This city is a pilgrimage site for Shiites, who go to pay homage to Imam Reza, an Islamic holy man believed to have been assassinated in AD 817. In the 1970s, Mashhad (pronounced MASH-had) was known as a center for commerce, religion and tourism, and particularly as the gateway to Afghanistan. The troubles in Afghanistan have brought about a collapse in trade and travel. This has left religion as the principal driving force in the town—it's a rather solemn place.

Mashhad has ruins dating from before the 10th century (these alone take a day to see). Other attractions include a citadel, the 15th-century Gohar Shad Mosque (non-Muslims are not allowed to enter), the Tomb of Nadir Shah, the Shrine of Imam Reza (usually off-limits to non-Muslims) and the Museum of the Shrine (beautiful carpets and an excellent library). 565 mi/910 km east of Tehran.

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