Mashhad is a major city of Iran, and the capital of Khorasan, the country's largest province with six million inhabitants. In 1996, 2.25 million of the province's population lived in Mashhad. It is the country's most important pilgrimage site, visited annually by over thirteen million pilgrims from Iran and abroad. The shrine of ˓Ali b. Musa al-Rida (Reza) (764–818 c.e.), the eighth and the only imam buried in Iran, is in Mashhad. The imam was buried in an orchard by the grave of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid at Sinabad, a hamlet near Nawghan, one of the districts of the city of Tus. The Mongol assault in the early thirteenth century, followed by the attack of the Timurid Miran Shah in 1385, were major blows that led to the gradual extinction of Tus, so much so that we find no mention of it in the sources since the middle of the fifteenth century. While Tus gradually disappeared, the hamlet of Sinabad grew into a town, first called Mashhad-e Razavi and then Mashhad-e Tus, as large numbers of Shi˓a settled there because of the imam's shrine, known for centuries as "Mashhad al-Razavi."
The shrine and its upkeep received the attention of Samanid, Ghaznawid, and Seljuk rulers who held the Alawid in reverence despite their Sunni creed. Mashhad received special royal attention during the reign of the Timurid ruler Shahrukh. He visited the imam's shrine for ziyara in 1406 and it was during his reign that the famous Gawharshad Mosque, completed for his wife in 1418, and other buildings in the shrine complex were constructed. After establishing Safavid control of Khorasan, Shah ˓Abbas showed a special reverence for Mashhad and in 1601 made a pilgrimage on foot, having set out from Isfahan, to fulfill a vow. The shrine received greater patronage during the reign of the Safavids and the Qajars, and most of the inscriptions pertaining to the repairs and new construction are extant. A new plan for the extension of the shrine complex was put into effect in the years before the Islamic Revolution in the course of which bazaars and houses in a large surrounding area were demolished. New construction is still occurring in the open space around the shrine.
In the past the shrine's upkeep and administration of the enormous endowments pertaining to it lay with an administrator (mutawalli), traditionally a sayyid from the descendants of Imam Reza appointed by royal decree. Since the Islamic Revolution, the appointment of the administrator lies within the jurisdiction of the supreme jurist (valiye faqih). The shrine as an architectural complex consists of the central building and its gilded dome, which houses the mausoleum and a one-thousand-year-old mosque (Masjid Balasar), twenty-three halls, several courtyards of different sizes, eight minarets, and two towers, each with its own particular history. It also maintains a major library, one of the oldest in Iran and dating from tenth century, with 26,400 manuscripts, 2,820 Qur˒an manuscripts, and over 300,000 printed books now kept in a newly built structure (inaugurated in 1995), as well as a museum and several subsidiary buildings housing various facilities. The Astan-e Quds (Holy Threshold), the establishment which manages the shrine complex and the related endowments, is a huge conglomerate that administers, in addition to a university, scores of academic, cultural, and economic institutions that play an important role in the life of the province.
Mashhad has a center of learning (hawzah ˓ilmiyya) next only to that of the Qom in size and importance. Leading scholars of this hawzah have enjoyed a regional following as "sources of emulation" (marja˓ al-taqlid).
Major city of northeast Iran and capital of Khorasan Province.
Mashhad originally developed as a pilgrimage center after the eighth Shiʿite Islamic imam, Reza, died and was buried (ninth century c.e.) in what then was a small village containing the tomb of Caliph Harun al-Rashid. The village began to develop as a trade center renamed Mashhad, or "place of the martyr," during the fourteenth century, after the Mongols had destroyed the ancient city of Tus, located 15 miles to the northwest of what is now central Mashhad. Its growth was slowed, however, by the general insecurity that prevailed in this region until the nineteenth century. After 1850, Mashhad developed as a major transshipment center for the overland trade between Iran and Russia and Iran and British India. The Qajar dynasty shahs expended funds on the embellishment and expansion of the shrine to Imam Reza (originally built during the early fifteenth century), including its affiliated seminary and other religious institutions. During the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi the city was rebuilt with a ring road around the shrine and wide avenues.
Mashhad began to develop as an important industrial center during the 1930s, initially with carpet and textile manufacturing; by the end of the 1990s, food processing, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals also were significant industries. Its importance as a transportation center is enhanced by air, rail, and road connections to Tehran and the rest of Iran. In 1996 the railway to Turkmenistan was inaugurated; this connected to the main railroad system through the Central Asian republics. Ferdowsi University, established in 1947, provides undergraduate and graduate education in agriculture, art, economics, law, medicine, social sciences, and technology. The Imam Reza shrine continues to be the major tourist site in Iran, attracting several hundred thousand visitors annually. Mashhad is now the second largest city in the country, having grown from a medium-sized city of 147,000 in 1947 to a metropolis of 1,887,405 in 1996.
see also pahlavi, reza; qajar dynasty.
Mashhad web site. Available from <http://www.farsinet.com/mashhad>.
updated by eric hooglund
Mashhad (mäsh-häd´), 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.
Since mashhad means ‘a place where one has borne witness’, i.e. died as a martyr, the word may be used of any place where this has occurred. Notable examples are Karbalāʾ, Najaf, Kazimain (near Baghdad, with the tombs of the 7th and 9th Imams of the Twelvers, Ithnā ʿAsharīyya, namely Musa al-Kazim and Muḥammad al-Jaurad), and Samarra (10th and 12th, ʿAli al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari).