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The Imam Reza’s Holy Shrine in Mashhad, Iran, is the world’s 2nd largest mosque covering an area of 598,657 m2. Also known as Haram, the complex was built by Shi’ite Muslims in 808 AD. While there was a mosque on the place where the complex was later constructed, the mosque was little known. The city of Mashhad – where Emam Reza’s Holly Shrine – is a holy and administrative center for the province of Khorasan.
Mashhad gained popularity after Imam Reza – the Abbasid caliph and 8th Shi’ite Emam – was murdered in the hands of Mamun on 5th September 818A.D, the last day of Safar. Imam Reza was buried beside Harun al-Rashid’s grave in Humaid bin Qahtabah. After this incidence, and given the importance that the Shi’ite Muslims attached to Imam Reza, his mausoleum immediately became the shi’ites’ pilgrimage center. The village of Sanabad quickly transformed into a busy city and started being known as Mashhad, meaning a place where there is a martyr’s grave.
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Towards the end of the 3rd century, bazaars and buildings sprang around Emam Reza’s Holly Shrine. Subsequently, the then Islamic authorities decided that a dome be built on Imam Reza’s grave. The continual visits for pilgrimage by Ahl al-Bayt (AS) followers angered the Ghaznevid sultan – Sebuktigin – who banned the visits in 993 A.D. This almost led to the deterioration of Mashhad city. However, in 1009 A.D., the ban was lifted by Mahmud of Ghazn. Mahmud of Ghazn further started an expansion of Emam Reza’s Holly Shrine by renovating it and building fortifications around it and the city.
Emam Reza’s Holly Shrine was further decorated. Common decorating materials used include quality wood, fine marbles, as well as stucco works. On Imam Reza’s grave, Mahmud of Ghazn built a burial chamber. The square-shaped burial chamber is in the center of Emam Reza’s Holly Shrine. While Emam Reza’s Holly Shrine currently houses enormous prayer halls, dining place for pilgrims, four seminaries, a museum, and a library, it has undergone various structural changes overtime – this is under different governments and leaders. Research shows that the shrine’s architectural design was largely the work of Qavam al- din ibn Zein aldin Shirazi. Qavam al- din ibn Zein al- din Shirazi buildt the shrine gypsum and bricks which are common in Islamic architectural style. These paper evaluates the strengths and weakness of Emam Reza’s Holly Shrine by considering the architect’s ability to capture the moment and deliver a structure that fits the needs and interests of the users.
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