Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Nishapur (or Neyshâbûr; نیشابور in Persian) is a town in the province of Khorasan in northeastern Iran, situated in a fertile plain at the foot of the Binalud Mountains, near the regional capital of Mashhad. The region's economy is largely agricultural, based on grain and cotton, and it is one of the most prosperous localities in Iran, although somewhat blighted by drug smuggling from nearby Afghanistan. In 1911 and in 1991, it had a stable population of some 135,000 people. The main east-west railway line through Iran passes through the town. The region is very prone to earthquakes, with the most recent significant ones occurring in 1986 and 1997.
Nishapur occupies an important strategic position astride the old Silk Road that linked Anatolia and the Mediterranean with China. On the Silk Road, Nishapur has often defined the flexible frontier between the Iranian plateau and Central Asia. The town derived its name from its reputed founder, the Sassanian king Shapur I, who is said to have established it in the 3rd century CE. Nearby are the turquoise mines that supplied the world with turquoises for at least two millennia. It became an important town in the Khorasan region but subsequently declined in significance until a revival in its fortunes in 9th century under the Tahirid dynasty, when the glazed ceramics of Nishapur formed an important item of trade to the west. For a time Nishapur rivaled Baghdad or Cairo: Toghrül, the first ruler of the Seljuk dynasty, made Nishapur his residence in 1037 and proclaimed himself sultan there, but it declined thereafter, as Seljuk fortunes were concentrated in the west. It was badly damaged by earthquakes and the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, which destroyed the pottery kilns.
The poet Omar Khayyam was born in Nishapur in 1048 and is buried a few miles outside the town, near the Imamzadeh Mahroq Mosque . The 12th century poet and mystic Farid al-Din Attar, another native of Nishapur, is also buried nearby. And Iran's greatest contemporary painter, Kamal-ol-molk is buried in the same place.
Little archaeology has been done on this vast and complicated site. Lord Curzon remarked that Nishapur had been destroyed and rebuilt more times than any other city in history, an evocative statement whether or not it is statistically true. The Metropolitan Museum of Art undertook excavations from 1935 that were interrupted in 1940. Searching largely for museum-worthy trophies that they shared with the government of the Shah, the Metropolitan's publications were limited to its own Nishapur ceramics. The site of Nishapur has been ransacked for half a century since World war II, to feed the international market demand for early Islamic works of art.
On February 18, 2004, a train carrying flammable goods derailed and caught fire near the town. Five hours later, during fire fighting and rescue work, a massive explosion destroyed the train and many nearby buildings. Around 300 people were said to have been killed, mainly fire and rescue workers but also the local governor and mayor and the heads of the fire and rail services. 
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