MASHHAD - The Iranian city of Mashhad is ready to welcome people from all religions to visit the holy shrine of Imam Ali Reza (AS) to enjoy its grandeur, the top city official said.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation at his office here, Mashhad Mayor Taghizadeh Khamsei said he was working to multiply the tourism to the holy city.

“We receive the largest number of tourists in any city of the world annually but still the non-Muslim visitors are not too many in numbers. Most of the visitors are pilgrims who are attracted to the Imam Reza shrine,” he said.

Khamsei said every year about 40 million pilgrims visited the Imam Reza shrine.

“We [Mashhad city] generate a revenue of $400 million annually from the pilgrims and are expecting to raise it to $500 million this year,” he added.

Khamsei said London was second on the list but it only received 18 million visitors in a year.

“There is no one in competition with Mashhad as a city,” he contended.

The mayor said the city’s administration was using the money generated by the pilgrims to facilitate them during their stay.

“We want to give them a clean environment and beautiful memories,” he said.

Mashhad is the second most populous city in Iran and capital of Razavi Khorasan province. It is located near the borders with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. It has a population of around 3,001,184, which includes the areas of Mashhad Taman and Torqabeh. The city was a major oasis along the ancient Silk Road connecting with Merv to the East.

The city has been named after Imam Ali Reza, the eighth Shia Imam.

The imam was buried in a village in Khorasan, which afterwards gained the name Mashhad, meaning “the place of martyrdom”.

Historically, Mashhad has been governed by different ethnic groups. Arab, Turkic, Mongolian, and Afghan tribes have greatly influenced the language, ethnicity and culture of the city.

The city is also known as the city of Ferdowsi, after the known Iranian poet who composed the Shahnameh. The city is the hometown of some of the most significant Iranian literary figures and artists, such as the poet Mehdi Akhavan-Sales, and Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, the traditional Iranian singer and composer.

Ferdowsi and Akhavan-Sales are both buried in Tus, an ancient city that is considered to be the main origin of the current city of Mashhad.

Nader Shah Afshar, the king of Afsharid dynasty, who for the first time made Mashhad his capital of sovereignty, founded his first tomb in this city in Chahar Bagh. But the second tomb was constructed opposite to the former tomb after his return from India. It was destroyed later.

Nader Shah’s grave stone is located inside the structure associating the war or Diamond Mountain or Sea of Light.

Taghizadeh Khamsei said the non-Muslims could visit the Imam Reza shrine and enjoy time at the historical places like the sites attributed to the great poets and literary figures.

The mayor said his city had wonderful relations with Pakistan as Lahore and Karachi had been declared sister cities of Mashhad.

“We are working to get the same status for Islamabad. With Pakistan, we have historic and religious ties. Our cultures are the same and we have been cooperating in all sectors. No one can divide us [Pakistan and Iran],” he said.

Khamsei said during the recent Mayors’ Conference in Mashhad, five mayors from different Pakistani cities were invited, which was unprecedented.

The mayor said Iran and Pakistan shared love for each other and no “element” could create a rift between the two friendly countries.

Khamsei said he was leading the administration to make Mashhad even more beautiful.

“Soon the police will also be under the [control of the] mayor. All this will help us improve the standing of Mashhad,” he said.

City has wonderful relations with Pakistan as

Lahore and Karachi has been declared sister cities of Mashhad. We are working to get the same status for Islamabad. With Pakistan, we have historic and religious ties. Our cultures are the same and we have been cooperating in all sectors