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 a small 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 Reza (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 Reza (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-Reza (tomb sanctuary of Emam Reza (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 Reza (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 Reza (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 Reza (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 Reza (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.
During the Mongol invasion in 617 A.H. / 1220 A.D., Khorasan was plundered by the invading hordes and the survivors of this massacre took refuge in Mashhad and settled around the holy shrine. Sultan Muhammad Khudabandeh (b. 1282 A.D), the Mongol ruler of Iran converted to Shi'ism and ruled Iran from 703-716 A.H/ 1304-1316 A.D., once again renovated the holy shrine on a grand scale.
In 791 A.H., Miran Shah the son of Tamerlane( b. 1336 A.D., r. 1370-1404 A.D.) razed Toos to its foundation and massacred its inhabitants. Toos lost its popularity. and as a result the holy city of Mashhad rose to prominence contributing to the gradual emergence of Mashhad as a major city.
The glorious phase of Mashhad started during the reign of Shahrukh Mirza (b. 1377 A.D., r, 1405-1447) son of Tamerlane and reached its zenith during the reign of Safavid kings who ruled Iran from 1501-1786 A.D. Shahrukh Mirza, whose capital was Herat, regularly visited Mashhad for the pilgrimage of the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.). His wife Gowharshad Agha in 821 A.H./ 1418 A.D., ordered the building of the famous and historical Gowharshad Mosque, which is one of the biggest and most beautiful mosques in the world. This historical mosque is situated beside the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.). During this period the holy shrine developed into an extensive complex comprising various grand historical monuments.
With the emergence of the Safavid dynasty in 1501 A.D. and their declaration of the Shi'ite school as the state religion, Mashhad reached the peak of its development and soon became one of the greatest sites of pilgrimage. However, since Khorasan was a border province of the Safavid Empire, Mashhad consequently suffered repeated invasions and periods of occupation by the Uzbek Khans - Muhammad Khan, Abdullah Khan Shaibani, Muhammad Sultan and especially Abdul - Momen Khan. These invasions continued up to 996 A.H./ 1586 A.D., the time of Shah Abbas I, who finally drove out the Uzbeks from Khorasan.
The Safavid Kings illuminated the dome with golden tiles and built minarets, many courtyards (Sahn), porches (Riwaq) and seminaries (Madrasa) within the holy shrine's precincts.
Nadir Shah Afshar (b. 1688, r. 1736-1747 A.D.) and the Qajar kings who ruled Iran from 1779-1923 illuminated, beautified and expanded the various courtyards (Sahn), porches (Riwaq) and places in the holy shrine.
On 10th Rabi al-Thani 1330 A.H. in the year 1911 A.D., the Tsar Russian artillery shelled the holy shrine and martyred a large number of pilgrims and inhabitants of Mashhad.
On 11th Rabi al-Thani 1354 A.H. /13 July 1935, the armed forces of Reza Khan (b. 1878, r. 1925-1941 A.D.), the founder of Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, invaded the holy shrine and massacred innocent people gathered in the Gowharshad Mosque.The people there were protesting against the anti-Islamic rule of Reza Khan for banning Hijab (modest dress) for women in Iran.
During the peak days of Islamic revolution, on 21 st November 1978 Muhammad Reza Shah's (b. 1919, r. 1941-1978 A.D.) troops committed the sacrilegious act of Killing a large number of innocent people within the holy shrine of Emam Reza (A.S.).