Mashhad is the second most populous city in Iran and capital of Razavi Khorasan Province. It is located in the northeast of the country, close to the borders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. It was a major oasis along the ancient Silk Road connecting with Merv in the East.
The city is most famous and revered for housing the tomb of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia Imam. Every year, millions of pilgrims visit the Imam Reza shrine and pay their tributes to Imam Reza.
Mashhad is also known as the city of Ferdowsi, the Iranian poet of Shahnameh, which is considered to be the national epic of Iran. The city is the hometown of some of the most significant Iranian literary figures and artists such as Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, the famous contemporary poet, and Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, the traditional Iranian singer and composer. Ferdowsi and Akhavan Sales are both buried in Tus, an ancient city that is considered to be the main origin of the current city of Mashhad
The name Mashhad comes from Arabic, meaning the place of martyrdom the place where Ali ar-Ridha (Persian, Imam Reza), the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, was martyred and so his shrine was placed there.
At the beginning of the 9th century (3rd century AH), Mashhad was a small village called Sanabad situated 24 km away from Tus. There was a summer palace of Humayd ibn Qahtaba, the governor of Khurasan. In 808, when Harun al-Rashid, Abbasid caliph, was passing through there to quell the insurrection of Rafi ibn al-Layth in Transoxania, he became ill and died. He was buried under the palace of Humayd ibn Qahtaba. Several years later in 818 Ali al-Ridha was martyred by al-Ma’mun and was buried beside the grave of Harun.
After this event, the city was called Mashhad al-Ridha (the place of martyrdom of al-Ridha). Shias 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.
Panoramic view of Mashhad City
Geography and demographics
The city is located at 36.20º North latitude and 59.35º East longitude, in the valley of the Kashafrud River near Turkmenistan, between the two mountain ranges of Binalood and Hezar Masjed Mountains. The city benefits from the proximity of the mountains, having cool winters, pleasant springs, mild summers, and beautiful autumns. It is only about 250 km (160 mi) from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
The vast majority of Mashhadi people are ethnic Persians, who form the majority of the city’s population. Other ethnic groups include Kurdish and Turkmen people who have emigrated recently to the city from the North Khorasan province.
There are also over 27 million pilgrims who visit the city every year.
Mashhad features a steppe climate with hot summers and cool winters. The city only sees about 250 mm of precipitation per year, some of which occasionally falls in the form of snow. Mashhad also has wetter and drier periods with the bulk of the annual precipitation falling between the months of December and May. Summers are typically hot and dry, with high temperatures sometimes exceeding 35 °C (95 °F). Winters are typically cool to cold and somewhat damper, with overnight lows routinely dropping below freezing. Mashhad enjoys on average just above 2900 hours of sunshine per year.
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 travelers since medieval times. 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.
Mashhad is Iran’s second largest automobile production hub. The city’s economy is based mainly on dry fruits, salted nuts, saffron, Iranian sweets like gaz and sohaan, precious stones like agates, turquoise, intricately designed silver jewelry studded with rubies and emeralds, eighteen carat gold jewelry, perfumes, religious souvenirs, trench coats, scarves, termeh, carpets and rugs.
Among the major industries in the city, there is nutrition industries, clothing, leather, textiles, chemicals, steel and non-metallic mineral industries, construction materials factories, handicraft industry and metal industries.
With more than 55% of hotels in Iran, Mashhad is the hub of tourism in Iran
In the geography of tourism, religious places known as the most powerful hub to attract travelers around the world, every year 20 to 30 million pilgrims from Iran and more than 2 million pilgrims and tourists from around the world come to Mashhad.
Mashhad is one of the main producers of leather products in the region.
The city’s International Exhibition Center is the second most active exhibition center after Tehran, which due to proximity to Central Asian countries hosts dozens of international exhibitions each year.
Companies such as Smart-innovators in Mashhad are pioneers in electrical and computer technology.
The language mainly spoken in Mashhad is Persian with a variating Mashhadi accent, which can at times, prove itself as a sort of dialect.
Long a center of secular and religious learning, Mashhad has been a center for the arts and for the sciences. The 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 Talabeh, or “Mollah” internationally.
Apart from Imam Reza shrine, there are a number of large parks, the tombs of historical celebrities in nearby Tus and Nishapur, the tomb of Nader Shah and Kooh Sangi park. The Koohestan Park-e-Shadi Complex includes a zoo, where many wild animals are kept and which attracts many visitors to Mashhad.
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 Nishabur. (The three were all disciples of Imam Reza).
Among the other sights are the tomb of the poet Ferdowsi in Tus, 24 kilometers distance, and the summer resorts at Torghabeh, Torogh, Akhlamad, Zoshk, and Shandiz.
Mashhad is served by the Mashhad International Airport, which handles domestic flights to Iranian cities and international flights, mostly to neighbouring Arab countries. The airport is the country’s second busiest after Tehran Mehrabad Airport and above the famous Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.
The Mashhad Urban Railway Corporation (MURCO) is constructing a metro system for the city of Mashhad which includes four lines with 77 km length. The first phase (line) of the metro has been exploited in 21 Feb 2011 with 19 km length and 22 stations and connected to Mashhad International Airport. The second line with 14 km length and 12 stations is under construction and is projected to be finished by early 2016.
Mashhad is connected to three major rail lines: Tehran-Mashhad, Mashhad-Bafgh (running south), and Mashhad-Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistan. Some freight trains continue from Sarakhs towards Uzbekistan and to Kazakhstan, but have to change bogies because of the difference in Rail gauge. A rail line is being constructed off the Mashhad-Bafgh line to connect Mashhad to Herat in Afghanistan, but has not yet been completed and one is planned to connect to the Gorgan railhead and the port of Bandar Torkaman on the Caspian Sea to the west. Passenger rail services are provided by Raja Passenger Trains Company and all trains are operated by R.A.I., Rah-Ahan (Railway) of Iran, the national railway company.