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Around Tehran

For those who have a bit more time in Tehran, there are several interesting visits that can be made in the city suburbs. 

Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini

Leaving Tehran by the main road southeast towards Qom, one cannot fail to notice an imposing golden dome flanked by tall minarets near the cemetery of Behesht-e Zahra in the middle of the desert: this is the resting place of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (known as His Holiness Imam Khomeini in death), is the grandest of those endeavours. But while the scale of the Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini (Haram-e Motahar Metro Station) is quite enormous, the detail often falls short of historic shrines elsewhere in Iran.

The shrine is located between Tehran, the town that launched the 1979 revolution, and Qom, where the great man underwent his theological training. In the late 1970s, this cemetery became closely associated with the revolutionary movement against the Pahlavi regime as many of those killed in the 1978 demonstrations were buried here; after the September 8 1978 demonstration over 4,290 burial certificates were issued for this site. No wonder this was the place selected by Ayatollah Khomeini for his first public speech six months later. Many of the soldiers killed during the Iran-Iraq war were also buried here and photographs of the central fountain, which once ran with blood-red coloured water (symbolising the Martyrs' sacrifice) featured on the front page of many Western newspapers.

The shrine flanked by four 91m-high towers symbolising Khomeini's age when he died. The huge gold central dome is adorned with 72 tulips, which symbolise the 72 martyrs who fought and died with Imam Hossein in Karbala. At night, the whole compound is lit up by powerful projectors and can be seen for miles around. The interior is a vast hall measuring 100 metres long, with a carpeted marble floor; in the middle stands the tomb itself surrounded by grills.

The shrine itself is inside a stainless steel zarih, a cage-like casing through which pilgrims pay their respects and no small number of bank notes. Men and women must approach from different sides. The ayatollah wanted his shrine to be a public place where people could enjoy themselves, rather than a mosque where they must behave with reverence, and his wishes have largely been met: the children are free to run around and slide on the marble and families on a day's outing sit down to picnic quietly in a corner.

Entry is free; shoes, bags etc to be deposited at the mausoleum entrance. Ladies enter to the left, gentlemen to the right; a cafeteria and toilets are located in the car park near the main entrance.

The Funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini

In 1989, the Islamic Republic's final send-off for its founder and inspiration, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, culminated in the largest funeral ever held in the world - a crush of 10 million inconsolable mourners. It was a chaotic scene. As the hearse tried to move towards the cemetery it was stopped repeatedly before the crowd eventually took the coffin and started passing it over their heads. By the time a helicopter was summoned it was too late and even the armed Komiteh guards couldn't stop the body falling out of the coffin, and the crowd trying to tear pieces off the shroud to keep as holy relics.

Unless you thrive on chaos, you are advised not to come here on or around 4 June, the anniversary of the ayatollah's death, when hundreds of thousands of mourners visit the shrine.

To get to the holy shrine, take the Tehran Metro Line 1 (red) to Haram-e Motahar. Behesht-e Zahra cemetery is also close by.

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