Mashhad Center of Shiite pilgrimage, capital of Khorasan Province and also for a time of the whole of Iran, is situated in an altitude of 970 m above sea level. The city is situated in the Kashaf-rud valley , a tributary of Harirud , between the Binalud and Hezar Masjid mountains in a rich agricultural region. For centuries, it has been an important trade center and junction point on caravan routes and highways from India to Iran and from north to south between Turkistan towns and Sea of Oman. Although much of Khorasan is mountainous , there are many fertile valleys , and the province produces large quantities of fruit , nuts , sugar beet and cotton. Mashhad is connected to Tehran by two roads (875 km. , southern and 925 kin. northern) , railway and air. It occupies a position in the northeast of the country very similar to that of Tabriz in the northwest. Both cities, besides being relatively close to the frontiers , stand on what have often proved to be invasion routes. In consequence, Mashhad (with 1 ,820 ,631 inhabitants) , like Tabriz , has frequently been attacked and sometimes captured by hostile forces.
Once on the ground, the traveller is fascinated by the golden cupolas and minarets. It is interesting to know that the word Mashhad literally means place of martyrdom (or place of burial of a martyr). However, the Shrine of Imam Reza and the surrounding buildings do together
comprise one of the marvels of the Islamic world. Under certain constraints it is perfectly possible even for the non-Muslim to visit it; going to Iran and not doing so is a little like going to Italy and missing Vatican. The shrine itself is strictly closed to non-Muslims (save under
exceptional circumstances with the special permission of the religious authorities , applied for through the Tourist Office) , but it is not
generally a problem to visit the rest of the complex , so long as you don’t try to enter any of the buildings. You will have to dress extremely
conservatively and behave yourself impeccably, and you should avoid visiting during large religious gatherings or in the main pilgrimage
season (late June to mid July).
Shrine of Imam Reza
Imam Reza , heir to the Abbasid Caliphate as well as eighth of the Shiite Imams , died in what was then the village of Sanabad in 817 A.D. after eating some grapes. The story spread that he had been poisoned on the orders of the Caliph Ma’mun after having in some way arousing his enmity. Whatever the truth , Ma’mun buried him in a tower in
Sanabad next to the tomb of his own father , the famous Harun-al Al Rashid , and in time this burial place began to attract Shiite pilgrims Nader Shah is an enigmatic figure in Iranian history. Although he restored national independence and effectively protected Iran’s
territorial integrity at a dark moment of the country’s history, his obsessive suspicions and jealousies plunged Iran into political turmoil, and after his assassination in 1747 the Afshar dynasty he established proved short-lived. A Sunni by upbringing , he was
nevertheless a great benefactor of the Shrine of the Imam Reza in Mashhad , which he made his capital.