Khorāsān, also spelled Khurasan, historical region and realm comprising a vast territory now lying in northeastern Iran, southern Turkmenistan, and northern Afghanistan. The historical region extended, along the north, from the Amu Darya (Oxus River) westward to the Caspian Sea and, along the south, from the fringes of the central Iranian deserts eastward to the mountains of central Afghanistan. Arab geographers even spoke of its extending to the boundaries of India.
The history of the area stretches back to very ancient times. It was part of the Achaemenian Empire of the 6th to 4th century bce and the Parthian empire, which spanned from the 3rd century bce to the 3rd century ce. (Khorāsān is sometimes loosely identified synonymously with Parthia.) Khorāsān was first named, however, by the Sāsānians (beginning in the 3rd century ce), who organized their empire into four quarters (named from the cardinal points), Khorāsān being literally the “Land of the Sun.” After the Arab conquest in 651–652 ce, the name was retained both as the designation of a definite province and in a looser sense. At first the Arabs used the area as a march, or garrisoned frontier, but soon large colonies of Arabs moved in, especially around Merv, and a meld of Islamic and eastern Iranian cultures ensued. Later Khorāsān regained virtual independence under the Ṭāhirid, Ṣaffārid, and Sāmāniddynasties (821–999). Successively it formed part of the Ghaznavid, Seljuq, and Khwārezm-Shāhkingdoms but was overrun by Genghis Khan in 1220 and again by Timur (Tamerlane) about 1383. The Iranian Ṣafavid kings (1502–1736) fought over it against Uzbek invasions. It was occupied by the Afghans from 1722 to 1730. Nāder Shāh, born in Khorāsān, broke the Afghan supremacy and madeMashhad the capital of his Iranian empire. Ferdowsī, author of the Shāh-nāmeh (“Book of Kings”), andOmar Khayyam, the celebrated poet and sage, were born in the region. Khorāsān’s current Iranian frontiers were defined in 1881 and in a convention of July 8, 1893. This gave form to the modern Iranian province of Khorāsān, which was split into three smaller provinces in 2004.
Khorāsān, as a result of its troubled history, is peopled by a great variety of ethnic groups: Turkmen in the northwest; Kurds around Bojnūrd and Qūchān; Tīmūrīs and Jamshīdīs (Chahar Aimak) in the east, some of whom are still nomadic; farther southwest, Ḥeydarīs; and southeast, Baloch. The highlands in the south are home to a settled population of Iranian ethnicity. Here and there are found Berberis of Mongol origin, Arabs, Roma, and a few Jews in the towns. The largest cluster of settlements and cultivation stretches around the city of Mashhad northwestward, containing the important towns of Qūchān, Shīrvān, and Bojnūrd. The languages spoken in Khorāsān are Turkish, Persian, and Kurdish.
In its physical geography, the northern part of Iranian Khorāsān contains two parallel ranges: an eastern prolongation of the Elburz Mountains and an independent ridge, the Kopet-Dag. Limestones and igneous and metamorphic rocks prevail; peaks include Kūh-e Hazār Masjed (10,321 feet [3,146 metres]) and Kūh-e Bīnālūd (10,536 feet [3,211 metres]). A great salt desert, Dasht-e Kavīr, with quicksandlike marshes, enters Khorāsān from the west. Sand dunes are widespread. There are many oases, large and crowded in the north but small and isolated in the south. The southern highlands, which are known as Kūhestān, have peaks reaching 7,000–9,000 feet (2,100–2,700 metres). The climate is cool in the summer and cold in the winter. The north and northwest have sufficient rainfall for grasslands and scrub forests of alder, oak, juniper, and hornbeam; the south has little vegetation. Khorāsān’s only permanent rivers are the Atrak, the Kal-e Mūreh, the Rūd-e Shūr, and the Kashaf Rūd, all more or less salty in their lower courses.
Greater Khorasan has witnessed the rise and fall of many dynasties and governments in its territory throughout history. Various tribes of the Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Turkemen and Afghans brought changes to the region time and time again.
Ancient geographers of Iran divided Iran (“Iran-Shahr”) into eight segments of which the most flourishing and largest was the territory of Greater Khorasan.
The earlies known evidence for Lower Paleolithic occupation of Iran comes from Kashafrud basin at east of Mashad.The famous Parthian empire was based near Merv in Khorasan for many years.
During the Sassanid dynasty the province was governed by an Espahbod (Lieutenant General) called “Padgoosban” and four margraves, each commander of one of the four parts of the province.
Khorassan was divided into four parts during the Islamic Conquest of Iran and each section was named after the four large cities, such as Neyshabour, Merv, Herat, and Balkh.
In the year 651 CE, the army of Islamic Arabs invaded Khorasan. The territory remained in the hands of the Abbasid clan until 820 CE, followed by the rule of the Iranian Taherid clan in the year 896 CE and the Samanid dynasty in 900 CE.
Sultan Mohmud Qaznavi conquered Khorasan in 994 CE and in the year 1037 CE Toqrol, the first of the Seljuqian rulers conquered Neyshabour.
Mahmud Qaznavi retaliated against the invaders several times, and finally the Qaznavi Turks defeated Sultan Sanjar. But there was more to come, as in 1157 CE Khorasan was conquered by The Khwarazmids and because of simultaneous attacks by the Mongols, Khorasan was annexed to the territories of the Mongol Ilkhanate.
In the 14th century, a flag of independence was hoisted by the Sarbedaran movement in Sabzevar, and in 1468 CE, Khorasan came into the hands of Amir Teimoor Goorkani (Tamerlane) and the city of Herat was declared as capital.
In 1507 CE, Khorassan was occupied by Uzbek tribes. After the death of Nadir Shah Afshar in 1747 CE, Khorasan was occupied by the Afghans.
During the Qajar period, Britain supported the Afghans to protect their East India Company. Herat was thus separated from Persia, and Nasereddin Shah was unable to defeat The British to take back Herat. Finally, the Paris Treaty was concluded in 1903 and Iran was compelled not to challenge The British for Herat and other parts of what is today Afghanistan.
Finally Khorasan was divided into two parts: the eastern part, which was the most densely populated region came under British occupation, and the western section remained part of Iran.
Khorasan was the largest province of Iran until it was divided to three provinces on September 29, 2004. The provinces approved by the parliament of Iran (on May 18, 2004) and the Council of Guardians (on May 29, 2004) were Razavi Khorasan, North Khorasan, and South Khorasan.
Tomb of Omar Khayyám in Neyshapur
This province envelopes many historical and natural attractions, such as mineral water springs, small lakes, recreational areas, caves and protected regions, and various hiking areas.
Besides these, Khorasan encompasses numerous religious buildings and places of pilgrimage, including the shrine of his Imam Reza, Goharshad mosque and many other mausoleums and Imamzadehs which attract visitors to this province.
The Cultural Heritage of Iran lists 1179 sites of historical and cultural significance in all three provinces of Khorasan.
Some of the popular attractions of Razavi Khorasan are:
- Tus, where Ferdowsi, Persia’s Homer is buried.
- Neyshabour, where Attar, Omar Khayyám, and Kamal-ol-molk are buried.
- Goharshad mosque**
- Shrine of Imam Reza
- Khaneh Khorshid
- Tomb of Nadir Shah Afshar
- Akhangan (Akhanjan) tower
- Haruniyeh dome, where the famous mystic Imam Mohammad Ghazali is buried.
- Tus citadel
- Bazangan lake,
- Kooh Sangi
- Band-e-Golestan (Golestan dam)
- Kardeh Dam
- Vakilabad and Mellat parks
- Zari, Hendelabad, Mozdooran, Moghan and Kardeh caves.
- Robat Sharaf castle
- Tomb of Khajeh Abasalt, Khajeh Morad, Ravi (famous Iranian Gnostics) and mausoleum of Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi.
- Yahya and Khajeh Rabi mausoleum
- Sabz (green) dome.