Arriving by plane the first view of the city is that of a very green and well-laid regular rows of trees. Once on the ground, the traveler is fascinated by the golden cupolas and minarets. It is interesting to know that the word of Mashhad – or more correctly Mashhad-e Moqaddas (Mashhad the Holy) – literally means place of martyrdom (or place of burial of a martyr).
Although it had always attracted pilgrims, Mashhad did not become a pilgrimage centre of the first order until the coming of the Safavid dynasty at the turn of the 16th century. Having established Shi’ism as the state religion, the most brilliant of the Safavid rulers, Shah Ismail I, Shah Tahmasp and Shah Abbas I, gave the city and shrine the place they have held ever since on the Shiite map, frequently making pilgrimages there themselves and generously endowing the sacred complex.
Nowadays, apart from being the holiest city of Shi’ite Iran, Mashhad can boast of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, including Yemenis, Iraqis, Indians, but primarily Afghans and Pakistanis, the two latter comprising on that account alone the vast majority of all foreign tourists in the region.
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