Iran / Cities and Towns /
Mashhad is the centre for a sizeable region, which it serves through transport, commerce, manufacturing, producing traditional carpets from local wool supplies, textiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and processed food.
Mashhad is the most important and popular holy Muslim city in Iran, and is ranked by Shi'i theologians as the 7th most holy place of Islam (Mecca and Madina of Saudi Arabia; Karbala, Najaf, Samarra and the Kadhimain district of Baghdad of Iraq are more holy). Every year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit Mashhad. Central in this pilgrimage is the tomb of the eighth imam Ali ar-Rida, who died here in 818 (then known as Tus).
Mashhad has a unique layout, with the holy areas, called Bast, forming a perfect circle. There is one circular road around, and four roads between the Bast and the secular parts of Mashhad. The four roads are perfectly turned half the way from the compass, pointing in northwestern, northeaster, southeastern and southwestern directions.
The Bast functions almost like a state of itself in some respects. Animals entering the Bast by accident become the property of the religious authorities, and the Bast even has the right to give asylum anyone no matter what they need to hide from. The Bast even has its own police and prisons. The Bast may not be entered by non-Muslims.
Pilgrims coming to Mashhad has the right of free maintenance for three days. The activities around the tomb resembles hajj in some respect, with circumambulations around it and three times cursing of all enemies of the imam. Pilgrims to the tomb of Ali ar-Rida has the right to call themselves mashhadi.
Every year are thousands of corpses brought to Mashhad, not only from other parts of Iran, but also other Shi'i countries. The number of graves are limited, and after decomposing, are they used over again. The fee for these graves represent one of the most important incomes of the Bast.
Other prominent figures are buried in Mashhad, too. Caliph Harun ar-Rashid fell mortally sick and died after few days, on a campaign towards Khorasan. This was in 809. In 818 the caliph designate died here, too.
The ruined town of Tus lies 23 km west from modern Mashhad.