Karbala (kärˈbələ) [key], city (1987 pop. 296,705), central Iraq, at the edge of the Syrian Desert. The city's trade is in religious objects, hides, wool, and dates. Karbala is the site of the tomb of the Shiite leader Husein, who was killed in the city in 680. It is second only to Mecca in being a holy place visited by Shiite pilgrims. The tomb, with a gilded dome and three minarets, is the most notable building; it was destroyed by the Wahhabis in 1801 but was quickly restored by contributions from Persians and other Shiite Muslims. Iranian pilgrims to Mecca traditionally begin their journey at Karbala, and many pious Muslims bring the bones of their dead for burial there. It is sometimes transliterated Kerbela.
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