In this episode of our ‘Cities of Islam’ series, we delve into Nishapur, situated in the northeastern region of Iran, which was once renowned as a center of Islamic knowledge. Join us for an insightful journey through its history and significance. Happy reading!
A Center of Islamic Knowledge: Nishapur’s Legacy
Nishapur is located in the northeastern region of Iran. Its fertile lands contributed to its early prominence, with references dating back to its founding. Known for agriculture, trade, handmade carpets, and pottery, Nishapur was once acclaimed as a hub of Islamic knowledge.
Origin and Name of Nishapur
The city’s establishment is attributed to the Sasanian king Shapur I. Its foundation is dated to the 3rd century AD. The name ‘Nishapur’ is thought to be derived from the Pahlavi term ‘nev-Şapur,’ meaning ‘new and beautiful Şapur.’ As one of the four major cities in the Khorasan region, Nishapur held strategic importance due to the Silk Road passing through, connecting China to Anatolia. Throughout its history, Nishapur witnessed struggles among various states due to its agricultural productivity, economy, and commercial activities. Prior to the early Islamic era, the region was under the rule of the Sasanians.
In 651-652, it was taken from the Sasanians by Basra’s Governor Abdullah bin Amr. Subsequently, it fell under the dominion of the Umayyads, Abbasids, Tahirids, Saffarids, and Ghaznavids. In 1038, it was transferred from the Ghaznavids to the Seljuks.
Nishapur also felt the impact of the Mongol invasion during the 13th century. Alongside this, earthquakes caused damage to the city. Subsequent centuries witnessed restoration efforts to revitalize the city.
Nishapur Nizamiye Madrasa and Scholars
The minting of the first Seljuk coin here signifies the city’s significance during that period. By the 10th century, the number of madrasas in Nishapur had increased. Notably, the Nishapur Nizamiye Madrasa stood out among them. Many scholars resided in and around the city. This group included Ibn Shazan al-Nishaburi, Muslim bin Hajjaj, Abu Bakr Taybadi, Abu’l-Hasan al-Amiri, Hakim al-Nishaburi, Imam al-Juwayni, Imam Ghazali, Omar Khayyam, Fariduddin Attar, and Edib al-Nishaburi.
A Multifaceted Genius: Omar Khayyam
Mathematics, physics, astronomy, and medicine—Omar Khayyam, the renowned scholar who made significant contributions to these fields during the Seljuk era, was born and passed away in Nishapur. In 1962, his mausoleum was constructed, showcasing geometric patterns and remarkable architecture. Situated within a splendid garden, the mausoleum offers a tranquil place for visitors to unwind. Omar Khayyam, known worldwide for centuries, was a part of the scientific council founded by Great Seljuk Sultan Malik Shah. He contributed to the creation of the Jalali calendar and was commemorated by having a comet named after him in 1980.
Poet and Mystic Identity: Fariduddin Attar
Fariduddin Attar, a renowned poet and mystic who dabbled in pharmacy and medicine, lived in Nishapur for a significant portion of his life during the 12th century. Consequently, his tomb rests here. Revered by many scholars, Attar’s literary works continue to captivate readers with their language and wisdom. His notable works include ‘Ilahiname,’ ‘The Conference of the Birds,’ and ‘The Memoirs of the Saints.’
Archaeological Excavations in Nishapur
Archaeological excavations conducted in the mid-20th century unearthed remnants of ceramics, glassware, decorations, and coins. Musical instruments and chess pieces from Nishapur’s daily life also surfaced, shedding light on the culture of the time. These efforts enriched our understanding of Nishapur’s history. Some of these archaeological artifacts are displayed at the British Museum in the UK and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Iranian Turquoise Stone
Turquoise mining has been a valued industry in Iran for over 5000 years. Also known as ‘Firuze,’ these gemstones are internationally acclaimed for their quality. Iranian turquoise stones are characterized by their intense blue color. Mined in Nishapur and distributed globally, they are used for jewelry, accessories, and decorative items, adding elegance to various domains.