Mashhad (mäsh-hädˈ) [key], city (1991 pop. 1,759,155), capital of Razavi Khorasan prov., NE Iran. It is an industrial and trade center and a transportation hub. Manufactures include carpets, textiles, and processed foods. Mashhad is a religious center visited annually by large numbers of Muslim pilgrims. Formerly known as Sanabadh, it is the site of the shrine of the Imam Ali Riza, a Shiite holy person. Imam Riza died (819) in the city after visiting the grave of Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, who had died there 10 years before; he was buried next to Harun, and the shrine was built over both graves. The city was attacked by the Oghuz Turks (12th cent.) and by the Mongols (13th cent.), but recovered by the 14th cent., when it came to be known as Mashhad [Arab., = "place of martyrdom" or "shrine"]. It prospered under the Safavids, who were devout Shiite Muslims; Shah Abbas I embellished Mashhad with elaborate buildings. It reached its greatest glory in the 18th cent., when Nadir Shah made Mashhad the capital of Persia. The city took on strategic importance in the late 19th cent. because of its proximity to the Russian and Afghan borders. The bombing of the sanctuary of the Imam Riza by the Russians in 1912 caused widespread resentment in the Shiite Muslim world. In 1996 the city became the terminus of a new railroad linking Iran with Turkmenistan and the rest of Central Asia. Near Mashhad are the remains of the former city of Tus, birthplace of the poet Firdausi and the philosopher al-Ghazali. Mashhad itself is the seat of a university (founded 1947). The city is also known as Meshed.
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