Religious Places Representing Iran’s Arts, Architecture, and Tourism Capacities
For those interested in tourism intertwined with culture and civilization, Iran presents itself as a collection of tourism surprises.
Iran’s enchanting natural beauty in addition to its historical and cultural riches has made it a magical land for tourists. A landscape of gardens, palaces, castles, ancient villages, mausoleums, mosques, and markets, surrounded by lush prairies, amazing deserts, high peaks, and foaming rivers, represents Iran’s culture, arts, spirituality, history, and natural beauty.
Since Iran has been a land of religious people, special attention has naturally been paid to religious buildings where the powerful hands of Iranian architects and artists have created the most beautiful works of art.
Imamzadeh Saleh, Tajrish, Tehran
We focus on such religious places out of the countless and diverse tourism attractions that Iran has to offer. Because Iran converted to Islam more than one millennium ago and has been a Shiite country for more than 400 years, the special focus will be on Shiite shrines.
Shiite buildings in Iran are divided into two general categories. The first category includes mosques and places of worship commonly used for daily prayers or special ceremonies such as Ashura. The second category contains holy shrines and other sacred places of pilgrimage that are believed to have been blessed by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) or saints.
These two types of places are quite different. Mosques and other places of worship belong to God and cannot belong to people. The second group, however, can belong to anybody. For example, mosques are not used as a burial site, but holy shrines are sites where the dead were buried.
Places categorized in the second group are located in rural areas, and they may be more attractive tourist destinations than the largely urban mosques. For the sake of brevity, we discuss a single location, Shemiran town in Tehran.
The name Shemiran comes from two words: shemi or semi, which means high, and ran, which means place. So, Shemiran means high place as opposed to Tehran, which means low land.
Imamzadeh Hossein, Ammameh, Tehran
The name derives from the ancient Shemiran Qasran Castle that had been used by army commanders of Mazandaran in the important region north of Shahr-e Rey. Mazandaran rulers governed northern regions of Iran and continued their rule from the time of the Sassanids (beginning around 224 AD) until 1,000 AH (around 1591 AD), when they were annihilated by Safavids.
Shemiran is located in the north of Tehran, on the southern slopes of the Alborz Mountains. It includes Roudbar Qasran, Lavasanat, Tajrish, Oshan, Fasham, and Meigoun. There are many villages in the region that is covered with more than 53 peaks. Three of these peaks are over 4,000 m high and many others are over 3,000 m high. With its deep valleys and foaming rivers, Shemiran is a place of holy shrines for many reasons:
– Shahr-e Rey was one of the main centers of Zoroastrianism, and there were many fire temples there. To prevent their destruction, Iranians turned some of those temples into Islamic sites of pilgrimage.
– Shahr-e Rey is also sacred for Shias because such Muslim dignitaries as Sheikh Sadouq are buried there.
– Shahr-e Rey lies along the major migration routes taken by the household of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his followers. Imam Reza (AS) crossed it en route to Khorasan. When Alavids ruled Mazandaran, Shahr-e Rey was a passageway for Shias who sought protection in Mazandaran in the 3rd and 4th centuries AH (10th and 11th centuries AD).
There are 8,000 shrines in Iran, of which about 360 are in Tehran and 70 in Shemiran. All of them cannot be introduced here, so let us look at the most interesting ones.
1. Emamzadeh Ebrahim Shrine
Abnik is a green village in Roudbar Qasran town located in a deep valley of the Alborz Mountains. To the northwest of Abnik, there is an unexplored 1,000-year-old mausoleum on a historical hill. The only history recorded on the structure of the mausoleum is that of Yousef Najjar Tabrizi, reading 1298 AH (1881 AD). The building, made of earth, stone, lime, and mortar, covers an area of 62.05 square meters, with a dome 9.65 meter high and 3.9 meter wide, and was renovated under Nassereddin Shah. Local people believe that a son of Imam Reza (AS) is buried outside the mausoleum. A tree is planted on the spot where people believe him to be buried.
2. Soltan Khajeh Ahmad Shrine
This shrine is the burial site of Soltan Khajeh Ahmad, believed to be the son of Imam Mousa Kazem (AS) and the brother of Imam Reza (AS), the seventh and eighth Shiite Imams, respectively. The original structure dates back to the 7th or 8th century AH (13th or 14th century AD), and only its dome remains. The rest of the building is comparatively new with a conical dome made of gypsum and mortar clad with tin plates.
The shrine, located in Big Lavasan village and surrounded by fruit trees, is very prosperous. Book reading contests as well as classes for computer doll making, flower making, Quran reading, and sports are held there. You can reach the shrine through Jajroud by traveling close to the Latian dam.
3. Shrine of Seyed Zahed and Seyed Taher
These two seyeds (descendants of the Prophet) are buried in one of the most pleasant mountains of Shemiran, at Ahar village close to Roudbar Qasran. The buried person is a descendent of the fourth Shiite Imam. The oldest part of the shrine dates back to the 6th century AH (12th century AD) and has been renovated many times.
The building is topped with a dome, and you enter on the east side, near a 3 × 3 meter, spring-fed pool made of white marble. The shrine attracts many pilgrims in summer.
4. Prince Hossein Shrine
This shrine is located in Roudbar Qasran and is believed to house the remains of prince Hossein, the son of Imam Mousa Kazem (AS). The headstone on the grave reads 907 AH (1501 AD), but the structure dates back to the 8th century AH (14th century AD). It was renovated in 1300 AH (1882 AD) by the wife of Nassereddin Shah.
5. Shuaib Shrine
This shrine is located in Small Lavasan and honors Shuaib, who is believed to be a son of Imam Mousa Kazem (AS). The mausoleum, resting amid an orchard of cherry and sour cherry trees, is a unique example of simple, rural Iranian architecture.
6. Saleh Shrine
Tajrish neighborhood is known for its shrine to Saleh, a son of Imam Mousa Kazem (AS). Many people visitor the shrine seeking solutions to their problems. The original building dated back to the 8th century AH (14th century AD) and was famous for its huge buttonwood tree, which died in 1984.
The modern building is magnificent and displays most elements of Iranian and Islamic architecture, including wood carving, muqarnas (traditional Islamic decorative corbels), mirror work, and other forms of decoration. Inside the mausoleum, you can see a chest attributed to Nader Shah of the Afshar dynasty.
Located near the traditional bazaar of Tajrish, and itself endowed with many properties and shops, the shrine is quite prosperous.
In the ancient cemetery near the shrine are buried famous people like Mirza Nasrollah Khan Naeini, Mohammad Vali Khan Tonekaboni, Mohammad Tadayyon, and Dr. Heshmat (a companion of Mirza Kouchak Khan).
7. Tayyeb Shrine
This shrine is located in Lavasan, north of Rasnan village. Tayyeb is said to be a son of Imam Mousa Kazem (AS) and brother of Imam Reza (AS). The building, located in a beautiful site, is made of stone and gypsum, and dates back to the 7th century AH (13th century AD) with some later additions.
People gather at the shrine to pray and ask for their wishes to be granted.
8. Abdollah Shrine
Lavasan is also home to another shrine that is more than 800 years old. People believe that Abdollah, who is buried here, was a son of Imam Mousa Kazem (AS), but no historical evidence supports this belief. The original building had a beautiful, 7 meters high dome. The dome has been renovated, and the inside of the shrine has been refurbished with mirror work. The grave is covered with an elaborate sepulcher onto which people throw money.
9. Qasem Shrine
Located near its namesake square in north Tehran, the shrine is dedicated to Qasem, thought to be a descendent of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Ayatollah Mar’ashi Najafi believed that Qasem was a descendent of Imam Hassan (AS). He has been buried at Dez Bala (Upper Dez), which is not to be confused with Dezashib or Dez Paein (Lower Dez).
The original shrine is believed to have been built in 370 AH (980 AD) and was renovated by Shah Tahmasb Safavid. It was refurbished with tilework under Qajar rule and was later decorated with mirror work. Carvings on the doors are particularly beautiful and interesting.
Mirza Aqa Yousef Ashtiani, or Mostofi-al-Mamalek, the chancellor of Nassereddin Shah is among the famous people buried there.
Imamzadeh Saleh, Tajrish, Tehran