Iran City Guides - Qom
Situated 140km south of Tehran on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir salt desert, Qom is the site of the largest theological college in Iran. It was for this reason that the city was chosen by the Ayatollah Khomeini as the location from which he would direct the country's affairs from the time of his return from exile in 1979 until his death ten years later.
Left in ruins by the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, Qom had regained its former glory by the 16th century and flourished under the Safavid Kings, who rebuilt the Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine complex on a grand scale. The shrine is second in importance only to the shrine dedicated to Imam Reza in Masshad. Other attractions include the Feyzieh Seminary, the Azam Mosque and the museum and library of Islamic studies.
The ten 14th century blue and gold domed sanctuaries visible on the city's skyline from the surrounding plains are a clear indication of the significance of Qom as a centre of Islamic worship and study. Altogether, Qom is home to 444 shrines dedicated to the descendants of the Imams.
However, the remains of a Sassanid era fire temple and evidence of a large population dating back to the 5th millennium BC show that the city itself predates Islam by many centuries. Qom is also famous for its carpets and tiles and a flat, sweet candy made from flour, pistachios and saffron called sohan.
The most important of the many religious sites in Qom is the Hazrat-e Masumeh, a mausoleum dedicated to Fatimah Masumeh, sister of Imam Reza. Fatimah was travelling to meet her brother in Mashad when she fell ill and died in Qom. The shrine which was erected in her memory soon became a popular site of pilgrimage and remains so to this day.
The current buildings mainly date from the Safavid Period (1501-1732). Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) wished to discourage his subjects from making pilgrimages to sites outside of his kingdom such as Najaf and Karbala, which were then in the hands of his enemies the Ottoman Turks.
He thus began a large scale reconstruction of the Hazrat-e Masumeh and emphasised its importance as a place of worship. Shah Abbas and his three successors who continued the reconstructions are buried at the shrine. King Fateh Ali Shah (r. 1797-1834) had the shrine lavishly restored, leafing the main dome in gold and adding many fine embellishments including highly detailed tile work.
Access - Getting to Qom
There are buses to many destinations including Tehran (1.5 hours), Hamadan (5 hours), Kermanshah (8 hours), Yazd (8 hours), Shiraz (13 hours) and Esfahan (6 hours).
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