Mashhad is one of the most important religious centers in Iran. The centerpiece of the city and an important pilgrimage site for Shi'ite Muslims is the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza. Imam Reza, the eighth Imam of Shi'ite tradition, died (believers say he was murdered) in 818 CE and his tomb came to be known as "Mashhad," or "place of martyrdom." Pilgrims followed and the city developed around the site.
When we arrived in the city of Mashhad in October 2000, the city was bustling with visitors who had come to observe the birthday of Imam Ali, a Muslim cleric whose martyrdom in the seventh century led to a schism in Islam between the Sunni sect, which predominates today in most of the Islamic world, and the Shi'ite sect that dominates Iran. Because of the celebrations, access to the religious sites was restricted and photography was not permitted. Although we could not enter the inner courtyards of the mosque, we were allowed to peer through several of imposing entrances and watch as workers covered the ground with scores of Persian carpets laid edge to edge in preparation for the noon prayers. We could also catch a glimpse of the ornate silver grill that covers the tomb of Imam Reza. The photos of tomb and Holy Shrine that appear here come from postcards I was able to buy at the site. I think most would agree that it is a magnificent structure that deserves to be seen!
Outside of Mashhad, Khorassan Province quickly returns to dry and bleak desert landscapes, occasionally punctuated by mausoleums or other surprising monuments, including the tenth century (Seljuq era) tomb of general Arsalan Jazeb (which can be seen on the Ancient Persia page) and the Safavid era mausoleum of Khaje Rabi, which in more recent years has also come to serve as a memorial for the many Iranians who died in the bloody eight-year war with Iraq.
From Mashhad, we flew (via an overnight stop in Tehran) to the desert city of Yazd.
Turkoman Street Market: This market in northeastern Iran near Gorgan is very close to the border with Turkmenistan. The men wear turbans and the women wear very colorful scarves and shawls (instead of the basic black so common in Tehran and other Iranian cities). I like Middle Eastern markets in general and this one was particularly fascinating. (12 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]