The Shrine Complex
The tomb shrine is a part of a large complex of buildings, called the Astan-Qods-Razavi (sacred shrine complex of Riza), standing in the center of Mashhad. The shrine is administered by an organisation known as 'Astan Quds Razavi'.
The precinct contains two other mosques—one has the tomb of Gauhar Shad—a dozen meeting halls, technological institutions, a guest house, libraries, museums, and other religious buildings. The complex is surrounded by a ring road called the Haram-é Motahhar-é Imam Riza. Ref: Davidson, Linda Kay (2002). Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland. [online]. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
The holy city of Mashhad attracts more than 20 million pilgrims every year and at certain times of the year their number exceeds that of local residents.
Over the past 24 years the precincts of the shrine have been extended more than four times and now occupy 60 hectares.
As a zawwar you have an invite to be a guest of the Imam (a.s.) for lunch.
You need to make arrangements for the ‘Holy Food’ as soon as possible after your arrival in Mashhad. This is basically a meal from the Imam (a.s.) for guests. There are two ways of getting it. The first (free) is to queue at around 7am at theinternational pilgrims’ office with your passport. It takes about an hour and you get one ticket per passport. If there is more than one person in your party, you have to take a passport for each person.
If you are staying at the Attrak Hotel the easiest way to the pilgrims’ office is to bear left when you enter the Great Razavi Courtyard. Enter the Bast-e-Sheikh Bahaii. When you do this you will have the entrances to the Quds courtyard and Gowharshad courtyard on your right. If you walk down on the left will be the entrance towards the Jomohuri Islami Courtyard, you pass through a covered area (pentagon shaped?) and the Pilgrims’ office is on your left. There are different desks based on language.
A second method, if you want to make a donation to the Shrine is to go to theNaudharat (donation) office in Nawab Safavi St. The going rate is that they will give you one ticket per US$50 donation. To get to this office you need to exit the shrine complex at the Nawab Safavi St. exit and then go left. The Naudharat office has a large visible sign. When you want to get back to the Shrine complex you will have to go through security again. I find that any foreign currency other than US$ seems to throw them, in terms of value. There are other Naudharat offices in the complex, but as far as I know, they do not issue meal tickets.
The complex map on the left shows 'Holy Food' in the wrong location. But this is the map being used up until Spring 2008.
Remember where the Nawab Safavi St exit is. The actual place where you eat the meal is just opposite (Bast-e-Sheikh-eAmeli) I think.
So if you make a donation of a few hundred dollars you could be eating the Holy Food for your entire stay. The mealtimes are from about 11am onwards till about mid-afternoon. But as I understand it, after zohar/asr prayers it gets very busy.
On my last trip I got more tickets than I could use and gave them to the ladies who gather outside the building serving the food.
The oldest parts of the tomb are said to date from the 12th century, but there have been numerous restorations since. The tombstone dates from the time of Shah Abbas, the solid gold chandelier was a gift from Shah Rokh (1418) The shrine is under a golden dome, rebuilt under Shah Tahmasp in 1675. The information below is taken from the publication, 'Landmarks of Mashhad', written by Dr. Hyder Reza Zabeth and published in 2002. The publisher is the Islamic Research Foundation (Astan Quds Razavi).
The Zarih (Zarih-i-Mutahhar)
The grand dome and the Zarih were first built in the 5th century hijrah, during the Ghaznavid and Seljuk dynasties.
From the beginning of the 16th century A.D. to the present day there have been five Zarihs placed around the grave of Imam Reza (a.s.). The present zarih dates from 2001, it took eight years to construct and is made of iron and wood. It is covered with sliver and gold plates. The Zarih has 14 arched structures and above these are inscriptions of Surah Yasin and Surah Ad-Dahr. The exterior of the Zarih is studded with the names of Allah and is inlaid with gold and silver.
The floral patterns inlaid on the Zarih are based on the numbers 5 & 8, where the number 5 represents the members of the Prophet's (s.a.w.) immaculate household. The number 8 represents Imam Reza (a.s.). The interior of the zarih has been inlaid with the names of Allah.
Around the zarih on the upper part are the names of the 14 Masoomeen (Infallibles), written in thulth script on serrated golden sheets. Given the numbers of people who visit the Shrine, the frame is being weakened and a new zarih is presently under construction.
The walls around the zarih are covered in marble upto 20 centimetres, with the next 92 centimetres with Sultan Sanjari tiles. Quranic verses and the sayings of the Masoomeen have been carved onto these tiles. Around the walls are inscriptions by Ali Reza Abbasi, a famous calligraphist of the Safavid period, of the Surah Jumah.
On the walls around the Zarih are 104 antiques presented to the shrine. They are exhibited in 8 cases.
The sacred grave has a single new epitaph stone, made of marble, the previous epitaph stone was made up of eleven pieces.