1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Meshed

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27842341911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — MeshedAlbert Houtum-Schindler

MESHED (properly Mash-had, “the place of martyrdom”), capital of the province of Khorasan in Persia, situated in a plain watered by the Kashaf-rud (Tortoise river), a tributary of the Hari-rud (river from Herat, which after its junction with the Kashaf is called Tejen), 460 m. E. of Teheran (550 by road) and 200 m. N.W. of Herat, in 36° 17′ N., 59° 36′ E., at an elevation of 3800 ft. Its population is about 70,000 fixed and 10,000 floating, the latter consisting of pilgrims to the shrine of Imam Reza.[1]

The town is of irregular shape, about 6 m. in circumference and surrounded by a mud wall flanked with towers. In the south-western corner of the enclosure stands the citadel (ark), within a wall 25 ft. high and a broad dry ditch which is 40 ft. deep in parts and can be flooded from neighbouring watercourses. The city has five gates, and from one of them, called Bala Khiaban gate (upper Khiaban), the main street (Khiaban), 25 yds. broad, runs in a north-west–south-east direction, forming a fine avenue planted with plane and mulberry trees and with a stream of water running down its middle. The shrine of Imam Reza is the most venerated spot in Persia, and yearly visited by more than 100,000 pilgrims. Eastwick thus describes it (Journal of a Diplomat’s Three Years’ Residence in Persia, London, 1864):—

“The quadrangle of the shrine seemed to be about 150 paces square. It was paved with large flagstones and in the centre was a beautiful kiosk or pavilion, covered with gold and raised over the reservoir of water for ablutions. This pavilion was built by Nadir Shah. All round the northern, western and southern sides of the quadrangle ran, at some 10 ft. from the ground, a row of alcoves, similar to that in which I was sitting, and filled with mullas in white turbans and dresses. In each of the sides was a gigantic archway, the wall being raised in a square from above the entrance. The height to the top of this square wall must have been 90 or 100 ft. The alcoves were white, seemingly of stone or plaster; but the archways were covered with blue varnish or blue tiles, with beautiful inscriptions in white and gold. Over the western archway was a white cage for the muazzin, and outside it was a gigantic minaret 120 ft. high, and as thick as the Duke of York’s column in London. The beauty of this minaret cannot be exaggerated. It had an exquisitely carved capital, and above that a light pillar, seemingly 10 ft. high; and this and the shaft below the capital, or about 20 ft., were covered with gold. All this part of the mosque (shrine) was built by Shah Abbas. In the centre of the eastern side of the quadrangle two gigantic doors were thrown open to admit the people into the adytum or inner mosque (shrine) where is the marble tomb of Imam Reza, surrounded by a silver railing with knobs of gold. There was a flight of steps ascending to these doors, and beyond were two smaller doors encrusted with jewels the rubies were particularly fine. The inner mosque would contain 3000 persons. Over it rose a dome entirely covered with gold, with two minarets at the sides, likewise gilt all over. On the right of the Imam’s tomb is that of Abbas Mirza, grandfather of the reigning Shah.[2] Near him several other princes and chiefs of note are buried. Beyond the golden dome, in striking and beautiful contrast with it, was a smaller dome of bright blue. Here begins the mosque of Gauhar Shád.[3] The quadrangle is larger than that of Shah Abbas; and at the eastern side is an immense blue dome, out of which quantities of grass were growing, the place being too sacred to be disturbed. In front of the dome rose two lofty minarets covered with blue tiles. In the boulevard of the Bala Khiaban is a kitchen supported by the revenues of the shrine, where 800 persons are fed daily.”

The buildings of the shrine together with a space extending to about one hundred yards beyond the gates of the shrine on each side is sanctuary (bast). Within it are many shops and lodgings, and criminals, even murderers, may live there in safety. The only other notable buildings in the place are some colleges (medresseh), the oldest being the M. Do-dar, i.e. “college of two doors,” built in 1439 by Shah Rukh, and some fine caravanserais, two dating from 1680.

Without the pilgrims who come to visit it, Meshed would be a poor place, but lying on the eastern confines of Persia, close to Afghanistan, Russian Central Asia and Transcaspia, at the point where a number of trade routes converge, it is very important politically, and the British and Russian governments have maintained consulates-general there since 1889. Meshed had formerly a great transit trade to Central Asia, of European manufactures, mostly Manchester goods, which came by way of Trebizond, Tabriz and Teheran; and of Indian goods and produce, mostly muslins and Indian and green teas, which came by way of Bander Abbasi. With the opening of the Russian railway from the Caspian to Merv, Bokhara and Samarkand in 1886–1887, Russian manufacturers were enabled to compete in Central Asia with their western rivals, and the value of European manufactures passing Meshed in transit was much reduced. In 1894 the Russian government enforced new customs regulations, by which a heavy duty is levied on Anglo-Indian manufactures and produce, excepting pepper, ginger and drugs, imported into Russian Asia by way of Persia; and the importation of green teas is altogether prohibited except by way of Batum, Baku, Uzunada and the Transcaspian railway. Since then the transit trade has been practically nil. In 1890 General Maclean, the British consul-general, reported that there were 650 silk, 40 carpet and 320 shawl looms at work. The carpet-looms at work now number several hundreds, while looms of silk and shawl number less than half what they did in 1890.

Meshed has telegraph (since 1876) and post (since 1879) offices, and the Imperial Bank of Persia opened a branch here in 1891. The climate is temperate and healthy. The coldest month is January, with a mean temperature of about 32° F., while the hottest month is July, with a mean of 78°. The highest temperature recorded in a period of six years was 91°, the lowest 15°. The mean annual rainfall during nine years (1899–1907) was nearly 91/2 in., about one-eighth of it being represented by snow.  (A. H.-S.) 

  1. Abul Hassan Ali, al Rezā, commonly known as Imam Reza, the eighth imam of the Shiites, a son of Mūsā al Kazim, the seventh imam, was the leader from whom the party of the Alids (Shiites) had such hopes under the caliphate of Mamiln. Gold coins (dinars) of this caliph are extant on which al Reza’s name appears with the title of heir-apparent. The imam died in March 819 in the village Sanabad near Tus, some miles north-west of Meshed. To the Shiites he is a martyr, being believed to have been poisoned by Mamūn.
  2. This refers to Nasr-ud-din (d. 1896), grandfather of Shah Mahommed Ali (1907).
  3. Gauhar Shád was the wife of Shah Rukh (1404–1447), and was murdered by that monarch’s successor Abu Said, August 1, 1457. Her mosque was built in 1418.