Imam Reza Holy Complex
Iranian cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism organization
Khurasan-e Razavi, Mashhad
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Ali ibn Moosa (Ali the son of Moosa) known as Reza is of descendants of Muhammad, the holy prophet of Islam, cherished by the Muslims of the whole world for his high spiritual levels and importance whom born in Medina and moved to Thus in Iran after the order of Ma'mūn, the seventh Abbasid caliph, when the most significance part of Imam Reza’s life regarding his political and religious role initiates and conclude by his martyrization.
The role of Imam Reza in the guidance of the public in his lifetime and his prominent status as a religious figure lead to the transformation of his holy shrine as one of the religious hubs for Muslims and especially Shias which has had large architectural developments during the history. The complex was so respected by the Shia believers and various governments, whether Shia or Sunni, that has benefited from constant restoration, maintenance and new extensions during different eras. Plenty of tourists visit the Holy shrine each year and know it as the largest and most significant religious places for Iranians and other Muslims all around the world. Kumpfer, a German tourism who visited Iran during (1096-1105 AH/ 1685-1694 AD) has some words on the holy shrine complex. “The most outstanding, extensive and engaging holy shrine in Iran, undoubtedly, are as follows: first, Imam Reza’s Holy Shrine in Mashhad.
Second, his sister’s Holy shrine in Qom and, third, Sheikh Safi al-din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil”, Kumpfer stated.
This historic architectural complex accompanies unique and distinctive ethics and rituals to be known as an inseparable heritage of the complex and the complicated culture of its wider setting. In fact, the genuine values of the heritage associates not only with its magnificent architecture and structural system but also with all the rituals, all together implicating the unique spiritual spirit of Imam Reza.
Dusting is one of the oldest rituals of Astane-e Qods with 500 years of constant continuation which on the event of specific occasions performs with particular formalities. As well as playing Naqareh (a specific wind instrument) in various events and times. Of other rituals, the sweeping, Waqf, granting free food and services to assist others and the mankind, various types of citing, etc. can be mentioned.
In a general perspective, the function, structure, decorative elements, facades and surfaces of the buildings all in all symbolize the ideology, the through religious unification and the evolution of the complex. This holy shrine is not just a shrine but, in a larger scale, is an institution and an identity formed and developed based on the religious ideology and believes. The holy complex comprises of tens of valuable architectural heritages around the central holy shrine which are all with political and social importance.
Formation of Mashahd, as a city and its development is indebted to creation of the holy shrine. Thus the complex becomes the religious, political, social and also artistic center for Mashhad. It also, immensely, influence the economic status of the city. The first built structure in the complex, is the holy shrine under which the tomb of Imam Reza is located. This architectural heritage, due to its long lifespan, glorious decorative elements such as tiles, mirror decorations, gilded dome, stone-works, plaster-works, etc. incorporate sublime tangible and intangible values.
The gilded dome, known as Qubba, regarding its height and structure is of exceptional qualities. A double-shelled dome with Muqarnas underneath. The space between the two shells of the dome is almost 13.60 m high, while the height of the walls is 18.80 m. In total, the height of the structure from the ground level to the top of the dome is 31.20 m. on the plinths, exquisite octagonal tiles known as “Sanjari tiles”, from seljuq era (557 AH) are used.
Gowharshad mosque, of other significant historic architectures within the complex, due to its fine decorative arts and tiles is considered as masterpieces of Iranian Architectures from Teimurid era. The structure is built by the distinguished architect of Teimurid time, Qavam al- din ibn Zein al- din Shirazi by use of brick and gypsum in Islamic architectural style. Allah verdikhan dome, Hatam khani dome, Do Dar School, Parizad School and various monumental buildings such as minarets, Saqqa khanehs (water houses), Neqareh Khanehs, etc., as well as the museum objects and manuscripts in the Astane-e Qods collections are of other valuable elements of the complex.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Imam Reza’s holy shrine is the most significant element giving identity to the urban area of Mashhad. The city is of exceptional examples formed based on the shia’s and pilgrimage culture. From spiritual point of view, the complex has significances regarding the traditions, view rites to the holy shrine, approaching circumstances, saluting, Tawaf, consecration, etc.
The rituals and ceremonies merged together with the pilgrimage rites are generated based on the social and religious needs and requirements rooted in the public believes, the consistency and persistence of which exhibit their significance and values. In fact, Mashahd and the buffer zone of the complex present a unique approach and exercise towards the development of pilgrimage areas during the history in relation to a city and its religious core, in a way that the expression of the pilgrimage concept can be vividly seen in the architectural and urban planning of Mashhad.
Imam Reza’s holy shrine is a complex of buildings formed progressively during almost a thousand year, around which the city of Mashhad created according to the needs of this outstanding pilgrimage center. The relation of city and the holy shrine during different periods of time lead to a unique experience in the urban planning of the area, a practice which later transferred to the other pilgrimage cities by visitors especially Shias. In such way that the remarkable indications of other Shia cities are thoroughly retrieved from semiotic system of Mashhad and this historic complex in case of the spatial systems, landscape relation to their surrounding and the city, etc.
Criterion (i): Imam Reza complex, a continuous artistic architectural style whose progress spreads over centuries, represents a unique masterpiece of creating a sacred space. This complex is a prototype especially in Saljuq, Ilkhanid, Timurid, safavid, Qajar and contemporary period. A great number of important structures of the region, including schools, mosques, the memorials of the mystics. Especially in great Khorasan, have been inspired by this complex.
Criterion (ii): During more than millennia, some sections have been added to this complex in Different periods. We are witnessing a high level of creativity and high improvement in creating architectural, artistic structures in any period. Though each period is technologically and architecturally unique, the general complex is in special harmony as it is evident. Artistic values of each period have been respected and transferred to the next period. Therefore it is a collection of diverse architectural, artistic, technological and cultural values. Imam Reza’s holy shrine is a complex of buildings formed progressively during almost a thousand year, around which the city of Mashhad created according to the needs of this outstanding pilgrimage center. The relation of city and the holy shrine during different periods of time lead to a unique experience in the urban planning of the area, a practice which later transferred to the other pilgrimage cities by visitors especially Shias. In such way that the remarkable indications of other Shia cities are thoroughly retrieved from semiotic system of Mashhad and this historic complex in case of the spatial systems, landscape relation to their surrounding and the city, etc.
Criterion (iii): The Imam Reza complex, in general also in details enjoys unique creativity and genius, altogether has formed a unique cultural, artistic masterpiece all over the world. The architectural design of the complex has also complied with these traditions and rituals to address the needs of people and the urban landscape. Every year 20 million pilgrims visit the holy shrine and perform a set of traditions, one of which is the upper mentioned salutation rituals.
Criterion (iv): The first built structure in the complex, is the holy shrine under which the tomb of Imam Reza is located. This architectural heritage, due to its long lifespan, glorious decorative elements such as tiles, mirror decorations, gilded dome, stone-works, plaster-works, etc. incorporate sublime tangible and intangible values. Gowharshad mosque, of other significant historic architectures within the complex, due to its fine decorative arts and tiles is considered as masterpieces of Iranian Architectures from Teimurid era. The architectural complex of Astane-e Qods, due to its gradual formation during history from the 3rd century AH, can be considered as the treasure of historic architectures of the entire eras. Overall, it can be stated that a high level of artistic, technical and technological skills are used to create the complex which focus mostly on the setting of the complex and its surrounding texture.
Criterion (vi):This historic architectural complex accompanies abundant of rituals and rites which highlight it more as a cultural heritage. Specific pilgrimage rites in shape of spiritual and traditional performances indicate the importance and sanctity of the deceased and associates a pattern and symbol of spiritual and worship grace. This value dissipates not according to the place, nor to the time since the value originates from the believes of the people. Dusting, playing Naqareh, sweeping ethics, changing working shifts, Waqf, granting free food and services to assist others are among these religious rituals. The architectural complex, exquisite movable objects such as pulpits, the shrine, manuscripts, candlesticks and other museum collections with all their unique qualities stresses not only the tangible architectural complex but also depicts the historic track of the heritage as well as its backgrounds and local and global believes.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrityGoing through the authentic literatures on the initial status of the holy shrine elucidates that the shrine has also had dome and court composition for the complex at its early stages. During the history of Iran all the governments has had the concern to preserve and maintain the holy shrine as a value for all the generations and people and as an origin to retain the concepts constantly throughout centuries. Historical data reports that the complex has been developed in different stages of time according to the needs of the people and rituals associated with the holy shrine, yet the structure, design concepts, forms, material, tangible and intangible aspects, morphology, entering circumstances, praying rites and the spirit of the complex retained its authenticity and integrity the whole time and with legal and religious support of authorities and people.
Comparison with other similar properties
Imam Reza’s holy shrine is a complex of urban structures and infrastructures, buildings and museum collections created and developed in different stages throughout the history and is a witness of the continuity of traditions within the history and culture of Iran and the Islamic World. Regarding the cultural, historic and architectural structure aspects, the complex is comparable with several other religious complexes such as “Saint Peter’s Tomb” in Vatican, “Mahabodhi Temple” in India, “Mount Emei” in China and “Lumbini” in Nepal.
Saint Peter’s Tomb in Vatican
These two complexes are comparable according to their principles, construction history, as well as iconic values within their urban context, Vatican and Mashhad. The two complex has similarities and differences regarding their formation backgrounds, dimensions and entering circumstances.
Mashhad is one of the numerable cities constructed based on Shia’s belief systems. The holy shrine, as the main factor for construction of Mashhad as a city, now have a major role in the urban landscape of the area. The significances of the complex and its influence to the city has created one of the most strategic urban areas in Iran as the spiritual center of Iran and one of the most important religious hubs for Shia’s World. Alike Vatican which is considered as one of the major centers for Christianity as the history witness.
Mahabodhi Temple in India
Both the complexes are known as a center for development of religious philosophy for Mankind. These two holy areas are still a destination for prayers and pilgrims depicting the constant tradition of people and consistency of spiritual philosophies, believes and values.
Mount Emei in China
Unlike Imam Reza’s holy shrine which was initially formed based on the pilgrimage concepts and rites, the formation history of Emei Mount in China represents a more residential purpose area. It can be clearly stated that Mashhad was basically a pilgrimage area with some commercial functions. The holy shrine is located in the very core of the city where several schools, mosques and other constructions joined to its setting. Whereas the Emei Mount becomes a pilgrimage area when the representor of the emperor Zhao Kuangyin comes back from India and initiates the construction of a Buddhist temple. The temples in Emei Mount are outspread within its landscape while Mashhad as a city which embrace the holy shrine is constructed geometrically in two main axes joining in the center and extending to reach the four main gates of the city.
Lumbini in Nepal
Comparing Lumibini and Imam Reza’s holy shrine, the most bolded difference is that, Lumbini has a history of abandonment in the 20th century while Imam Reza’s complex has a constant tradition of pilgrimage. Imam Reza’s holy shrine has abundant of delicate fine decorations as tile-works and mirrors, etc. whereas in Lumbini the temples are of the lowest architectural delicacy.
Imam Ali’s Holy Shrine in Najaf-e Ashraf, Iraq
The holy shrine of Imam Ali, the first Imam of Shia is located in Najaf-e Ashraf, Iraq. Alike Imam Reza’s shrine, this holy shrine is surrounded by other complexes such as mosques, schools, etc. Imam Ali’s holy shrine and Shah-e Cheragh, another significant holy shrine complex in Shiraz, are also comparable to Imam Reza’s complex regarding their delicate decorations. There are also several artists and masters who have worked in Imam Reza’s holy shrine and transferred their knowledge and understanding considering the technical, technological and spiritual aspects to Imam Ali and Shah-e Cheragh complexes.