Mashhad is the provincial capital of Khorassan, Iran’s second largest province, and is itself Iran’s second largest city. It is also the country’s holiest city and a place of pilgrimage for Shi’ite Muslims from all over the world. Imam Reza, the eighth Shi’ite Imam, died in 818AD in the small village of Sanabad in Khorassan and was buried next to the Abbasid Caliph Harun al Rashid. The Shi’ites believe that he was murdered, and his tomb came to be known as Mashhad, or place of martyrdom.
Today pilgrims pass through chambers of glittering mirror work and tiles to reach the tomb of Imam Reza. The chambers are always filled with hundreds of people praying and reciting the Koran. Abbas I is one of the Iranian kings who most contributed to the buildings and decoration of the Imam Reza Shrine. He walked from Isfahan to Mashhad and demonstrated his devotion by covering the dome over the chamber with sheets of gilded copper in 1607.
The mosque of Gowhar Shad stands to the south, and to the left is the entrance portal to the old court, also built by Shah Abbas. This is capped by a small pavilion called Naghareh Khaneh or Drum Tower, where drums and trumpets daily salute the rising and setting sun. The mosque was built during the reign of the Timurid monarch Shahrokh by his wife between 1405 and 1418 and is one of the finest in Iran. The Iman Reza shrine complex includes a vast library of manuscripts and handwritten books and is truly one of the most magnificent religious centres anywhere in the world.
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