The first photographs of the Astan Quds Razavi were taken by two Italian military personnel who had traveled to Iran during the reign of Nasser al-Din Shah. One of them was Antonio Giovinazzi, from Matera, and the other was Luigi Pesce, from Napoli.
Little is known about the exact period of Luigi Pesce’s presence in Mashhad, during which he earned the nickname “Photographer” from Nasser al-Din Shah. It is known that he was active between 1840 and 1860. He is recognized as one of the earliest photographers who engaged in capturing images of Iranian buildings, historical landmarks, and ancient sites such as Persepolis and Pasargadae.
According to historians, he recorded the oldest-known photograph of Tehran, as reported by ISNA.
However, detailed information is available about Giovinazzi’s photograph of the Imam Reza Shrine. He took photos from Imam Reza Shrine in 1858. Giovinazzi was one of the six officers who came to Iran and became a teacher at Dar al-Fonoon, while also engaging in photography at various religious sites in Iran.
The origins of the oldest sections of this shrine date back to 610 AH (approximately 1230s CE). During the Timurid era, which coincided with extensive renovations of ancient structures in Khorasan Province, significant attention was paid to this monument.
Throughout Iran’s history, the shrine has received the attention of various ruling dynasties and has been renovated and expanded many times. The shrine’s historical records are scarce, with the earliest mention of its existence dating back to before the Samanid era and only referencing a well-known spot called the Haruniyya, where Imam Reza was buried.
The central point of the shrine, where Imam Reza is buried, is renowned as the Rozeye Munavvareh (Holy Land). It occupies a rectangular space with approximate dimensions of 10 x 10 meters.
In the old courtyard of the Imam Reza Shrine, a flowing river existed until 1951, sourced from a spring in northern Mashhad. After flowing through the city, this river entered the shrine’s courtyard and continued its course outside the city to irrigate agricultural fields.
Around this area, there are numerous porticos, mosques, and courtyards, each belonging to distinct historical periods. The oldest and nearest structure connected to the Rozeye Munavvareh is the Balasar Mosque.
Many of the shrine’s buildings, from the Safavid period, especially during the reign of Shah Tahmasp I, still exist. The shrine’s footprint expanded significantly during these renovations, from 12,000 square meters to its current size of approximately one million square meters, making it one of the world’s largest religious complexes.
The Goharshad Mosque, which was the first Jame’ (Grand) Mosque in Mashhad, is also located within the shrine’s premises. In the Rozeye Munavvareh, a shrine made of silver and gold is present. Additionally, various porticos, courtyards, and schools surround the shrine, including the Dar al-Wilayah, Dar al-Hadaya, Dar al-Rahmah, and Dar al-Ijabah porticos, which were constructed during this period. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a development plan for the shrine was initiated, resulting in significant expansion.