The sun struck the tiles, which glittered blue and pink and yellow against the dark foliage and lowering sky
One of the least known monuments that Robert Byron visited during his journey is for sure the shrine in Qadamgah. Byron arrived there on the 16th of November 1933 and took a photo of the small shrine.
Shockingly enough, not much information on the shrine is to be found. Archnet, that usually is a valuable source of information, provides few details: the coordinates, and the distance of the shrine from Nishapur. Both are wrong. The coordinates of the monument on archnet.org point to the caravanserai which lies next to the shrine. The distance from Nishapur that archnet reports, 800 km [!], is totally misleading: the shrine is about 30 km from the center of Nishapur.
On the other hand, the details that Byron includes in his travelogue look accurate and reliable: it makes then sense to read what he wrote.
At Kadam Gah, sixteen miles down the road, the driver obligingly stopped while I walked up to the shrine. This pretty little octagon, surmounted by a bulbous dome, was built in the middle of the XVIIth century, and commemorates a resting-place of the Imam Riza. It sits on a platform beneath a rocky cliff, surrounded by tall umbrella-pines and tinkling streams. The sun struck the tiles, which glittered blue and pink and yellow against the dark foliage and lowering sky. A bearded seyid in a black turban asked for money.
According to his travelogue, the small building was built in mid-XVIIth century, thus ascribed to the Safavid dynasty. Basing on the fact that the caravansarai next to the shrine is called Shah Abbasi, one can propose that the shrine had been commissioned by the same Safavid king, that ruled from 1588 to 1629. Also, Shah Abbas ordered the construction of another stylistically-similar building, the Mausoleum of Khwaja Rabi’. This is anyhow only an educated guess, and conclusions can be drawn only after an accurate analysis of the monuments.
Unfortunately, it seems that no one, so far, except Robert Byron, was actually interested in this monument. I could not find any detailed study on it.
In the religious life of thousands of pilgrims, though, the Shrine of Qadamgah, occupies a prominent position.
The name of the city seems to be strictly connected to the shrine and its religious significance.
On Facebook (yes, Facebook), I found a photo album by the page The Holy Shrines Of Masumeen As: there it appears clearly that the shrine of Qadamgah is considered to be part of the city of Nishapur, but apart from that, the description explains also the religious significance of the place.
According to the accounts of the journey, Imam Reza (A.S.) stopped at a spring, besides which he performed the prayer. After the prayer, the impression of his feet miraculously appeared on the stone where he stood. Later, the faithful built a dome besides the spring and installed the impression of the Imam’s feet in its southern wall. The present building dates from the Safavid period. Millions of pilgrims and travelers visiting the holy shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.) in Mashhad city also visit Qadamgah and drink the water from spring adjoined to the shrine near the impression of the feet of Imam Reza (A.S.).
Among the photos on display on Facebook, one is the impression of the Imam’s feet. It would make sense to propose that the city of Qadamgah was built around the shrine. This conclusion makes even more sense if one considers the toponym: Qadamgah. In her contribution “Foundational Legends, Shrines, and Ismaili Identities…”, in the book Muslims and Others in Sacred Space, by Margaret Cormack (ed.), Jo-Ann Gross explains how the term “Qadamgah (stepping place) is the term used for a shrine that marks the place where a holy person walked or visited. Qadamgah are often imaginary shrines that locate eminent Shi’i figures or Sufis in the region”. The city was thus named after the shrine, and maybe the caravansarai was built to allow pilgrim to rest after having visited the holy place.
Further research is needed for sure. For the moment, we should thank Robert Byron for having reminded us that the Shrine of Qadamgah exists and it deserves to be studied.
All the resources used for this post are linked in the text.