesque dining settings, located centrally in the Jannat Mall. Offering a modest menu of traditional Iranian food (their aubergine stew comes particularly recommended), Hezardestan is tastefully decorated with tiled floors, Persian carpets, and cultural trinkets, and its walls are adorned with calligraphy and murals depicting scenes from the Persian Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. Live music is also performed most nights.
Watch out for: the traditional live music
Address: Jannat Street, Mashhad, Iran
- Baba Qudrat Restaurant
One of downtown Mashhad’s finest eateries is Baba Qudrat, a traditional restaurant built into the charismatic remains of a Silk Road caravanserai. Dine upon carpeted platforms in the privacy of your own arched enclave, whilst you feast your eyes on the historic setting and your stomach on a juicy kebab. Less crowded at lunchtime, but far more atmospheric in the evening.
Watch out for: the quirky Silk Road trader statues outside the entrance
Address: No.16 Sadr Street, Mashhad, Iran
- Café Nabat
With its redbrick interior and tasteful mood lighting, Café Nabat has a decidedly European feel to it, offering a counterpoint to the city’s predominantly traditional orientation. Nabat serves a more than adequate range of teas, coffees, and cakes, but the highlight has to be its continental breakfast, complete with croissants, fried eggs, and chips. Popular with students and young Iranians, Café Nabat is a great venue to witness another face of Mashhad.
Watch out for: the continental breakfast
Address: Salman-e Farsi, Mashhad, Iran
- Jahan Hotel Restaurant
The Jahan Hotel Restaurant is worth a visit for one reason alone: the amazing views of the shrine which lies just to its side. Situated on the top floor of the Jahan Hotel, the restaurant doesn’t distinguish itself vastly from other restaurants food-wise, but nowhere else around will allow you to gaze out over the immense mosque complex whilst you wolf down your kebab.
Watch out for: the spectacular views of the shrine
Address: Top floor of the Jahan Hotel, Mashhad, Iran, +98 511 225 0085