The name of Khorasan is a combination of "Khor"(Sun) and "Asan" (the place of Rising). Thus Khorasan means the place of Sun Rising."
Khorasan province which is located in north-east of Iran covering an area of 313.335 sq km., is the largest province of the country and includes one fifth of the country's total area. If is bounded northward by Turkmenistan, eastward by Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, westward by Yazd, Esfahan, Semnan and Mazandaran provinces and southward by Sistan, Baluchistan and Kerman provinces. The principal townships of this province are Esfarayen, Birjand, Taibad, Torbat-e-Jam, Torbat-e- Haydarieh, Chenaran, Khaf, Daregaz, Sabzewar, Sarakhs, Shirvan, Tabas, Ferdows, Fariman, Ghayenat, Ghuchan, Kashmar, Gonabad, Mashhad, Nahbandan, Neyshabour, Bardaskan and Bujnurd. Mashhad is the capital city of this province in which the Holy Shrine of His Holiness Imam Reza (A.S.), the eighth Imam of the Shi'ites in the world, is situated.
On the basis of the latest divisions in the country (1993), Khorasan province consists of 22 cities, 51 towns, 69 districts, 20714 villages. The population of Khorasan province was 6.047.661 in 1994, of which 56.58% resided in urban areas and 43.36% in rural areas and the remaining are nomads.
Consisting of mountains, valleys, plains and deserts, Khorasan enjoys diverse climates and varying annual rainfall in its different areas.
The geographic features of Khorasan include the northern mountains of Kopdagh, middle ranges including Aladagh and Binalood, and mountains scattered in central and southern parts. Its most important rivers are Atrak, Harirood and Kashafrood. Others are often dry or have a small current.
Khorasan province is located in north temperate zone and has changeable weather as a whole. The temperature of the province increases from north to south, but annual rainfall decreases from north to south of the province.
The province's economy is based on agriculture (grains, beet, saffron, cotton and fruits), animal husbandry, light and heavy industries and rich mineral resources including natural gas,which comprise one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world. The population of the Khorasan is wholly Muslim and Persian is spoken by the absolute majority and in some areas Turkish and Kurdish languages are spoken. Local dialects are also spoken in some parts of the Province. The strength of religious minorities like Christians and Zoroastrians are only few hundred in number.
Archaeological finds from the pre-historic era attest, Khorasan has enjoyed great splendor. In the 5th millennium BC, most of its northern areas were inhabited. It had a magnificent culture and large towns and villages in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC as well. Residential areas were scattered throughout it in the 2nd millennium BC. In the 1st millennium BC, the number of villages increased , even in the southern areas. The Parthians had a long stay in northern Khorasan.
The areas on the banks of Kashafrood river was included among the first human settlements not only in Iran but also in West Asia. The stone tools, choppers and blades excavated near the holy city of Mashhad are 800.000 to one million years old. They are the ancient human traces not only in Iran, but also in southeastern Asia. The ancient area of Bandian located 2 km northeast of Daregaz, Yarim Tappeh located 3 km northeast of Daregaz and engraved stele of Lakhmazar situated 29 km southeast of Birjand are the other important archaeological excavation sites in the province.
KHORASAN IN HISTORY
Khorasan province has been the permanent arena of emergence and fall of powers and governments along the past history of Iran.
The ancient Iran was divided into eight territories of which Khorasan was the largest and the most flourishing territory.
Khorasan province was included in the Islamic Caliphate during the reign of Imam Ali (A.S.). The forces of Imam Ali (A.S.) based in Khorasan further expanded the Islamic caliphate in the east by conquering Sistan, Sind, Baluchistan and Transoxania.
The Khurasanian under the famous Iranian general Abu-Muslim Khurasani started the grand uprising against the devouring and arrogant Umayyad monarchs based in Damascus and brought the Abbasid clan to power with their capital in the newly constructed city of Baghdad. Marw city in Khurasan also emerged as the most important city in the Islamic world after Baghdad. and Marw became the political and military capital of Islamic caliphate in the eastern region. The Khurasanians under Tahir bin Husain famous as Zulyaminain destroyed the city of Baghdad, the capital of Abbasid caliphate in 813 A.D./ 198 A.H and killed Amin, the Abbasid caliph, and installed Ma'mun as the caliph with the capital at Marw in Khurasan. Thus, in this way Khurasan became the capital of the whole Islamic world. But Tahir bin Husain the famous and victorious Khurasanian general soon declared the independence from the Abbasid caliphate and since then till now Khurasan in particular and Iran in general was never a part of the Caliphate based either in Baghdad, Cairo and Istanbul. The Khurasanian also fought and faced bravely the onslaught of the Mongols and the Khurasanians under the rule of the revolutionary Sarbedaran drove away the Mongols from Iran.
Since the arrival of Imam Reza (A.S.) the eighth Infallible Holy Shi'ite Imam in Khorasan in 201 A.H. / 817 A.D., the Khurasanian got in direct touch with the Shi'ite school of thought and since then Khurasan also became the safe-haven for the Shi'ites and the Sayyids (the descendants of the Holy Prophet of Islam (S.A.W.)).
Nadir Shah Afshar (b. 1688 A.D.) ascended the throne in 1148 A.H./ 1735 A.D.) with the holy city of Mashhad as his capital. He successfully drove away the Afghan tribes from Iran and conquered vast areas in Transoxania, Iraq and Indian sub-continent. But during the end of the nineteenth century A.D. due to the constant military invasions of the Czar Russians and the Britishers based in the Indian sub-continent large areas of the erstwhile Khurasan province were annexed to the Russian empire and the British India and the Buffer State of Afghanistan was carved out of the areas annexed from Khurasan province. Many parts of the Khorasan province which were annexed by the Czars now make some parts of the present Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
As the country's largest province, Khorasan today is one of the major economic and social centers of Iran. Its economy is particularly flourishing because of the presence of the holy shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.) in the holy city of Mashhad. Every year more than 20 millions pilgrims from all over the Iran and the world visit the holy city of Mashhad to pay the homage to the holy shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.). The presence of this holy shrine in Mashhad had turned this city into "the Glory of the Islamic World" and the holy city of Mashhad can be considered as the cultural and religious capital of the Shi'ites in the world. Road, rail and airway links Khorasan to all the cities in Iran and all the neighbouring countries. The "Asian Expressway" and the historical "Silk Road" also passes through Khorasan. After the inauguration of Sarakhs (Khorasan Province, Iran) to Tajen (Turkmenistan) rail link in 1996, the historical and internationally famed Silk Road has once again revived. The road and railway links in the Khorasan today are the shortest and the most safest transit passages and link of Russian Federation and newly established land-locked Central Asian countries to the warm waters of Persian Gulf. The Mashhad-Yazd railway line is under speedy construction which will link Khorasan to India and Pakistan.
Khorasan Province is one of the major economic and industrial centers of the country. There are numerous large and medium industries in Khorasan that produce cement, food products, textiles, wood, copper, metals, handicrafts, carpets, tiles, leather and precious stone like the world-famous precious turquoise stones. Saffron farms at Ghayenat in southern Khorasan produce about 70 percent of total production of saffron in the world and are of the high quality and exported world wide with the costs exceeding the gold. It is also the most famous souvenir of the province.
Khorasan province has six protected environment sites among which the Tandoureh National Park located west of Daregaz is the most important one. Antelope, ibex and leopard are virtually abundant in the evergreen vegetation of this region. There are gazelles in Miandasht site located southwest of Esfarayen. The other protected zones are Sarigol and Salouk in the south west. Sarni Zone on the border between Iran and Turkmenistan and the Gharakhood zone located in the western part of this province.
Khorasan province has encompassed numerous religious buildings and monuments of pilgrimage which attract millions of pilgrims and visitors to this province every year.
Here under, historical, cultural and tourism characteristics of the cities of the province are pointed out
The Holy City of Mashhad
Neyshabour city is 768 km. far from Tehran. It is located in a level plain. Binalood heights are located in the north of the city.
During the Islamic era it was the largest city of Khorasan and was called as Ummul-Bilad (the Mother of the Cities). It was completely devastated by the Mongols in the year 1249 A.D.
Neyshabour is considered as one of the important centers of Iranian civilization, art and culture. Many distinguished poets and writers have appeared from this city.
The important historical sites of this city are as follows:
- Garmab Taghankooh and Shahan Garmab Springs.
- Neyshabour Fire-Temple.
- The Tombs of Nezam-ul-Mulk, Umar Khayyam, Shaykh Attar, Fazl-ibn-Shazan and Kamal-ul-Mulk.
- Jameh Mosque
-Imamzadeh Ebrahim and Imamzadeh Mahroogh's Mausoleums
- Qadamgah Mausoleum.
Sabzevar is situated 645 km. from Tehran. In the Islamic era, the Baihaq area had two states Sabzevar and Khosrogerd. This historical and prosperous city of Iran was completely destroyed during the Mongol invasion. Sabzevar later on became the center of the historical resistance movement of the Iranians to drive away the Mongol occupation forces under the leadership of the Sarbedaran movement. The Uzbeks also ruined this city once again but the Safavid rulers revived the past glory of this city and the city flourished once again.
Important historical monuments of the city are;
- Tombs of Shah Tahmasb, Maulana Kashefi and Mulla Hadi Sabzevari.
- Fasihiyeh, Kohneh, Fakhriyeh and the Shriatmadar Islamic Seminaries.
- Imamzadeh Yahya's Mausoleum.
Bojnoord is 701 km from Tehran and is situated in a plain area enjoying mild mountainous weather.
The important natural, historical and religious monuments of Bojnoord are:
- Salouk Protected Area
-Besh Ghardash and Baba-Aman Springs.
- Bidag, Konegarm, Konjekooh and Syed Sadegh Caves.
- Mufakkham Mirror House
-Baba Tavakkol's Mausoleum.
- Imamzadeh Sultan Syed Abbas.
Tabas is 1345 km from Tehran and is situated in a desert area with temperate weather in mountainous region and hot in the plain region. It is also one of the historical cities of the Khorasan province.
Important natural, historical and religious monuments of Tabas are.
- The Great Minaret of Gulshan.
- Tabas Fort
- Sepahsalar's Grave
- Jameh Mosque
- Imamzadeh Husain ibn Musa (A.S.) Mausoleum's
- Shaykh Abu Nasr Iravehi's Mausoleum.
Torbat-Heydarieh is 1005 km from Tehran and is located in a mountainous region.
In the past, this city was called "Zaveh". But it was named Torbat-Heydarieh after the great gnostic Shaykh Haydar, who lived in this city in 13th century A.D. The cultural heritage of this city includes,
- Bazeh Hovar and Robat Fire Temples.
- Shaykh Haydar's Mausoleum
-Shah Senjan Tombs.
This city is situated 145 km away north-east of Mashhad and was developed by Nader Shah Afshar in the eighteenth century A.D. This city is surrounded on its three sides by mountainous areas.
Sun Palace built by Nader Shah Afshar which is considered as the most famous national heritage of Iran is located in this city.
Kashmar is situated 956 km. from Tehran. The ancient name of this city was Torshiz. The historical sites of this city are:
- Atashgah Cave
- Aliabad Tower
- Firozabad Minaret
- Atashgah Fort
- Martryr Moddares Mausoleum
- Imamzadeh Hamzeh's Mausoleum
- Imamzadeh Syed Murtuza's Mausoleum.
Chenaran which is located near the holy city of Mashhad is situated in the Binalood heights. Its climate is cold and mountainous. The historical tower of Radkan is the most important ancient site located in the city of Chenaran.
Esfarayen is about 772 km-away from Tehran. A part of this town is located in the slopes of Shah Jahan mountain having cold weather. Esfarayen was one of the focal points for the residence of Aryan tribes entering Iran. Historically, it was one of the important towns in the Khorasan province. Presently, Esfarayen is one of the thriving cities of Khorasan.
The most important natural and historical sites in Esfarayen are as follows:
- Sari Gol Protected Area.
- Hasanabad, Ghaisar and Solak Forts.
- Noshirvan and Ebadatgah Caves.
- Mausoleum of Imamzadeh Gafar and the tomb of Shaykh Ali Esfarayeni.
Birjand is located 1309 km. from Tehran. It is surrounded by semi-desert area called kavir. Historically, it was one of the urban centers in the Khorasan province. But after the emergence of the Shi'ite Safavid dynasty in Iran in the sixteenth century this city developed in such a way that it became the regional capital of the Khorasan province. Presently, it is one of the important cities of south Khorasan.
The most important historical and tourist attraction places of this city are:
- Chenshat Cave.
- Jameh Mosque.
- Imamzadeh Musa.
- Alam Palace.
-Ibn Hesam Khoosfi's Tomb.
Shirvan city is located 773 km from Tehran. The northern part of Shirvan is mountainous with cold weather. The southern part has temperate climate due to the flowing of Atrak river.
The important tourist centers of this city are:
- Taimurid Graves
-Poostindooz and Kafar Ghaleh Caves
-Imamzadeh Hamzeh Reza
-Shaykh Rashiduddin's Mausoleum
-Galool Protected Area
Quchan city is situated about 807 km. away from Tehran. Due to the presence of the Hezar Masjid, Aladagh and Shah Jahan heights has a moderate climate in summer and cold climate in the winters.
In medieval period, Quchan city was famous as Qabushan. In the year 1160 A.H./1747 A.D, Nader Shah Afshar was assassinated at a hill near this city.
The important natural, historical and religious places of this city are as follows:
- Qucahn Cheshmeh Garmab (The Hot Mineral Water Springs of Quchan).
- Ableh and Bardeh Rostam Caves.
Ghaenat is also famous as Ghahestan or Kuhestan. It is surrounded by desert from the south and possess semi-arid temperature.
The important historical sites of the city are;
- Khading Cave.
- Boozarjomehr Mausoleum
- Shaykh Abul Fakhhar's Mausoleum
- Jameh Mosque.
Ferdows is about 1158 km from Tehran. This city is located in the slope of Kalat mountain and has changeable weather.
The former historical name of this city was "Tun". Presently Ferdows is a thriving and developing city.
Daregaz city is 910 km away from Tehran. It is surrounded by adjacent mountains. Due to its close location to the borders of Turkmenestan Republic has strategic military importance. It is also a transit point for trade between these two countries.
Daregaz is a flourishing city today. Naderi Mosque is the most important religious site in this town.
Gonabad city is located in a plain region 1091 km. for away Tehran. Its weatehr is mostly warm.
The historical sites located in this city include:
- Fas Cave
- Gonabad Fire-Temple
- Joghtein Gisoor Mausoleum
- Jameh Mosque
- Sultani Mausoleum
- Imamzadeh Ahmad.
Torbat Jam is located 996 km away from Tehran. It is located in a plain and has temperate mountainous climate.
Present name of this city is after the Shaykh Jami who is buried in this city. The historical sites of this city are:
- Mausoleum of Shaykh Jami and the Shaykh-ul-Islam Khaneghah.
- Mausoleums of Mir Ghiyasuddin, Shah Qasim Anwar and Khajah Azizullah.
Sarakhs is located in far north-east of Khorasan province. Its weather is cold in winters and warm and dry in summer.
Sarakhs is also the "Free Economic Zone." The Sarakhs - Tajen railway line was inaugurated in 1996, which connects Central Asian Republics to Iran by the railway line and leads to the Bandar Abbas seaport on the Persian Gulf. The international airport in the Sarakhs city is called as Almas International Airport. Sarakhs is developing into a flourishing economic center, which is also commercially transforming the whole region.
The historical sites of Sarakhs are;
- Bazangan Cave.
- Mazdarand Cave.
- Luqman Baba Mausoleum.
Kahf is one of the important cities of Khorasan province. Natural landscape of it are plain and mountainous. Among its important historical monuments the Malek Zozan and Gonbad mosques can be pointed out.
Fariman is located near the holy city of Mashhad and was reconstructed and expanded in 1931 A.D. according to new architectural styles and the Sugar Factory located near the city is very famous.
Taibad is comprises of two sections, plain and mountainous, having arid and semi-arid weather. The famous historical places of Taibad are:
- Karat Tower
- Khwaja Abdullah's Tomb
- Ghiasiyah Shahrukh and Maulana Mosques.
The other improtant cities of the Khorasan province are:
Bardaskan, Bajgiran, Nahbandan and Sangan.
Famous Historic Monuments
The Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.). (Link The Holy Shrine)
Located east of Robat-e-Sefid village on the old road from Mashhad to Torbat-e-Haydariyeh and 75 km south of Mashhad, there is a building called Bazeh-Hoor. It is very important from the archaeological point of view. Made of rough stone, mortar, plaster and sand, it has a square plan with three tall wide gates. It embodies many elements which recall Parthian and Sasanian architecture.
Sangbast Architectural Complex
There is an important historic complex in Sangbast, 40 km south of Mashhad on the road to Fariman. The Caravansarai and the mausoleum of Arsalan Jazeb built about one thousand years ago during the Mahmud of Ghazni's reign. The minaret built on the mausoleum of Arsalan Jazeb has a height of 40 meters and it is entirely built of bricks.
On of the most important caravansarai on the historic Silk Road between Neyshabour and Marw stands 6 km away from Shorloq village on the road to Sarakhs. Now covering an area of over 4863 square meters, it is a magnificent architectural complex including two courtyards measuring 31.4*31.3 meters and comprising a mosque, aiwans, rooms, stables, colonnades and water cisterns. It was built in 507 A.H. during Sultan Sanjar's reign.
Malek Zuzan Mosque
There is a magnificent building in the abandoned village of Zuzan called Malek Zuzan mosque. It was built in the year 626 A.H. and includes aivans which are 30 meters high and are adorned with frescoes and tile-work.
The famous Ghiasiyah Madrasa is situated in the Khargerd, 5 km southeast of Kahf city. It is built in a rectangular form with four aivans. The aivans are decorated with stalactites and plaster panels. Eight small aivans stand on either side of each main one and are flanked with-storeyed chambers, resulting in 32 aivans on the whole. This magnificent Islamic seminary was built during Shahrukh Mirza's (born. 1377 A.D., ruled, 1405-1447 A.D.) reign, the Timurid king.
Shaykh Jam's Mausoleum Architectural Complex
The Shaykh Jam's mausoleum architectural complex consists of 10 buildings surrounding a courtyard. The 30 meters high aivan, the Kermani Mosque, Sardar Mosque, Gonbad-i- Firoozshahi and th Atiq Mosque are very famous. This complex was built between 447-536 A.H. and later was expanded.
Khurshid (Sun) Palace
This building is located 145 km north-east of Mashhad and is called as Khurshid (Sun) Palace. This unique building was constructed by Nader Shah Afshar (born. 1688 A.D. , ruled from 1148 A.H. / 1735 A.D., till 1160 A.H. / 1747 A.D.) is made of bricks and decorated with carved stones, has an octagonal plan and includes a ground floor and a basement. The exterior facades of the aivans are adorned with carved stones. The Khurshid Palace is located in a beautiful garden measuring 168*122 meters.
Located 24 km north of Mashhad, there is the remains of the historical city of Toos. Some of the remains are as follows: the remains of Toos rampart, the Arg (Citadel) of Toos, Haruniyeh Mausoleum, the tomb attributed to Imam Ghazzali and the Ferdowsi's mausoleum. The magnificent tomb of Abul Qasem Ferdowsi died in 411 A.H./1020 A.D, the greatest epic poet in the world history, was recently built. There is a beautiful garden situated around the Ferdowsi's tomb and a museum is also situated in the western part of the garden.
The Museums of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.). (Link 7) Museums of the Astan Quds Razavi
Located in the Akbariyeh Garden, the Birjand Museum covers and area of over 670 square meters. It includes archaeological and ethnological sections.
Located east of the Shah-Abbasi Caravansarai in Neyshabour, it consists of two, archaeological and ethnological, sections.
It was inaugurated in 1982 and is situated in the western part of the garden in Toos where the magnificent mausoleum of Ferdowsi, the great epic poet is located. The objects are displayed in two, archaeological and ethnological, sections laid out in four groups.
Naderi Garden Museum
In the complex of the Nader Shah's mausoleum in the holy city of Mashhad, a museum is situated in the main hall of this complex. A number of old weapons, helmets and armors of the Afshari and Zand period are exhibited here. In the another hall the archaeological and ethnological objects are displayed.