This site is called “Fun with Cy” for a reason. Behesht-e Zahra however isn’t exactly a place that most people would call fun. However, it is an important place to visit to understand the gravity of the effects that war can have on both a personal and countrywide level as well as to physically see the theme of martyrdom that is omnipresent in the Iranian Shiism. This place, along with the nearby mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, are both interesting, somewhat sad and to some, inspiring. First, a little context.
History of Behesht-e ZahraThe 1980s were anything but a tranquil period of time in the history of Iran. The country was in the midsts of a Revolution that had both toppled Iran’s last monarch, Reza Shah Pahlavi, and installed an Islamic Republic, the first of its kind in the modern world.
Due to all of the confusion that was occurring in Iran at the time, Iraq’s brutal and opportunistic dictator Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of southwestern Iran. His stated intent was to seize parts of the country where there was both a large Arab minority as well as plenty of lucrative gas fields. Ultimately he failed at both but the 8 year Iran-Iraq War that followed, the longest conventional war of the 20th-century, went on to kill over 1 million people and ravage great swaths of both countries.
As during the war many Iranian soldiers were dying in droves, the cemetery of Behesht-e Zahra, on the outskirts of Iran’s capital, Tehran, grew exponentially during the 80s. A unique aspect of this cemetery are the over 200,000 glass boxes on stilts with portraits of the dead soldiers. These are the men (and some women) who died defending Iran against Saddam Hussein’s invasion. The only other cemetery which I recall seeing of a similar size is Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, DC, but even that doesn’t seem to compare to what a traveler will encounter at Behesht-e Zahra. It is just so vast.
Mausoleum of Ayatollah KhomeiniThis is the final earthly resting place of the architect of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Whatever one’s views of this man are, his mausoleum which has now become a shrine to his followers, is quite impressive. Located right next to Behesht-e Zahra, the area overtaken by this shrine is believed to be approximately 5,000 acres. Still being added to, the complex will house an Islamic school, shops and reportedly a 20,000-car parking lot, the cost of all of which is estimated to be over $2 billion. 1The structure has four 91-meter minarets at each corner that flank a large golden dome with 72 tulips (symbols of martyrdom in Shia Islam) around it.
Khomeini’s remains are contained inside a stainless steel type of cage, known as a zarih which men and women (though on opposite sides) can go up to and pay their respects.
As I said, it’s not Disneyland but still an important place to visit in order to understand Iranian Shiism’s culture of martyrdom.
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