Nishapur was founded around the third century A.D. By the eighth century, it flourished as a regional capital famous for its commercial and religious life. The city consisted of a walled citadel surrounded by a walled outer city that included a palace, mosque, marketplace, and other public buildings. Between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, Nishapur had a population of one to two hundred thousand people and covered an area of about six and a half square miles.
Nishapur was an important economic center due to its location on a trade route, known as the Silk Road (see map), which extended from China to the Mediterranean Sea. Nishapur produced and traded raw cotton, silk and cotton textiles, turquoise, and earth with healing properties. These were traded throughout the region, bringing the city great prosperity. Invasions and earthquakes in the thirteenth century reduced the once bustling metropolis to ruin. The ruins of Nishapur remained underground until a team of excavators from the Metropolitan Museum arrived in the 1930s (fig. 36).