The physical and spiritual centre of Qom, this magnificent shrine is the burial place of Imam Reza’s sister Fatemeh, who died here in the 9th century. Reza was the eighth of the 12 imams who descended from Prophet Mohammed; as the only one of the 12 to be buried in Iran (in Mashhad), his sister's burial site has a special resonance as a place of pilgrimage. Non-Muslims are allowed into the courtyards but not the shrine itself.
Much of what can be seen today was built under Shah Abbas I and the other Safavid kings in the 16th century. Anxious to establish their Shiite credentials and prove they could match the sect’s shrines at Karbala and Najaf (in modern-day Iraq), they lavished the site with courtyards of brilliant tile work. For visitors, however, it is the great golden cupola that distinguishes Hazrat-e Masumeh; this was an embellishment added by the Qajar ruler Fath Ali Shah in the early 19th century. Not to be outdone by their predecessors, successive rulers have lavished various embellishments on the shrine complex over the years with the latest addition – the construction of a grand plaza next to Astane Sq – being contributed by today's Ayatollahs of Qom.
Visits by non-Muslims should officially be in groups accompanied by a guide approved by the shrine stewards (who are incidentally a mine of information about the features of the complex); in practice, however, an element of discretion is exercised in permitting entry to individual travellers. Women must wear a chador, available free of charge at entrance No 1. Discreet photography by mobile phone was permitted during our visit but large cameras were discouraged.