Home to the clerics that have ruled the country since 1979, Qom is Iran's religious capital. It is also the nation's second most sacred city, after Mashhad. Shiite scholars from across the world come to study here in the city's madrasehs, or schools, and it attracts pious pilgrims from across the region.
Conservative and serious, the city is best visited on a day trip from Kashan or Tehran.
What to see
By far the biggest attraction for foreigners is the magnificent shrine to Fatima, Imam Reza's sister. The physical and spiritual centre of Qom, the shrine has a huge gold dome and double minarets. Fatima's remains were interred here in the 9th century AD, and it is also the resting place of four Safavid shah's – Safi I, Abbas II, Soleyman I and Sultan-Hossein.
The complex has numerous courtyards with fountains and gorgeously tiled minarets, some in an unusual minty green. While the shrine itself is off-limits to non-Muslims, these grounds are open to all. All women must wear chadors here, which you can loan on site, and be vigilant about any hair showing.
The vast marble square stretching from Hazrat-e Masumeh to the Imam Hassan Mosque is fringed with shops selling religious trinkets, glittering gold jewellery and the local delicacy, sohun, a sweet brittle made with pistachio, almond, cardamom and saffron.
HOLY SHrine of Imam Khomeini
Strictly within Tehran's city limits, but on the road to Qom, this giant shrine is the resting place of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. It will be years until it's complete, but it's still worth a short visit, if only to marvel at the sheer scale of it. A golf cart ferries visitors from the parking lot to the entrances, and stepping inside gives the impression more of an exhibition hall than a mosque. It's decorated in glittering, swirling, multi-coloured, mirrored details, which visitors gaze up at, open-mouthed in wonder.