History of the Holy City of Mashhad

The holy city of Mashhad is the administrative capital of the Khorasan province. Its present population is nearing two and half millions and occupies an area of more than 200 square kilometers. It is situated in the north-east of Iran between Binalood and Hazar mountain ranges. It is 945 kilometers away from Tehran and its altitude is 980 meters above the sea level. At present Mashhad is the second largest city in Islamic Republic of Iran after Tehran.

In the beginning of the third century Hijrah, Mashhad was asmall village called Sanabad, situated 24 kilometers away from Toos. The summer palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah, the governor of Khorasan, during the end of the second century Hijrah was situated in that village.

Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid caliph, in order to put down the insurrection of Rafeh ibn Laith, went on an expedition to Transoxania. In 193 A.H./ 808 A.D., when he reached Toos, he became critically ill and died. He was buried under the hall of the palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah, in the Sanabad village.

The city of Mashhad came into existence when Emam Rida (A.S.), the eighth Shi'ite Emam, after his martyrdom at the hands of Mamun, the Abbasid caliph (born. 786 A.D., ruled. 813-833 A.D.); on the last day of the month of Safar 203 A.H. / 5 September 818 A.D., was buried in the palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah beside the grave of Harun al-Rashid.

After this event, the mausoleum of Emam Rida (A.S.) became the pilgrimage center of the Shi'ites and the lovers of the Holy Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) in the world and the small village of Sanabad was soon transformed into a flourishing city called as Mashhad ar-Rida (tomb sanctuary of Emam Rida (A.S.) also briefly called Mashhad. Mashhad literally means a place where a martyr has been buried.

By the end of the third century Hijrah, a dome was built on the grave of Emam Rida (A.S.) and many buildings and bazaars sprang around the holy shrine. Followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.), from various parts of the world started visiting Mashhad for pilgrimage.

In 383 A.H. / 993 A.D., Sebuktigin, the Ghaznevid sultan devastated Mashhad and stopped the pilgrims from visiting the holy shrine of Emam Rida (A.S.). But in 400 A.H./ 1009 A.D., Mahmud of Ghazni (born 971, ruled, 998-1030 A.D.,) started the expansion and renovation of the holy shrine and built many fortifications around the city .The holy shrine was decorated with fine marbles, quality wooden and stucco works. Mahmud of Ghazni also built the burial chamber on the grave of Emam Rida (A.S.). After him his son Masud (b. 998 A.D., r. 1030-1040 A.D.) built a wall around the holy shrine and further beautified the holy shrine.

Sultan Sanjar (b. 1086 A.D., r. 1097-1157 A.D.), after the miraculous healing of his son in the holy shrine of Emam Rida (A.S.), renovated the sanctuary and added new buildings within its precincts.

In 612 A.H./ 1215 A.D., as borne out by inscriptions on certain tiles, Allaudin Khwarezm Shah carried out renovations on the shrine. Two of the prayer niches, embellished with elegant porcelain tiles, as well as those with Kufic inscriptions that adorn the walls to the upper side of the holy burial chamber, bear the name of his vazir Ali bin Muhammad Muqri. A couplet in Persian by Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Abdullah on the wall also carries the date 612 A.H.

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