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Mashhad (مشهد)

The capital of the eastern province of Rezavi Khorasan, Mashhad is situated 850 kilometers from Tehran in northestern Iran. The city is referred to as Iran's holiest city as its name means "place of the martyr," signifying the burial place of the martyred Imam Reza, eighth in the line of Shiah Imams.

Before the death of the Imam, the city was a small village known as Sanabad. The far more important city of the region prior to this time was nearby Neyshabur, the home and burial site of Omar Khayyam. However, the death caused an influx of pilgrims, many of whom stayed in Mashhad to be near the shrine which developed around the tomb of Imam Reza. It is this growth impetus which gives Mashhad its distinctive bull's-eye profile when viewed from the air. It developed in concentric circles outward from the Imam's tomb. The shrine is also what led to large accumulations of wealth in the city, further enhanced by being sited along an important historic east-west trade route.

These factors made Mashhad a favorite target for plunder which occurred several times in its history. One of the most devastating of these was the Mongol invasion during the 13th century, nearly destroying the shrine and the city itself. During the 16th century, the Safavid Dynasty established Twelver Shi'ism as the state religion and restored the shrine and the city. Mashhad served as the principal commercial center of eastern Iran throughout the 19th century. The greatest concentration of population growth, however, has occurred in the 20th century, mostly since 1950. In 1986, Mashhad had a population of over one million, a 110 percent increase over the population of 1976, the growth being attributed to an influx of more than 450,000 Afghani refugees to the city.

The tomb of Imam Reza remains a sacred place of pilgrimage for millions of Shiah Muslims each year, bolstering the city's economy as well as transportation and tourism. The heavily adorned shrine of Imam Reza and the associated shrine complex, including an important library and a theological school, are the key architectural sites of Mashhad. The tomb of the famous poet Abol Qasem Ferdowsi is located nearby in the town of Tus. Additionally, Mashhad has developed considerable textile, carpet, and food processing industries in recent decades.

 Refrence(s):

Lorentz, H. John. 2007. Historical Dictionary of Iran: Mashhad. Lanham, Maryland, Toronto, Plymouth, UK. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Second Edition. Pp. 202-203

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