Mashhad (Persian: مشهد‎‎ ; About this sound listen ) 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. Its population was 2,749,374 at the 2011 census and its built-up (or metro) area was home to 2,782,976 inhabitants including Mashhad Taman and Torqabeh cities.[3] 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.

Etymology

The name Mashhad comes from Arabic, meaning the place of martyrdom[4][5] the place where Ali ar-Ridha (Persian, Imam Reza), the eighth Imam of Shia Muslims, was martyred and so his shrine was placed there.[6]

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.[7]

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. During more than a millennium it has been devastated and reconstructed several times.[8]

It was not considered a great city until Mongol raids in 1220, which caused the destruction of many large cities in Khurasan, leaving Mashhad relatively intact. Thus the survivors of the massacres migrated to Mashhad.[9] When the 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.[1]

Later on, during the reign of the Timurid Shahrukh Mirza, Mashhad became one of the main cities of the realm. In 1418, his wife Goharshad funded the construction of an outstanding mosque beside the shrine, which is known as the Goharshad Mosque.[9] 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 1597 after a long and hard 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 is said to have walked from Isfahan to Mashhad. During the Safavid era, Mashhad gained even more religious recognition, becoming the most important city of Greater Khorasan, as several madrasah and other structures were built besides the Imam Reza shrine.

Besides its religious significance, Mashhad has played an important political role as well. It saw its greatest glory under Nader Shah, ruler of Iran from 1736 to 1747 and also a great benefactor of the shrine of Imam Reza, who made the city his capital. Mashhad was ruled by Shahrukh Afshar and remained the capital of the Afsharid dynasty during Zand dynasty[10] until Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar conquered the then larger region of Khorasan in 1796.[11]

In 1912, the sanctuary of Imam Reza was bombed by the Russian artillery fire, causing some damage, including to the golden dome, resulting in a widespread and persisting resentment in the Shiite Muslim world.

1935 Imam Reza shrine rebellion

Main article: Imam Reza shrine rebellion

In 1935, a backlash against the modernizing, anti-religious policies of Reza Shah erupted in the Mashhad shrine. Responding to a cleric who denounced the Shah’s heretical innovations, corruption and heavy consumer taxes, many bazaaris and villagers took refuge in the shrine, chanted slogans such as “The Shah is a new Yazid.” For four days local police and army refused to violate the shrine and the standoff was ended when troops from Azerbaijan arrived and broke into the shrine,[12] killing dozens and injuring hundreds, and marking a final rupture between Shi’ite clergy and the Shah.[13]

1994 Imam Reza shrine bombing

On June 20, 1994, a bomb exploded in a prayer hall of the shrine of the Imam Reza[14] The bomb that killed at least 25 people on June 20 in Mashhad exploded on Ashura.[15] The Baluch terrorist, Ramzi Yousef, a Sunni Muslim turned Wahhabi, one of the main perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was found to be behind the plot.[16] However, official state media blamed Mehdi Nahvi, a supposed member of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MKO) in order to prevent sectarian violence.

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 city is the administrative center 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 more than 3 million.[17]

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 is also a significant community of non-Arabic speakers of Arabian descent who have assimilated with the Persian culture and no longer speak their own language although they have retained a distinct Arabian culture, cuisine and religious practices. The people from Mashhad who look East Asians are of Turkmen, Hazara or Uyghur ancestry or indeed a combination of all other ethnic groups as racial mixing has been widely practiced in this region since antiquity. Estimates put the number of East Asian looking people from Mashad close to 33%, i.e. one in three people.

Among the non-Iranians, there are immigrant population of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. The Afghan immigrants have several neighborhoods around the city. One of the districts inhabited by Afghan immigrants is Golshahr.

There are also over 20 million pilgrims who visit the city every year.[1]

Climate

Mashhad features a steppe climate (Köppen BSk) 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.

[hide]Climate data for Mashhad (1951–2010, extremes 1951–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 24.0
(75.2)
26.0
(78.8)
32.0
(89.6)
35.4
(95.7)
39.2
(102.6)
41.6
(106.9)
43.8
(110.8)
42.4
(108.3)
42.0
(107.6)
35.8
(96.4)
29.4
(84.9)
28.2
(82.8)
43.8
(110.8)
Average high °C (°F) 7.1
(44.8)
9.3
(48.7)
14.2
(57.6)
20.9
(69.6)
26.8
(80.2)
32.3
(90.1)
34.4
(93.9)
33.1
(91.6)
28.9
(84)
22.5
(72.5)
15.5
(59.9)
9.8
(49.6)
21.2
(70.2)
Daily mean °C (°F) 1.7
(35.1)
3.7
(38.7)
8.5
(47.3)
14.7
(58.5)
19.6
(67.3)
24.4
(75.9)
26.6
(79.9)
24.8
(76.6)
20.3
(68.5)
14.5
(58.1)
8.7
(47.7)
4.0
(39.2)
14.3
(57.7)
Average low °C (°F) −3.8
(25.2)
−1.8
(28.8)
2.9
(37.2)
8.4
(47.1)
12.4
(54.3)
16.4
(61.5)
18.7
(65.7)
16.5
(61.7)
11.7
(53.1)
6.4
(43.5)
1.9
(35.4)
−1.7
(28.9)
7.3
(45.1)
Record low °C (°F) −27.0
(−16.6)
−28.0
(−18.4)
−13.0
(8.6)
−7.0
(19.4)
−1.0
(30.2)
4.0
(39.2)
10.0
(50)
5.0
(41)
−1.0
(30.2)
−8.0
(17.6)
−16.0
(3.2)
−25.0
(−13)
−28.0
(−18.4)
Average precipitation mm (inches) 32.6
(1.283)
34.5
(1.358)
55.5
(2.185)
45.4
(1.787)
27.2
(1.071)
4.0
(0.157)
1.1
(0.043)
0.7
(0.028)
2.1
(0.083)
8.0
(0.315)
16.1
(0.634)
24.3
(0.957)
251.5
(9.902)
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 5.6 5.8 8.2 6.8 4.5 1.1 0.3 0.2 0.5 1.5 2.9 4.2 41.6
Average snowy days 5.6 5.8 4.0 0.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 1.2 3.8 20.9
Average relative humidity (%) 75 73 69 62 50 37 34 33 37 49 63 73 54
Mean monthly sunshine hours 148.3 147.5 163.3 200.4 280.4 343.2 366.9 359.7 305.2 249.5 188.3 151.6 2,904.3
Source: Iran Meteorological Organization (records),[18] (temperatures),[19] (precipitation),[20] (humidity),[21] (days with precipitation),[22][23] (sunshine)[24]
Mashhad City in the morning.jpg

Religion

See also: Imam Reza shrine

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.[1] 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.

Economy

Bazar-e-Raza, a popular market with spice shops and boutiques

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.

Language

The language mainly spoken in Mashhad is Persian with a variating Mashhadi accent, which can at times, prove itself as a sort of dialect.

Culture

Relief in Tous depicting popular stories of Persian mythology, from the book of Shahnameh of Ferdowsi.

Tomb of Ferdowsi in Tous.

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.

Mashhad is also home to one of the oldest libraries of the Middle-East called the F 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.

Mashhad active galleries include: Mirak Gallery, Parse Gallery, Rezvan Gallery, Soroush Gallery, and the Narvan Gallery.

Capital of Islamic Culture

Logo of Mashhad as capital of Islamic culture in 2017

Mashhad is proud on behalf of ISESCO was chosen as the capital of the Islamic culture in 2017 (December 31, 2015 to December 31, 2016).

Mashhad, from ancient times until now, has been city of educated and kind people, hosting pilgrims and tourists, scholars, and excelled in fostering the development of Islamic Sciences and Culture, numerous cultural events, artistic and educational, as well as a pioneer in the development of communication technology, worthy of a the title has also become a hub of cultural industries in the future, terminal of the Islamic tourism, health tourism destination as well as a global production center of Humanities.

Citizens and managers of the City of Culture believe that the year 2017 is global opportunity to express fundamental values and opportunities facing their city, and they attempt to surround and rich cultural and artistic performances, members of the community tend to merit the values of their host city. And also, they provide a model for similar events in other Islamic cities and the title of “Capital of Islamic Culture” for Mashhad.[25][26]

Main sites

Tous Museum

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. 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 poet Ferdowsi in Tus, 24 kilometers distance, and the summer resorts at Torghabeh, Torogh, Akhlamad,[disambiguation needed] 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.

Transportation

Mashhad Metro’s Khayam Station

Airport

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.[27]

Metro

Main article: Mashhad Light Rail

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[28] and will be 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.[29]

Rail

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.

Colleges and universities

Universities

  • Ferdowsi University of Mashhad (FUM)
  • Mashhad University of Medical Sciences
  • Islamic Azad University of Mashhad
  • Mashhad Technical Institute (Shahid Mohammad Montazeri)
  • Payame Noor University of Mashhad
  • Sadjad University of Technology
  • Imam Reza International University
  • Razavi University of Islamic Sciences
  • Sport Sciences Research Institute of Iran

Colleges

  • Khavaran Institute of Higher Education
  • Eqbal Lahoori Institute of Higher Education
  • Binalood Institute of Higher Education
  • Khayyam Higher Education Institute (KHEI)
  • Salman Institute of Higher Education
  • Iranian Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research, Mashhad Branch (Jahad Daneshgahi of Mashhad)
  • Toos Institute of Higher Education
  • Khorasan Institute of Higher Education
  • Shahid Beheshti Teacher Training College
  • Shahid Khorshidi Teacher Training College
  • Asrar Institute of Higher Education
  • Samen Institute of Higher Education
  • Alzahra Girls Technical College of Mashhad
  • Bahar Institute of Higher Education
  • Institute of Applied and Practical Sciences, Khorasan Razavi
  • Shandiz Institute of Higher Education

Major sport teams

Club League Sport Venue Established
Padideh F.C.
Iran Pro League
Football Samen Stadium
2007
Siah Jamegan Khorasan F.C.
Iran Pro League
Football Takhti Stadium
1970
Mizan Khorasan VC
Iranian Volleyball Super League
Volleyball Shahid Beheshti Sport Complex
2010
Farsh Ara Mashhad FSC
Iranian Futsal Super League
Futsal Shahid Beheshti Sport Complex
1994
Ferdosi Mashhad FSC
Iranian Futsal Super League
Futsal Shahid Beheshti Sport Complex
2011
Rahahan Khorasan W.C.
Iranian Premier Wrestling League
Freestyle wrestling Mohammad Ali Sahraei Hall[30]
1995

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
  • Nader Shah
  • Adil Shah
  • Ebrahim Afshar
  • Shahrukh Afshar
  • Nadir Mirza of Khorasan
  • Safavid Dynasty
  • Soleyman II
  • Autonomous Government of Khorasan
  • Colonel Mohammad Taghi Khan Pessyan

Twin towns – Sister cities

Mashhad is twinned with:

  • Pakistan Karachi, Pakistan[31] (May 2012)
  • Pakistan Lahore, Pakistan[32] (2006)
  • Malaysia Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia[33] (2006)
  • China Ürümqi, China[34]
  • Afghanistan Mazari Sharif, Afghanistan[35]
  • Turkey Istanbul, Turkey

Consulates

Afghan Consul General met with the Mayor of Mashhad

Active

  •  Afghanistan (1921- )
  •  Iraq (2007- )[36]
  •  Kyrgyzstan (1996- )
  •  Pakistan (1975- ) [37]
  •  Tajikistan (Embassy Representative Office: 1995- )[38][39][40]
  •  Turkey (1930-?, 2014-)[41][42]
  •  Turkmenistan (1995- )

Former

  •  United Kingdom (1889–1975)[43]
  •  Russia (1889–1917)
  •  USSR (1917–1937,1941-1979)
  • Taiwan China (c.1940s)[44]
  •  USA (1949-?)[45]
  •  West Germany (c.1984)
  •  Kazakhstan (1995-2009)[46]
  •  Saudi Arabia (2004-2016)