Mashhad, in Khorasan province in the northeast, is Iran’s second largest city. It is an important religious centre, sacred to Shia Muslims as the burial place and shrine of Ali ar-Rida, the eighth Imam. The city lies in a rich agricultural region, and local wool supplies form the basis of its carpet export trade.
Originally a small village known as Sanabad, Mashhad gained prominence from the early ninth century when Ali ar-Rida was reputedly poisoned and martyred there. His shrine became a site of Shia pilgrimage. The city was sacked, and the shrine badly damaged, by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, and again by Uzbek and Turkmen invaders in the sixteenth century. Prospering under the Safavid dynasty, it was restored by Abbas I, Shah of Persia, in the early seventeenth century, and was later briefly made the capital of the Persian empire by Nader Shah, who ruled from 1736–47. Although Mashhad became the commercial centre of Khorasan province during the nineteenth century, its major growth took place from the 1950s under the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
In addition to its religious significance, Mashhad is an industrial, commercial and transportation centre. The principal manufactures are carpets, textiles and processed foods. The university was founded in 1947. A rail link through Mashhad from Iran to Turkmenistan and the rest of Central Asia opened in 1996.
Places of Interest
The city’s main attraction is the shrine of Ali ar-Rida and surrounding complex, which also includes the Goharshad Mosque, museums, libraries and theological schools. The grave of the caliph Harun ar-Rashid, who died around AD 809, is also in the shrine. The shrine itself is closed to non-Muslims. To the northwest of Mashhad lie the ruins of the ancient city of Tus.