Āstāna Muqaddasa (literally, the Sacred Portal) is the courteous title, officially referring to the Holy Shrine of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) and its surrounding buildings, endowed properties and administrative organizations.
Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) was buried in a land, then out of the city of Qom, owned by Musa b. Khazraj and known as: the Garden of Babilan, which is the current location of her Holy Shrine. Hasan al-Qummi has used the phrase: the Grave Yard of Babilan, because after the burial of Lady al-Ma'suma (a) there, Musa b. Khazraj endowed the property to public use.
Musa b. Khazraj consecrated the house where Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) had taken residence, as a public mosque. At the time, the house was located outside the city of Qom. Today, the mosque is visited by pilgrims and widely known as: Sittiyyah and Bayt al-Nur.
Location of the Burial Site
The Garden of Babilan – Her Sacred burial site- was located outside the city, on the east bank of Qom river. The garden was a suburban area up until 14th/19th century. According to an endowment document from the Safavid era, the Holy Shrine was located outside the city's marginal walls. When Jean Chardin visited Qom, a heavyset brick-built wall was constructed between the Holy Shrine and the river to protect the Shrine in case of flood. Today, the river is off the Shrine for couple hundred meters due to the shift made in the riverbed.
Since the burial of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) in the Garden of Babilan, the land has seen many changes throughout the long history. Various different buildings were constructed around the main Shrine to form the second largest and magnificent pilgrimage destination in Iran, after the Holy Shrine of Imam al-Rida (a).
Chronology of Constructions
The main building includes the main Shrine and different halls and mosques around it. The first roof over the grave was a straw awning, raised by Ash'ari tribe of Qom. After some years, a lady known as: Zaynab, financed the construction of the first dome over the grave. There is a disagreement among historians about the lineage of this lady. Some believe she was a daughter of Imam al-Jawad (a), while according to the other opinion, she was the daughter of Musa Mubarqa'. However, the former opinion is more celebrated since its supporting historical report dates earlier than the latter's. Little is known about the changes in the building during the years 988-1064 except that in the year 961 Abu Zayd b. Ahmid Isfahani, then governor of Qom, reconstructed the river-faced portal to enlarge it.
Construction of the second Dome
In 1055 Amir Abu l-Fadl Iraqi, a deputy governor of Tughril Seljuqi(d.1063), built the Dome of Sayyida Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) at the suggestion of al-Shaykh al-Tusi. The construction project lasted until 1065. There weren't any porches nor minarets to the building.
During the Invasion of Mongols and Timur
Like its neighboring cities, Qom was invaded by Mongolian army. However, it seems that the Holy Shrine was not damaged severely, as the Dome built by 'iraqi lasted until Safavid era. In addition to Mongolian invasion, whether Timurlane also invaded Qom or not, is disputed among historians. Hamid Allah Mustawfi mentions “the destroyed Qom” but whether he meant the Mongolian invasion or other wars, and the extent of their effects on the Holy Shrine remains unknown.
Reconstruction of the City by Sultan Muhammad Oljaiu
After the invasion, Sultan Muhammad Oljaiu, famous for his constructions in Mashhad's Holy sites, began reconstructing the damages made to the city of Qom and its holy sites. The tiling which depicts Mongolian horsemen in the Holy Shrine, belongs to that period.
Expansion and Decoration of the Holy Shrine in the Safavid era
During the Safavid era, the Holy Shrine underwent various changes. They upraised the dome and its bearing structure and decorated it with mosaic tiles. In addition to constructional developments, they financed the reception of visitors; and employed servants and guards. The Dome built by Iraqi lasted until 925/1519 when Shah Biygum, the daughter of Shah Isma'il I, paid Imad Biyg to rebuild the Holy Shrine in an octagonal style, with walls decorated by mosaic tiles. Imad Biyg also designed and built a two minaret portal, opening to a quadrangle with surrounding rooms and porches. Contrary to this account, Qadi Mir Ahmid Munshi, believes this particular development took place in 946/1539 and was financed by: Shah Biygi Biygum, the daughter of Mahmad Biyg, who upraised the building of the Holy Shrine and dedicated large properties, worth 1000 tomans, to it. However, the former report holds more accuracy, since according to recent historical analyses, the latter opinion is a result of confusion over some accounts reporting the developments during Qajari era, not the Safavid's.
Depredation By Afghans
Upon the fall of Safavid dynasty by the invasion of the Afghans, the Holy Shrine was not an exception of their depredation. Although Nader Shah stood against the invaders and forced them to retreat, the soldiers at the command of Ashraf Afghan, plundered all the treasures and precious adornments of the Holy Shrine, even the jewelries at the Shah Abbas's grave were detached, as they were withdrawing from the city.
During Qajari Era
There is no record of the developments during Naderi (1148-1160/1735-1747) and Zandi (1162-1209/1748-1794) periods, however, during the reign of the Qajar dynasty, the Holy Shrine had its glorious days like the time of the Safavids. Fath Ali Shah paved the ground with marble and according to an inscription, the project for mirror working of the walls started in his days and finished in the administration of Muhammad Shah (d.1264/1847).
After the constructional developments and upon the command of Amir Muzaffar, Ahmad b. Isma'il in 605/1208, the greatest tile designer of the time, Muhammad Abi Tahir Kashi Qummi]] (or Muhammad b. Tahir b. Abi al-Husayn), spent eight years to design and make special decorating tiles for the main Holy Shrine, eventually, he placed them around the tombstone in 630/1232. The tiles still are there and regarded as some of the oldest and most precious antiques of the Holy Shrine.
In 950/1543, Shah Tahmasb I built the first darih (a box over the tombstone) which was 4.80 m at length, 4.40 m at width and 2 m high, and made of bricks. Shah Tahmasb placed a steel darih around the brick one. In 1000/1591 this steel darih was replaced with another by Shah Abbas I. in 1245/1829, Fath Ali Shah covered the steel darih with silver plates and uplifted the darih to settle on a 30 cm marble base. Later, the wooden door at the northern side of the Darih, was replaced with a precious golden door, designed and made upon the command of Fath Ali Shah. The darih was repaired in 1328/1910 and once again in 1365/1945 due to proportional decays. In 1348/1930, it was reshaped to get slightly heightened.
Dome and The Minarets
The first circular dome over the Holy Shrine, was built by Abu l-Fadl Iraqi in 457/1064. The previous domes were built in polygonal -conical style. In 925/1519, Shah Biygum Safavi pulled down this dome to build up the modern Dome.
Gold Covering of the Dome In 1518/1803, the Dome was covered with gold plates at the command of Fath Ali Shah.
Height of the Dome The Dome is 16 m high from the roof of the building, and 32 m from the ground.
There are totally 6 minarets around the Holy Shrine. Two main minarets were built by Shah Biygum during Safavid Era. In 1198/1783 Lutf Ali Khan Zand reconstructed these two minarets after they had been partially ruined.
Gold Covering of the Minarets
In 1218/1803 Fath Ali Shah covered the two minarets with gold. And during the days of Nasir al-Din Shah, Husayn Khan Shahsawand made some repairs to the minarets and tiled them. In 1299/1881, Kamran Mirza Qajar decorated them with gold plates.
Height of The Minarets
These Minarets are 40.17 m tall and stand 20.32 m higher than the roof level. They are 5.1 m in diameter.
- Atabaki Minarets
In 1303/1885 Ali Asghar Atabak built two other shorter Minarets on the corners of the Mirror Porch.
- Height of Atabaki Minarets
Atabaki Minarets are 8.42 m tall and stand 2.8 m higher than the roof level. They are 3.3 m in diameter.
- Low Minarets
Two other Minarets are built at the inner angles of the New Courtyard. They always have been used for reciting Adhan and declaring important events like the Eids. These octagonal Minarets are 5 m high and 3 m in diameter.
Courtyards and Portals
The Holy Shrine has two main courtyards, the Old (Atiq) and the New.
In 925/1519 and for the first time, Shah Biygum Safavi built a quadrangle with 3 Iwans (porches). It was untouched until the reign of Fath Ali Shah when it was reconstructed to get a non-symmetric octagonal design and other Porches. Currently, there are 7 porches in the Old Courtyard; 4 in the southern side and 3 in the northern.
The most famous of these porches, is the Golden Porch which, originally, was built by Shah Biygum and covered with gold plates by Fath Ali Shah in 1249/1833.
All kinds of traditional Islamic arts and crafts are used in this Porche and valuable inscriptions in Naskh, Thulth, and Kufi calligraphy are all around it. It is 9 m wide, 6 m long and 8 m high.
This courtyard was designed and built by Mirza 'Ali Asghar Atabak. The project lasted for 8 years, from 1295/1878 to 1303/1885. There are 7 Porches in the New courtyard, most famous of which is the Mirror Porch .
This porch, which was built by Ustad Husayn Qummi, is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. It is 9 m long, 87.7 wide and 80 m high. It also holds all kinds of traditional Islamic arts and crafts and displays several inscriptions in Naskh, thulth and Kufi calligraphies.
Dome and The Halls
There are six halls around the main Shrine, most of them are substructures for minor domes. Three of these halls were built during Safavid Era, two during Qajar and one has been constructed in recent years. Several styles of Islamic art are displayed in these Halls, as well as antique and precious calligraphies by reputable artists like: Muhammad Rida Imami.
- Eastern or Mirror Hall: This hall was built along the Mirror Porch by Ali Asghar Atabak in 1300/1882. This hall is 23 m long, 5.3 m wide and 5 m high.
- Western Hall: Which consists of three sectors and was built in 1236/1820, by Muhammad Taqi Hisam al-Saltana, the son of Fath Ali Shah, in the location of former caravansary which had been built by Shah Tahmasb in 945/1538. This hall is known as: Balasar (head-ward) Mosque.
- Shah Safi's Hall and Dome: The hall, In which the grave of Shah Safi is located, was roofed by a double layer dome upon the command of Shah Abbas in 1052/1642. At the time, It used to be a separated tomb, but now It is a part of the Holy Shrine. It displays an antique coping calligraphy by Muhammad Rida Imami.
- Shah 'Abbas II's Hall and Dome: In 1077/1666, Shah Sulayman built a sixteen sided dome over Shah Abbas II's grave. The inner coping holds a calligraphy by Muhammad Rida Imami, displaying Quran 62.
- Shah Suliyman's Hall and Dome: In 1107/1695, Shah Sultan Husayn constructed a Dome over Shah's Suliyman's grave. Later, he himself, was buried there too. There is a calligraphy by Khatib al-Qummi, displaying Sura al-Hashr.
- Tabataba'i's Hall and dome: It is a triangle hall built by Haj Aqa Muhammad Tabataba'i (Ayatollah Zadi Qummi). Its construction project lasted 1360/1941 to 1370/1950.
Schools and Mosques
Since the first building for the Holy shrine, in the course of time, there have appeared several schools and mosques around it. As time passed, some of these schools were reconstructed and always expanded. Today, Faydiyyah and Dar al-Shifa are amongst the most reputable and authoritative centers for Shi'a Islam studies.
The museum of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma's Holy Shrine holds many valuable and antique objects from early periods of the Holy Shrine's construction, often presented by ordinary visitors or kings. Prior to museum's establishment, some of these priceless objects were damaged or stolen due to poor storage conditions. In 1314/1897, the cultural ministry of the time endowed a land to these objects, where later became the main location for the current museum. The museum displays old golden and silver coins, antique rugs, golden and silver doors, antique lamps and chandeliers and many other valuable objects.
Before the establishment of the Library, some precious and antique manuscripts that had been gathered from early periods, were piled in a sealed room in the Old Courtyard. In an unfortunate accident, this priceless treasure was partially damaged due to some constructions in 1314/1897. Consequently, the remaining was transferred to two main inner shelves of the Mirror Porch. In 1330/1912, they were moved to a library, built in the eastern side of the Old Courtyard.
Endowments and their Executer
According to Hasan b. Muhammad al-Qummi, since its construction, there have been properties and lands endowed to the Holy Shrine. in the course of time, these lands have been expanded gradually as people and rulers donated more properties to the Holy Shrine. many of endowmnet documents survived, like the ones at the covers of Qur'an's manuscripts. The oldest endowmnet document dates 590/1543. Endowments include properties like farms, stores and trading yards, and also many other valuable objects. The profit and income of these properties are collected and used in specified expenses.
Supervision and execution of this process is carried out by a person who is assigned as a responsible for these matters, mainly by senior scholars within Shi'a community.
Oldest Executer of Endowments
The oldest account of a supervisor and executer for Endowments of the Holy, is a report by Hasan b. Muhammad al-Qummi who mentions Ahmad b. Ishaq al-Ash'ari as an executer of Qom's endowmnets, appointed by Imam al-'Askari (a).
Holy Shrine's Administration
Gradually, the position of an executer, with extended mandates, was changed to an administrative office. This office was chosen by ruling political authorities of the time. The oldest document at hand, in which a king assigns the administrative office of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma's Holy Shrine, is the decree of Jahanshah Turkaman Qara Quyunlu, issued on Jumada I 27, 868/ Dec. 6, 1464.
In the decrees issued successively by Shah Tahmasb in 948/1541 and Shah 'Abbas in 1017/1608, administrators have been chosen from the same family. At that time, Needed workforce were employed by the administrative office. Today and after couple centuries, the mandates of the administrative office have been expanded to cover all related affairs of the Holy Shrine according to an agreed statute.
- The material for this article is mainly taken from fa:آستانه حضرت معصومه سلام الله علیها in Farsi Wikishia.