Mashhad, city (1991 pop. 1,759,155), capital of Razavi Khorasan prov., NE Iran. It is an industrial and trade center and a transportation hub. Manufactures include carpets, textiles, and processed foods. Mashhad is a religious center visited annually by large numbers of Muslim pilgrims. Formerly known as Sanabadh, it is the site of the shrine of the Imam Ali Riza, a Shiite holy person. Imam Riza died (819) in the city after visiting the grave of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, who had died there 10 years before; he was buried next to Harun, and the shrine was built over both graves. The city was attacked by the Oghuz Turks (12th cent.) and by the Mongols (13th cent.), but recovered by the 14th cent., when it came to be known as Mashhad [Arab.,="place of martyrdom" or "shrine"]. It prospered under the Safavids, who were devout Shiite Muslims; Shah Abbas I embellished Mashhad with elaborate buildings. It reached its greatest glory in the 18th cent., when Nadir Shah made Mashhad the capital of Persia. The city took on strategic importance in the late 19th cent. because of its proximity to the Russian and Afghan borders. The bombing of the sanctuary of the Imam Riza by the Russians in 1912 caused widespread resentment in the Shiite Muslim world. In 1996 the city became the terminus of a new railroad linking Iran with Turkmenistan and the rest of Central Asia. Near Mashhad are the remains of the former city of Tus, birthplace of the poet Firdausi and the philosopher al-Ghazali. Mashhad itself is the seat of a university (founded 1947). The city is also known as Meshed.

Mashhad (literally the place of martyrdom) is the second largest city in Iran and one of the holiest cities in the Shia world. It is located 850 kilometers (500 miles) east of Tehran, at the center of the Razavi Khorasan Province close to the borders of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Its population was 2,427,316 at the 2006 population census.

Now Mashhad is notably known as the resting place of the Imam Reza (Ali ibn Musa al-Rida). A shrine was later built there to commemorate the Imam, which in turn gave rise to increasing demographic development.

Geography and demographics

The city is located at 36.20º latitude and 59.35º east longitude, in the valley of the Kashaf River near Turkmenistan, between the two mountain ranges of Binalood and Hezar-masjed. The city benefits from the proximity of the mountains, having very cold winters, pleasant springs, mild summers, and beautiful autumns. It is only about 250 km (156 miles) from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

The city is the administrative centre of Mashhad County (or the shahrestan of Mashhad) as well as the somewhat smaller district (bakhsh) of Mashhad. The city itself, excluding parts of the surrounding bakhsh and shahrestan, is divided into 13 smaller administrative units, with a total population of almost 2,5 million.

Mashhad consists mainly of people of Iranian descent. There are also over 20 million pilgrims who visit the city every year.

History and notable events

In the beginning of the 9th century (3th century AH) Mashhad was a small village called Sanabad situated 24km away from Tus. There was a summer palace of "Hamid ibn Qahtabi", the governor of Khorasan. In 808 when Harun al-Rashid, Abbasid caliph, was passing through there to settle down the insurrection of "Rafi ibn Leith" in Transoxania, he became ill and died. He was buried under the palace of Hamid ibn Qahtabi. Several years later in 818 Imam Reza was martyred by Al-Ma'mun and was buried beside the grave of Harun.

After this event this place was called as Mashhad al-Rida (the place of martyrdom of Ali al-Rida). Shias and sunnis started visiting there for pilgrimage of his grave. By the end of the 9th century a dome was built on the grave and many buildings and Bazaars sprang up around it. During more than a millennium it has been devastated and reconstructed several times.

It was not considered a great city until Mongol raids in 1220 which caused the destruction of many large cities in the Greater Khorasan territories, leaving Mashhad relatively intact. Thus the survivors of the massacres migrated to Mashhad. When the famous world traveller Ibn Battuta visited the town in 1333, he reported that it was a large town with abundant fruit trees, streams and mills. A great dome of elegant construction surmounts the noble mausoleum, the walls being decorated with colored tiles.

Later on, during the Shahrokh era, it became one of the main cities of the Timurid dynasty. In 1418 his wife Goharshad funded the construction of an outstanding mosque beside the shrine, which is known as Goharshad Mosque. The mosque remains relatively intact to this date, its great size an indicator to the status the city held in the 15th century.

Shah Ismail I, founder of the Safavid dynasty, conquered Mashhad after the death of Husayn Bayqarah and the decline of the Timurid dynasty. Mashhad was later captured by the Uzbeks during the reign of Shah Abbas I, only to be retaken by the Shah Abbas in the year of 1597 after a long and severe struggle, defeating the Uzbeks in a great battle near Herat as well as managing to drive them beyond the Oxus River.

Shah Abbas I wanted to encourage Iranians to go to Mashhad for pilgrimage. he himself is known to have walked from Isfahan to Mashhad. During the Safavid era Mashhad gained even more religious recognition, becoming the most important city of the Greater Khorasan as several Madrasah and other structures were built beside the shrine of the Imam Reza.

Besides its religious significance, Mashhad has played an important political role as well. It saw its greatest glory under Nadir Shah, ruler of Iran from 1736 to 1747 and also a great benefactor of the shrine of the Imam Reza, making the city his capital. It remained the capital of the Afsharid dynasty until Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar conquered the then larger region of Khorasan in 1796.

In 1912, the sanctuary of the Imam Reza was bombed by the Russian forces, causing widespread and persisting resentment in the Shiite Muslim world.

1994 Imam Reza shrine bombing

On June 20, 1994, an explosion from a bomb occurred in a prayer hall of the shrine of the Imam Reza The bomb that killed at least 25 people on June 20 in Mashhad exploded at Ashura. Mehdi Nahvi, a member of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MKO), an Iraqi-based opposition group, claimed responsibility. The MKO stated that the bombing was carried out to commemorate the anniversary of the group's founding on June 20, 1981. Although government blamed the Mujahedin-e-Khalq in a TV show to avoid sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni, the Pakistani daily "News" of March 27, 1995 reported, "Pakistani investigators have identified a 24-year-old religious fanatic Abdul Shakoor residing in Lyari in Karachi, as an important Pakistani associate of Ramzi Yousef. Abdul Shakoor had intimate contacts with Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and was responsible for the June 20, 1994, massive bomb explosion at the shrine Imam Ali Reza in Mashhad.

Religious minorities

Though primarily a Muslim city, Mashhad has harbored a number of religious minorities over the centuries. Among these were Jews, who in 1839 were forcibly converted to Islam. However, in truth they lived a double life: outwardly they conformed to Islamic ways, and were known as "Jadid al-Islam" or "New Muslims," but secretly they preserved a Jewish identity and Jewish traditions. The Bahá'í Faith has a history of victory and religious persecutions in this city. The latest was the executions of two Baha'is in 1998.

Current religious situation

Today the holy shrine and its museum hold one of the most extensive cultural and artistic treasuries of Iran, in particular manuscript books and paintings. Several important theological schools are associated with the shrine of the Eighth Imam.

The second largest holy city in the world, Mashhad attracts more than 20 million tourists and pilgrims every year, many of whom come to pay homage to the Imam Reza shrine (the eighth Shi'ite Imam). It has been a magnet for travellers since medieval times. It is said that the rich go to Mecca but the poor journey to Mashhad. Thus, even as those who complete the pilgrimage to Mecca receive the title of Haji, those who make the pilgrimage to Mashhad – and especially to the Imam Reza shrine – are known as Mashtee, a term employed also of its inhabitants. It is thought that over 20 million Muslims a year make the pilgrimage to Mashhad.

Astan Quds Razavi


Long a center of secular as well as of religious learning, Mashhad has been a center for the arts and for the sciences. The large Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, 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 talaban, 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.

In 1569 (977 H), 'Imad al-Din Mas'ud Shirazi, a physician at the Mashhad hospital, wrote the earliest Islamic treatise on syphilis, one influenced by European medical thought.

Kashmar rug is a type of Persian rug indigenous to this region.


Apart from Imam Reza shrine there is a number of beautiful large parks, the tombs of historical celebrities in nearby Tus and Neyshabour, the tomb of Nadir Shah and Kooh Sangi park and Mellat Park that have modern attractions for children such as the biggest ferris wheel or fanfar (چرخ و فلک) in Iran and Koohestan Park-e-Shadi Complex that includes a zoo, where many wild animals are kept and which attracts many visitors to Mashhad. It is also home to the Mashhad Airbase (formerly Imam Reza airbase), jointly a military installation housing Mirage aircraft, and a civilian international airport.

Some points of interest lie outside the city: the tomb of Khajeh Morad, along the road to Tehran; the tomb of Khajeh Rabi' located 6 kilometers north of the city where there are some inscriptions by the renowned Safavid calligrapher Reza Abbasi; and the tomb of Khajeh Abasalt, a distance of 20 kilometers from Mashhad along the road to Neishabur. (The three were all disciples of Imam Reza).

Among the other sights are the tomb of the great poet Ferdowsi in Tus, 24 kilometers distance, and the summer resorts at Torghabeh, Torogh, Akhlamad, Zoshk, and Shandiz.

The Shah Public Bath, built during the Safavid era in 1648, is an outstanding example of the architecture of that period. It was recently restored, and is to be turned into a museum.



Mashhad is served by the Mashhad International Airport which handles domestic flights to Iranian cities and international flights, mostly to neighboring, Arab countries.


The Mashhad Urban Railway Corporation (MURCO) is constructing a metro system for the city of Mashhad. It is planned to be finished by 2008.


Mashhad is connected via rail to two major rail terminals: Tehran and Sarakhs at the Turkmen border. Some freight trains continue from Sarakhs towards Uzbekistan and even to Almaty, but have to change bogies because of the difference in Rail gauge. A third connection to Bandar Abbas has been projected, but has not yet been completed. Rail services are operated by Raja Trains


The major shopping precincts are:

Colleges and universities

Mashhad as capital of Persia and Independent Khorasan

The following Shahanshahs had Mashhad as their capital:
Kianid Dynasty

  • Malek Mahmoud Sistani 1722-1726

Afsharid dynasty

Safavid Dynasty

  • Soleyman II 1750

Autonomous Government of Khorasan

Famous people from Mashhad

Picture gallery

Sister cities


Flag Country Address
Afghanistan Imam Khomeini Avenue Doshahid Street Sevom Isfand Sq. Mashad Iran Tel: +98-511-8544829, +98-511-8597552 Fax:+98-511-8544404,E-mail:
Kazakhstan Rahnemai Street 10, 41 h. Mashad Iran Tel:+98-511-8417716 Fax: +98-511 8401293 E-mail:
Kyrgyzstan No.209,next to Gas station, Abkooh Ave. 91839 Mashhad Iran Tel:+98-511-6040364
Pakistan Khyaban-e-Imam Khomeini Opposite Bagh-e- Milli P.O. Box No.91375-1733 Mashad Iran Tel:+98-511-2229845 Fax:+98-511-2227045 E-mail:
Tajikistan Darvazeh Quchan Sq. 91379 Mashhad Iran Tel:+98-511-7275480 Fax:+98-511-7275480
Turkmenistan No.34,Konsoolgari Alley,10th Day Sq. 91386 Mashhad Iran Tel:+98-511-8547066 Fax:+98-511-8547073
Saudi Arabia No. 4 - Molavi St. Sajjad Blvd. Mashad Iran Tel:+98-511-6076276,+98-511-6076279 Fax:+98-511-6076273,+98-511-6076278



See also

External links


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