EXCURSIONS FROM TEHRAN
|Shah Abdol Azim shrine in city of Rey|
For those who have a bit more time in Tehran, there are several interesting visits that can be made in the southern suburbs. The closest is to Shahr-e Ray, which was an important centre under the Achaemenians and remained so until the Mongol invasion in 1220. Only a single monument remains in Ray of this period, the funerary tower of Tughril Beg, built in 1139 (visits by prior arrangement only). Today, Ray is an industrial suburb with a lively bazaar in the centre of town. Next to it is the imâmzâdeh of Abdol Azim, a great-grandson of the Second Imam, Imam Hussein. The sanctuary, with its golden dome, is a very popular pilgrimage site. A second tomb in the same complex is that of Hamze, brother of Imam Rezä. Women must wear a châdor inside the compound (these can be hired at the entrance). The mausoleum of Rezâ Shâh, the first Pahlavi ruler, used to stand beside the imâmzâdeh, but has been pulled down and replaced by a new building.
Near the edge of town, on a rock overlooking the spring of Cheshmeh Ali, are several carvings dating from the reign of the Qâjârruler Naser od-Din Shâh. They represent, in one case, the ruler sitting among his courtiers and, in another case, the king holding a falcon. It was here that the carpets of Tehran used to be washed, as the water of the stream was renowned for its purity. Today, the stream still runs but its banks have been cemented over and the site has lost much of its former charm.
On the right hand side of the road from Ray to Varâmin are the ruins of a Sassanian fire temple, built on the top of a hill known as Tappeh Mil Part of the surrounding walls and two of the arches of the temple are still standing, as well as a long tunnel which ran under the temple. The site has not yet been systematically excavated although there is talk of doing so in the near future.
About forty kilometres south of Tehran is the small town of Varâmin. After the destruction of Ray by the Mongols, Varâmin became the regional centre until the 16th century when Tehran superseded it. The Friday Mosque (masjed-e Jomeh) was built between 1322 and 1326, during the reign of the Il-Khân sultan Abu Said, son of Sultan Uljaitu Khodâbendeh whose mausoleum can be seen at Soltânieh. The mosque has been partially destroyed, and the west side has disappeared, but the original plan of a four-eivân courtyard can still be made out. The decoration is part brick, part glazed tiles. The complex brick motifs on the porch and on the dome of the mehrab are particularly fine.
In the centre of town stands a Mongol funerary tower (finished in 1289) known as the tower of Ala od-Din. The only decoration of this circular brick tower is a Kufic inscription around the base of the dome (open mornings only, closed Thursdays).
Leaving Tehran by the main road southeast towards Qom, one cannot fail to notice an imposing golden dome flanked by tall minarets near the cemetery of Behesht-e Zahrâ in the middle of the desert: this is the tomb of Imam Khomeini (haram-e motahar). The mausoleum complex is not yet completed but there are plans not only to extend the new metro out here, but also to build a town around it. At night, the whole compound is lit up by powerful projectors and can be seen for miles around. The interior is a vast hall measuring 100 metres long, with a carpeted marble floor; in the middle stands the tomb itself surrounded by grills. The size of the building easily absorbs the crowds that come here to pray, mostly people from the poorer areas of Tehran or from the countryside. The atmosphere here is very different, however, from that of the haram at Qom or Mashhad: the children are free to run around and slide on the marble and families on a day's outing sit down to picnic quietly in a corner.
|Imam Khomeini's shrine|
The holy town of Qom is only 154 kilometres (96 miles) south of Tehran, on the road to Kâshân and Isfahan. Qom is not part of the Province of Tehran but of Markazi, the central province, with its capital at Arak. The early history of Qom is hazy but from the seventh century onwards, it became an important Shi’ite centre, along with Ray and Kâshân. After the death in 816 of Fatima, the sister of Imam Rezâ (the Eighth Imam is buried in Mashhad), it became a pilgrimage site. The sacred precinct with its golden dome is located in the centre of town near the river. The entrance to the shrine is to be found in a small square, dominated by minarets and the main gateway Non-Muslims are not permitted to go further than this gate and signs in both Persian and English remind one that photography is forbidden. The Safavid Friday Mosque (masjed-e Jomeh) nearby is also forbidden to non-Muslims. As a holy town and a theological centre, Qom has a high population of mullahs, and almost all the women in the streets wear a châdor rather than a simple scarf around their heads. It is very strongly recommended that foreign visitors act in as discreet and respectful a manner as possible. Even if the main monuments are out of bounds, a stroll in the streets of Qom can be very interesting. In particular, try the local speciality, called sohân, a flat, sweet biscuit made of saffron and pistachios. One remarkable feature about Qom is the number of sweet shops, which appear to have almost overtaken the shops selling religious souvenirs.