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Mashhad, Iran

The holy city of Mashhad is the administrative capital of the Khorasan province. Its present population is nearing two and half millions and occupies an area of more than 200 square kilometers. It is situated in the north-east of Iran between Binalood and Hazar mountain ranges. It is 945 kilometers away from Tehran and its altitude is 980 meters above the sea level. At present Mashhad is the second largest city in Islamic Republic of Iran after Tehran. In the beginning of the third century Hijrah, Mashhad was asmall village called Sanabad, situated 24 kilometers away from Toos. The summer palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah, the governor of Khorasan, during the end of the second century Hijrah was situated in that village. Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid caliph, in order to put down the insurrection of Rafeh ibn Laith, went onan expedition to Transoxania. In 193 A.H./ 808 A.D., when he reached Toos, he became critically ill and died. He was buried under the hall of the palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah, in the Sanabad village. The city of Mashhad came into existence when Emam Reza (A.S.), the eighth Shi’ite Emam, after his martyrdom at the hands of Mamun, the Abbasid caliph (born. 786 A.D.,ruled. 813-833 A.D.); on the last day of the monthof Safar 203 A.H. / 5 September 818 A.D., was buried in the palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah beside the grave of Harun al-Rashid. 41 After this event, the mausoleum of Emam Reza (A.S.)became the pilgrimage center of the Shi’ites and the lovers of the Holy Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) in the world and the small village of Sanabad was soon transformed into a flourishing city called as Mashhad ar-Reza (tomb sanctuary of Emam Reza (A.S.) also briefly called Mashhad.

Mashhad literally means a place where a martyr has been buried. By the end of the third century Hijrah, a dome was built on the grave of Emam Reza (A.S.) and many buildings and bazaars sprang around the holy shrine. Followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.), from various parts of the world started visiting Mashhad for pilgrimage. In 383 A.H. / 993 A.D., Sebuktigin, the Ghaznevid sultan devastated Mashhad and stopped the pilgrims from visiting the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.). But in 400 A.H./ 1009 A.D., Mahmud of Ghazni (born 971, ruled, 998-1030 A.D.,) started the expansion and renovation of the holy shrine and built many fortifications around the city .The holy shrine was decorated with fine marbles, quality wooden and stucco works. Mahmud of Ghazni also built the burial chamber on the grave of Emam Reza (A.S.). After him his son Masud (b. 998 A.D., r. 1030-1040 A.D.) built a wall around the holy shrine and further beautified the holy shrine. Sultan Sanjar (b. 1086 A.D., r. 1097-1157 A.D.), after the miraculous healing of his son in the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.), renovated the sanctuary and addednew buildings within its precincts. In 612 A.H./ 1215 A.D., as borne out by inscriptions on certain tiles, Allaudin Khwarezm Shah carried out renovations onthe shrine. Two of the prayer niches, embellished with elegant porcelain tiles, as well as those with Kufic inscriptions that adorn the walls to the upper side of the holy burial chamber, bear the name of his vazir Ali bin Muhammad Muqri. A couplet in Persian by Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Abdullah on the wall also carries the date 612 A.H. During the Mongol invasion in 617 A.H. / 1220 A.D., Khorasan was plundered by the invading hordes and the survivors of this massacre took refuge in Mashhad and settled around the holy shrine.

Sultan Muhammad Khudabandeh (b. 1282 A.D), the Mongol ruler of Iran converted to Shi’ism and ruled Iran from 703-716 A.H/ 1304-1316 A.D., once again renovated the holy shrine on a grand scale. In 791 A.H., Miran Shah the son of Tamerlane( b. 1336 A.D., r. 1370-1404 A.D.) razed Toos to its foundation and massacred its inhabitants. Toos lostits popularity. and as a result the holy city of Mashhad rose to prominence contributing to the gradual emergence of Mashhad as a major city. The glorious phase of Mashhad started during the reign of Shahrukh Mirza (b. 1377 A.D., r, 1405-1447) son of Tamerlane and reached its zenith during the reign of Safavid kings who ruled Iran from 1501-1786 A.D. Shahrukh Mirza, 42 whose capital was Herat, regularly visited Mashhad for the pilgrimage of the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.). His wife Gowharshad Agha in 821 A.H./ 1418 A.D., ordered the building of the famous and historical Gowharshad Mosque, which is one of the biggest and most beautiful mosques in the world. This historical mosque is situated beside the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.). During this period the holy shrine developed into an extensive complex comprising various grand historical monuments. With the emergence of the Safavid dynasty in 1501 A.D. and their declaration of the Shi’ite school as the state religion,Mashhad reached the peak of its development and soon becameone of the greatest sites of pilgrimage. However, since Khorasan was a border province of the SafavidEmpire, Mashhad consequently suffered repeated invasions and periods of occupation by the Uzbek Khans – Muhammad Khan, Abdullah Khan Shaibani, Muhammad Sultan and especially Abdul – Momen Khan. These invasions continued up to 996 A.H./ 1586 A.D., the time of Shah Abbas I, who finally drove out the Uzbeks from Khorasan. The Safavid Kings illuminated the dome with golden tiles and built minarets, many courtyards (Sahn), porches (Riwaq) and seminaries (Madrasa) within the holy shrine’s precincts.

Nadir Shah Afshar (b. 1688, r. 1736-1747 A.D.) and the Qajar kings who ruled Iran from 1779-1923 illuminated, beautified and expanded the various courtyards (Sahn), porches (Riwaq) and places in the holy shrine. On 10th Rabi al-Thani 1330 A.H. in the year 1911 A.D., the Tsar Russian artillery shelled the holy shrine and martyred a large number of pilgrims and inhabitants of Mashhad. On 11th Rabi al-Thani 1354 A.H. /13 July 1935, the armed forces of Reza Khan (b. 1878, r. 1925-1941 A.D.), the founder of Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, invaded the holy shrine and massacred innocent people gathered in the Gowharshad Mosque.The people there were protesting against the anti-Islamic rule of Reza Khan for banning Hijab (modest dress) for women in Iran. During the peak days of Islamic revolution, on 21 st November 1978 Muhammad Reza Shah’s (b. 1919, r. 1941-1978 A.D.) troops committed the sacrilegious act of Killing a large number of innocent people within the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.).

A Brief Biography of Imam Reza (A.S)

Imam Reza (A.S), the Eighth Imam of the Shiite Muslims, was born there in Medina historians are not sure about. His birth day, month and year or they may know it completely but they don’t acknowledge-History has never been a good trustee-and His birth was declared in the years 148,151,153 and the days; on Friday in Ramadan 19th (the ninth month of Arabic lunar year), in the half of Ramadan month, on Friday in Rajab 10 th (the seventh month of Arabic lunar year) and Zilgha’deh 11th (twelfth month of Arabic lunar year).But the very year 148 namely Imam Ja’far-e- Sadegh’s (AS) Martyrdom year is more certain than the above-mentioned years. This is certainly the year that the distinguished scholars such as Mofid, Kalimi, Kafa’mi, Shahid Sani-e-Tabarsi, Sadough, Ebn-e-Zohreh, Mas’oudi, Abo’l-Fada, Ebn-e-Athir, Ebn-e-Hojar, Ebn-e-Jouzi and the other scholars have approved asthe Imam Reza’s (AS) birth year. But His Holy titles and nicknames have been remained in history’s mind-maze such shining words. His nickname is Abo’lHasan and His titles are Saber, Zakki, Vali, Fazel,Vafi, Seddigh, Razi, Serajo’llah, Nouro’l-Hoda, Ghorrato’l-Eino’l-Mo’menin, Kelidato’l-Mohedin, Kafo’l-Malek, Kafia’l-Khalgh, Rabbo’ssarir, and Ra’abo’l-Tadbir. And Reza (AS) is the most well-known title that we have known Imam by this during the history. Perhaps you want to know the reason of this title: “He was called ‘Reza’ because He was pleasant in the heavens and prophets and God and the Imams after Him were pleased with Him, upon the Earth. Also, itis said that: because all persons who agreed or disagreed with Him, both groups were pleased with Him and finally they have called Him “Reza” because Ma’moun became pleased with Him, too.” When you read His mother’s names, titles and sobriquets, you feel something inside them just like whatever is in Imam Reza’s (AS) titles: Ommo’l-Banin, Najmeh, Sakan, Toktam, Kheizaran, Tahereh, Shaghra’. 43 Although according to a narration, 5 boys and one girl has been mentioned for Imam Reza (AS), but as Allameh Majlesi has told: Javad was regarded as theonly Imam Reza’s child- a familiar name for us-…the only subject that has remained is Imam Reza’s martyrdom year that again history can’t help us about it properly and the possibilities are the years 202, 203 and 206 Anno Hejira. But most of scholars have considered the year 203 as His martyrdom year. Hence the age of Imam Reza (AS) was 55 years old at the time of martyrdom. He has spent 25 years of His lifetime with His father and He undertook the Shiite’s leadership for 20 years. The beginning of Imam Reza’s (AS) leadership is coincided with the final period of Harouno-e-Abbassi’s caliphate for 10 years. Five years later, His leadership is also coincided with Amin’s caliphate and finally a period of Ma’moun’s caliphate for 5 years as well as his dominance on Islamic territory of that period. Ma’moun the very person, who martyred Imam with poison conspiratorially and Imam’s followers, buried His holy body in Tous.

Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (Haram-e Razavi)
Imam Reza’s Holy Shrine is enveloped in a series ofsacred precincts collectively known as the Haram-e Razavi , or Haram for short. This magical city-within-a-city sprouts dazzling clusters of domes and minarets in blue and pure gold behind vast fountain-cooled courtyards and magnificent arched arcades. It’s one of the marvels of the Islamic world whose moods and glories should be fully savoured more than once at varying times of day. Compare the orderly overload of dusk prayer-time to the fairy-tale calm of a floodlight nocturnal wander.

Boq’eh-ye Khajeh Rabi
The beautifully proportioned, blue-domed mausoleum Boq’eh-ye Khajeh Rabi commemorates an apostle of the prophet Mohammad. Coming to pay respects here was said to have been Imam Reza’s ‘main consolation’ in coming all the way out to Khorasan. The tower took its present form after a 1612 rebuild, which added a band of interior Kufic inscriptions by master-calligrapher Ali Reza Abbasi.

Nader Shah Mausoleum
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Nader Shah is considered something of a historical tyrant. But here he’sa local hero for briefly returning Khorasan to the centre of a vast Central Asian empire. Nader’s horseback statue crowns his otherwise rather dour 1950s grey-granite mausoleum, which was designed to emulate the lines of a tent (reputedly Nader was born and died under canvas). A small museumdisplays guns, a rhinohide shield and four-pointed hats that must have made Afshar-dynasty courtiers look like jesters.

The Grave of Imam al-Ghazali
Near the newly constructed boulevard in the ancientcity of Toos you can observe a huge square shaped historical monument made out of bricks. Its height is 25 meters and covers an area of 144 square meters and consists of three chambers. The middle chamber consists of mihrab which is decorated with intricate stucco work. This building according to the popular belief is called as Haruniyah, the jail built by the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (rule 170-193 A.H/ 786-809 A.D.) but it in the ancient travelogues it is named as Masjid-i Toos. But according to the recent researches it have been established that this building was only a Khanqah built near a Masjid and constructed in the seventh or eighth century Hijrah. American missionary Donaldson in the year 1917 CE had observed that this buildingwas only Khanqah belonging to Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (450-505 A.H./ 1059-1111 CE) .But this building is not at all related to Imam alGhazali. But the historical accounts and chroniclesand the famous world travelers who had paid visit to the grave of Imam al-Ghazali had recorded its location outside the precincts of the historical Toos city. The grave of Husayn Khedive Jam, the renowned scholar on the life and works of Imam al-Ghazali is also located near this grave.

Kuh-e Sangi
This small but abrupt rocky hill rises near Mashhad’s southern ring road (the ‘Kabul to Paris highway’). Sweeping views show just how huge Mashhad has become. Tastefully set rock steps lead up from a large ‘recreation complex’ featuring ponds, over-priced ice creams and lots of souvenir shops selling soapstone dizipots and awful porcelain figurines. Horsecart rides do NOT take you up the mountain as they might imply but on a pointless eight-minute trot down some side streets. Within the park there’s a sweetly naive loop of pedal-car monorail for kids.

Carpet Museum
That’s an image you’ll find repeated as both carpetand giant wood-inlay works in the separate Carpet Museum, where rugs range from beautiful classics through to garish coral gardens and a Tabriz-made carpet-portrait of WWI bogey-man Kaiser Wilhelm II.Tying the staggering 30 million knots for Seven Beloved Citiestook 14 years. Upstairs, beside the shoe-deposit counter, is a two-room Calligraphy Gallery displaying priceless Korans, many dating back over a millennium.

The tomb of the great poet Abolqassem Ferdowsi, canbe accounted for a place of ‘worship’ so to be called by the lovers of Farsi Literature. This renowned historical site has brought fame for the city of Toos. The construction of this tomb began in the year 1928 and work came to an end in 1934. In the year 1964 a few changes were made in the structure. The internal walls of the tomb are adorned with sculptures depicting scenes from the ‘Shahnameh’. Each side wall of the building is approximately 30 m. x 30 m. and each of the four sides have stairways lead up to it. The lenght of each side of the main buildings foundation is about 16 m., worked with marble it is adorned by verses from the Shahnameh in the Nasta’liq script. Above the southern stone, a symbol of the Ahuramazda embossment, a replica from Achaemenian buildings is in sight. At the vicinity of the tomb of this great Iranian poet, is the resting place of a contemporary poet Mehdi Akhvan Saless.

The Khorshid Palace is from the time of Nader Shah Afshar and had most probably been constructed so as to house the royal family. The facade of this palace is cylindrical, built of black marble. At presentthis palace stands 20 m. in height and contains 12 roomsdecorated with paintings and ornamental works suchas plaster moldings. In the center of this palace there is a tower enhanced with fire architectural design. This palace was built in the second half of the 12th century AH.

This mosque was constructed by Goharshad (the wife of Shahrokh Teimoori), in 821 AH. This mosque has a large courtyard in the center with four porticos. Beautiful inscriptions in Thulth script (the work of Shahrokh’s son) adorn the walls. The most important section of this mosque is its southern portico which boasts of arches and valuable inscriptions. Along side this portico stand solid minarets with thickness of 6 m., with the same height of the portico itself, which help in supporting the ceiling and prevent the roof from collapsing. In bombardments of the Russian forces in 1330 AH, the main dome of this mosque which was 15m. in dia. sustained a loss. This dome was demolished in the year 1339 AH. The current dome has been constructed (in keeping with the former circumference) with concrete. This mosque has gone under repair once during the Safavid reign and the other in the Qajar era.

The main building of this museum was built in the year 1968 and was originally a ‘traditional’ restaurant. In the year 1982 this structure with slight changes was renovated into a museum. But in the year 1988 bearing the name of the Toos Museum was converted to the museum of anthropology and archeology. The year 1369 (1990), was named as the “Millennium of Collection of the Shahnameh” by UNESCO. At the same time with presentation of materials belonging to Ferdowsi period, when the Exclusive Museum of Ferdowsi was inaugurated.This museum is affiliated and attached to the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran

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