Mashhad is the second most populated city in Iran and is the capital of the Khorasan Razavi province.
The city's population according to a 1957 census was estimated at around 242,000 but in 2016 the population had increased to just over 3 million.
Mashhad is located between Binalood and Hezar Masjid mountains. The average altitude is between 950m to 1150m above sea level near Kashaf Rood River.
The weather has a steppe climate with hot summers and cool winters and it's occasionally snowy. The highest temperature in the summer is 43 degrees and the lowest is below freezing.
The oldest area in Iranian history that has a connection to current Mashhad is the Tus region and except for its history, Tus is well known for its Persian mythology.
According to Islamic documents Tabaran was the capital of Tus region. Noghan and Sanabad villages were located in the Tus region.
Imam Reza was buried in Sanabad village which was later to be known as Mashhad Al Reza which in Arabic means the place of Martydom or the shrine of Reza and by the passing of time due to Mashhads development, Tabaran town and Noghan village were absorbed into Mashhad. The main reason Mashhad expanded so much was due to Imam Rezas shrine.
The majority of people living in Mashhad are Iranian Kurds, Turkemans, Arabs and the local Mashhadi people who look East Asian are a mixture of Persian, Hazara Turkeman or Uyghurs.
Except for Iranians a large group of immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and many muslims from all around the world who follow Imam Reza live in the city.
Mashhad is the second largest automobile producer in Iran but there are various other industries which are very successful such as nutrition, clothing, leather, chemical, steel, metal, non-metallic minerals, handicrafts and construction material factories.
Tourism and pilgrimage for visiting the Imam Reza shrine has meant the city has expanded and developed over the years as over 12 million people visit the Imam Reza Shrine every year. Over 55% of all types of hotels for tourists in Iran are located in Mashhad which has the best quality and affordable prices compared to other cities in Iran.
In Behistun inscription from 520 BC written under the command of Darius the Great the name of an ancient Parthian city is mentioned that may have been located near present day Mashhad which is called "Patigrabana". The other ancient name of this region is known as ancient Tus.
There is a story which mentions "Harun al Rashid" the 5th caliph of the Abbasid Dynasty who was on the way to war at Sammarghand but became ill and was buried in Sanabad village in a beautiful garden. Several years later in 818 AD when Imam Ali al Reza was poisoned and killed by the regent of Khorasan under the command of Mamoon (the caliph and son of Harun al Rashid). Imam Reza was buried by Mamoon near the grave of his father.
Sanabad officially became known as Mashhad in 10AD. During this period Arabs were losing their power and control on Persian soil little by little and the new empires like Samanid could promote Iranian art, science and literature. In this situation some of the greatest scholars like Rudaki, Ferdowsi and Avicenna flourished.
Under the mighty Seljuk Empire and their Persian ministers especially Nizam al Mulk the Tus region thrived but unfortunately in 1220AD due to the Mongol invasion like other places around the world the Tus region was destroyed but Mashhad was left intact by the Mongolian generals due to the respect of Imam Reza. In 14AD under the Timurid Empire the Tus region lost its importance however Mashhad was the safest place in Khorasan and was chosen as the capital of Tus.
In 16AD under the Shia Saffavid Dynasty the boom days of Mashhad began and even despite a lot of wars nearby Mashhad was always under development. In 1722AD the Afghans invaded Khorasan but just 4 years later Persian took control over the area.
In 1736AD after the Saffavid Dynasty lost their power, Nader Shah Afshar chose Mashhad as the capital of Iran. Nader was famous taking a large amount of valuable treasure which was taken from India to Persia but due to his respect for Imam Reza he donated a large part of this to the Imam Reza Shrine.
There were many wars between the Iranians and Afghans over the control of Khorasan but finally the Persians in 1792AD occupied Khorasan permanently. In the early 20th century AD due to interference in Iranian policy from Russia and the UK the central Iranian government (Tehran) was losing control in Khorasan but after long domestic wars in Khorasan the Russians bombed part of the Imam Reza Shrine which caused outrage with the people of Iran and who forced the Russians to retreat.
From 1935 to 1979 there was an active movement against the Pahlavi Dynasty (the last Monarchy of Iran) in Mashhad which resulted in the Iranian revolution and the eventual leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. After the revolution Mashhad became the second largest city in Iran and the first big religious city.
Imam Reza Shrine Complex
The Imam Reza Shrine Complex known as the (Haram-e Razavi) dominates the city centre and needs several visits to properly appreciate the scope of its magnificence. With seven massive courtyards covering a total area of nearly 600,000 square meters, it is the world's largest mosque by surface area.
After the martyrdom of Imam Reza in 818 AD his shrine was built under the command of Mamoon (Abbasid Khalif) in a small village called Sanabad that by passing of the time turned out to be the current Mashhad we have today. The shrine was destroyed by Saboktakin Ghaznavi in 10th AD but later on was rebuilt by his son Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi and a fortification wall was built around it.
The Imam Reza Shrine was always respected by his followers and by Iranian rulers but the prosperity of Shrine really began from the 16th century AD when Shiasm was chosen as the official religion of Iran by the Saffavid Dynasty.
As the population and number of Muslims (especially Imam Reza followers) were increasing, new parts and structures were added to the shrine.
One part has truthfully one of the most beautiful mosques in the whole of Iran and is called Goharshad Mosque. The Goharshad Mosque was built by the order of Empress Goharshad the wife of Shah Rukh of the Timurid dynasty in 1418 CE.
As well as the religious aspect of the Imam Reza Shrine the shrine is a master piece of art that was developed and changed over some hundred centuries. The variety of art such as blue tile work and Arabic calligraphy are virtually omnipresent across the numerous iwans and minarets and an impressive golden dome stands centrally above the shrine itself. The domestic decorations are another fascinating side of the architecture of the Shrine especially the variety of mirror work all over the place that is unique and never repeated.
1) Shrine Complex Museums
The numerous museums contained within the shrine complex house a curious mixture of exhibits, ranging from stamp collections, medals won by Shia athletes, the carpet section which has some stunning as well as bizarre pieces, but the most fascinating item is the previous tomb encasement (known as 'Zarih') which was replaced in 2001. The majority of the items in museums were donated to shrine by philanthropists and the lover of Imam Reza.
2) Mashhad Bazaar
The main traditional bazar in Mashhad is located near the Imam Reza Shrine and is stretched across the same street. One of the main markets is Bazar Reza which is not far from the shrine. In this bazar you can find everything from religious souvenirs to carpet and rugs, jewellery such as silver, gems, turquoise and aghigh, saffron, barberry and many different types of sweets and cookies. There are also some great food and ice cream store as well as juice shops too.
3) Boq'eh-Ye Khajeh Rabi
The Boq'eh-ye Khajeh Rabi is an ornate mausoleum for one of the apostles of the Prophet Mohammad. Completed in 1612 AD and touched up in the Qajar Era around 19th AD. It is surrounded by a large cemetery.
4) Tomb of Ferdowsi, Tus
Nowadays the town of Tus is absorbed into the current day Mashhad under the cities development. Tus's fame comes from Persian mythology and historical books but more so as the burial place of a national poet Ferdowsi.
Ferdowsi was a Persian poet and the author of Shahnameh (Book of Kings), which is the world's longest epic poem created by a single poet and the national epic of Greater Iran.
Ferdowsi is celebrated as the most influential figure in Persian literature and one of the greatest in the history of literature. He was called "the Lord of the Word" and The Savior of the Persian Language. He was born in Tus in 940 AD and died in 1020 AD.
The mausoleum's current form, a massive stone structure that imitates Achaemened architecture, was developed in the 1960s, and is the centrepiece of a surrounding park.
5) Harouniyeh Dome in Tus
The locals believe that this building in the beginning was a fire temple and that a few centuries later Haroon al Rashid (Abbadis Kalife) made a huge prison there for Imam Musa Kazim and his followers but the story is not true according to archaeological evidence.
The reality is the building was built during the Ilkhan dynasty in 14th AD as a school or mosque or the tomb maybe for Imam Mohammad Qazali around 12th AD. The base of structure dates back to Sassanian Empire which could be a fire temple or a palace in that period.
6) Nader Shah Park & Mausoleum Monument
Nader Shah was the founder of the Afshar Dynasty around 1736 - 1747 AD and who was killed by his solders.
One of his most famous and affective conquests was conquering India.
The Takhte Tavous (Peacock Throne) and The Sea of light Pink Diamond are now in the National Jewels Museum of Iran and the Mountain of light (Worn on the crown of Queen Elizabeth) and a lot more expensive jewellery and gems in the world were taken by him to Iran from India. He donated a high amount of this treasury to the Imam Reza shrine.
7) Gombade Sabz Mausoleum
The tomb of Sheikh Momen Estar Abadi who was a great mystic from 17th AD. The name of his tomb Saba comes from its green colour and in Farsi means green.
8) Maleks House in Mashhad
The house is from the early 20th AD.
9) St. Mesrop Armenian church in Mashhad
The building was built around 70 years ago near a historical cemetery. The graves are from the 19th to mid 20th AD . There is a separated part with 30 graves that belong to Polish immigrants (Mainly women and children who escaped from second war in 1942 to Iran).
The first Christian and Jewish people lived in Mashhad and its suburbs in mid 18th century AD who were immigrated by Nader Shah.
10) Radkan Tower
The tower was made under the supervision of a famous Iranian astronomer Khajeh Nasir-al-Din Tusi. It was used for astronomical purposes but originally might have been the tomb of an unknown governor around the 13th century AD. The tower was also used for predicting the 4 seasons specially Nowrooz .
11) Bazehur Fire Temple
In the small village of Robat Sefid around 70 kilometres southwest of Mashhad, lie the ruins of the ancient Bazehur Fire Temple.
It was probably built in the Sassanian era (3th AD) and this Zoroastrian religious site is well preserved but relatively unknown.
12) Mile Akhnegan
Near Akhnegan village 22km from Mashhad. The structure feature is not clear but it seems that this was the grave a princess or rich woman from 13th AD.
13) Haftado Do Tan Mosque
In 13th century AD this building was originally the tomb of a ruler (Amir Ghiyas- al- Dinwas) but later turned out to be a mosque.
14) Gonbad Kheshti
The modest stone-brick remains starkly in contrast to the splendour of the Islamic architecture throughout the rest of the region and is a must-see for anyone interested in Irans ancient religions.
Nature and eco-tourism
Torghabe: Sightseeing, Village Restaurants
Shandiz: Village Restaurants
Parke Abi or waterpark: A waterpark
Kuh-E Sangi Park : Kuh-e Sangi is Mashhad's best park. A small stream runs through its centre which you can cross by climbing the rock formations or hopping across stepping-stones. It has excellent views of the city from its highest point.
Kang Village: The village of Kang is about an hours drive from Mashhad and is particularly charming. Filled with mud-brick houses and stacked along the foothills of the mountains, here is a wonderful opportunity to explore one of the few communities that still practice such an authentically traditional way of life.
Vakil Abad park
Traditional food and souvenirs
Mashhad is one of the rare Iranian Cities where the variety of food is high ranging from Iranian traditional food to international cuisine. The quality of food is high normally due to mass tourism and they have tasty dishes based on lamb which are of the highest quality.
Kabab Koobideh (Minced Meat Kabab), Shishleek (Lambs Chops) especially from Shandiz and Mahicheh( Lamb Leg) are some really famous dishes there.
In traditional Mashhadi cooking Sholeh Mashhadi is very famous which dates back to the Mongol era when people used any leftover food for cooking.
Saffron and Barberry: Mashhad is the main producer of Saffron and Barberry in the world which is why tourists and pilgrims love to buy it and take it home as it's of the highest quality.
Jewellery and gems: Turquoise is the most famous gem from Mashhad and Iran.
Carpet and rug