Tehran’s largest neighbor with an area of 13,000 square km on a low plain and 930-m above sea level, Qom Province borders on Tehran and Semnan provinces to the north, Esfahan to the south, and Central Province to the East, on route to Isfahan, Kashan, Yazd, and Kerman by train or bus (on Tehran-Qom highway), Qom as the capital of the province has easy access to Saveh and Tafresh to the northwest; Mahallat and Delijan to the southwest, and Kavir, and Salt Lake to the east. Its population according to the latest census amounts to more than 1,200,000 inhabitants. It can, however, be conveniently visited in a day from Tehran.
With an average annual rainfall of 14 mm according to the meteorological reports of the last 20 years, Qom lies in a hot sandy hollow between the mountains of Kashan and the Great Salt Desert, and thus, it belongs in climate, scenery and architecture to the desert rather than to the Alborz region; here you see the first bad-girs (wind-towers) and aab-anbaars (water-storage buildings), and a few kilometers further on the first palm trees.
Qom has always been a leading center of Shiism. The late Imam Khomeini and countless other religious figures studied and thought theology here, and the town played a particularly strong role in the anti-Shah movement, as well as throughout the Islamic Revolution. It is a major pilgrimage site, and aspirant mullahs come here from all over Iran and other countries of the world for training in numerous seminaries of Howzeh-ye Elmieh, consisting of many mosques and schools. The most famous seminaries of Qom are: 1) Madraseh Feizieh, originally built about 600 years ago. This school was twice attacked by the Shahs secret police during the last thirty five years, as a result of which many religious students and teachers were either arrested and imprisoned or killed; 2) Madraseh Hojjatieh, used as a boarding school mainly for foreign students; 3) Madraseh Dar osh-Shafa, originally built during the Qajar period it was totally demolished and reconstructed after the victory of the Islamic Revolution; and 4) Madraseh Masumieh, the construction works of which was completed in 1989, and started admitting students from the same year.
Fatima Masumeh Shrine:
Qoms history centers round Islam. What is certain is that from the early years of the Arab invasion it was noted for the conversion of its inhabitants and for the preponderance of Shiites among them. If there is one place in Iran which can be called the cradle and center of Shiism, Qom is that place. No doubt it was on this account that when Hazrat-e Masumeh, the daughter of the seventh Imam and the sister of Imam Reza, fell ill in 816 at Saveh (100 km) it was to Qom that she was brought. There she died after 17 day and was buried; and her tomb, as was natural, became a revered place of pilgrimage. So it remains today, and Qom, after Mashhad, is the foremost Shiite shrine in the country.
It is said in most travel guide books that this Shrine, like that of Imam Reza at Mashhad, is no place for infidels; even in one travel book it is said that “tourists are simply regarded as some sort of strange animal.” However, if you seek help through the Tourist
Office (Islamic Culture and Guidance Office or Cultural Heritage Organization) or the Qomis themselves, they will arrange a safe visit for you, and you will find that your infidel presence in this holy city is greeted with nothing more hostile than friendly curiosity. And if you are visiting the town in an organized tour, you won’t face any problems for sure.
In later history, Qom experienced many vicissitudes. It was wrecked by the Mongols and again by Timur, but enjoyed a revival under the Safavids who made Shiism the official faith of Iran. Shah Abbas rebuilt the Shrine, and his three successors were buried there. Fath Ali Shah further enlarged it, and what we see today, including the magnificent golden dome, dates from his reign. The surroundings of the Shrine are being totally renovated and improved during the present Islamic era.
The streets of Qom are full of animation, and the shops (and particularly the stalls around the Holy Shrine) do a flourishing trade in religious objects, particularly its bazaar is very active every day but Friday. Here, like in Mashhad, the main attraction for tourists, rather than decoration or architecture, lies in the behavior of the crowd of humble pilgrims for whom the journey is the achievement of the dream of a whole life, that of the dignified mullahs with their black and white turbans and fine linen clothes, that finally of small merchants who sell thousands of candles and prayer-beads, prayer-rugs and small tablets of compressed earth (mohr) used in Muslim prayers, colored earthenware animals, piles of pomegranates and delicious local sweets, particularly sohan
One sweet you must try is the almost sinfully delicious pistachio-brittle known as sohan, which is produced locally and is available in almost any main street of the town. Not sickly sweet like so much Iranian confectionery, sohan, becomes an obsession once you’ve tasted it.
If you have planned to buy a carpet in Iran, remember that the best and finest silk carpets are woven here in Qom. Samples of such carpets are kept in the town’s museum, shrines of Safavid king, and the Holy Sanctuary. Use an Iranian friend as your advisor to see that everything goes on in your interest.
Fatima Masumeh Shrine
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