From Academic Kids

Balkh is now a small town in the Province of Balkh, Afghanistan, about 20 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, and some 46 miles (74 km) south of the Amu Darya, the Oxus River of antiquity, of which a tributary formerly flowed past Balkh. The ancient city, the oldest in Afghanistan, is associated with the Vedic name Bhakri, which as Bactra gave its name to Bactria, and was known as Zainaspa. Balkh is now for the most part a mass of ruins, situated some 12 km from the right bank of the seasonally-flowing Balkh River, at an elevation of about 1,200 ft (366 m).


Balkh in 1911

Missing image
Masjid Sabz (the "Green Mosque") is named for its tiled dome (in July 2001)

Because of malaria during flood season at Balkh, the regional capital was shifted in the 1870s to Mazar-e Sharif.

In 1911, the Encyclopedia Britannica described a settlement of about 500 Afghan settlers, a colony of Jews and a small bazaar set in the midst of a waste of ruins and acres of debris. Entering by the west (Akcha) gate, one passed under three arches, in which the compilers recognized the remnants of the former Friday Mosque (Jama Masjid). The outer walls, mostly in utter disrepair, were estimated about 6-7 miles (10.5 to 11.3 km) in perimeter. In the south-east, they were set high on a mound or rampart, which indicated a Mongol origin to the compilers.

The fort and citadel to the north-east are built well above the town on a barren mound and are walled and moated. There was, however, little left but the remains of a few pillars. The Green Mosque Masjid Sabz, named for its green-tiled dome (illustration, right), is said to be the tomb of the khwaja Abul Narsi Parsar. Nothing but the arched entrance remained of the former madrasa.

The town was garrisoned in 1911 by a few hundred irregulars (kasidars), the regular troops of Afghan Turkestan being cantoned at Takhtapul, near Mazar-i-Sharif. The gardens to the north-east contained a caravanserai that formed one side of a courtyard, which was shaded by a group of magnificent chenar trees Platanus orientalis.

Balkh today

A project of modernization was undertaken in 1934, in which eight streets were laid out, housing and bazaars built. Modern Balkh is a center of the cotton industry, of the skins known commonly as "Persian" lamb, and for agricultural produce like almonds and melons. Numerous places of interest are to be seen today aside from the ancient ruins and fortifications:

  • The madrasa of Sayed Subhan Quli Khan.
  • Bala-Hesar, the shrine and mosque of Khaja Nasrat Parsa.
  • The tomb of the poetess Rabia Balkhi.
  • The Nine Domes Mosque (Masjid Now Gumbad). This exquisitely ornamented mosque, also referred to as Haji Piyada, is the earliest Islamic monument yet identified in Afghanistan.
  • The traditional bazaar.

Ancient ruins of Balkh

No professional archaeologist has ever been able to work at Balkh.

The earlier Buddhist constructions have proved more durable than the Islamic period buildings. The Top- Rustam is 50 yd (46 m) in diameter at the base and 30 yd (27 m) at the top, circular and about 50 ft (15 m) high. Four circular vaults are sunk in the interior and four passages have been pierced below from the outside, which probably lead to them. The base of the building is constructed of sun-dried bricks about 2 ft (600 mm) square and 4 or 5 in (100 to 130 mm) thick. The Takht-e Rustam is wedge-shaped in plan with uneven sides. It is apparently built of pis mud (i.e. mud mixed with straw and puddled). It is possible that in these ruins we may recognize the Nan Vihara described by the Chinese traveller Xuanzang. There are the remains of many other topes (or stupas) in the neighborhood.

The mounds of ruins on the road to Mazar-e Sharif probably represent the site of a city yet older than those on which stands the modern Balkh.

History of Balkh

The changing climate has led to desertification since antiquity, when the region was very fertile. The antiquity and greatness of the place are recognized by the native populations, who speak of it as the Mother of Cities and claim that Zoroaster preached at Balkh and is buried there. Its foundation is mythically ascribed to Kaiomurs, the Persian Romulus; and it is at least certain that, at a very early date, it was the rival of Ecbatana, Nineveh and Babylon. Bactra was conquered by Alexander the Great in 328 BCE. Its early history is at the entry Bactria.

There is a long-standing tradition that an ancient shrine of Anahita was to be found here, a temple so rich it invited plunder.

For a long time the city and country was the central seat of the Zoroastrian religion, the founder of which, Zoroaster, died within the walls, according to the Persian poet Firdousi. In a fire-temple of Balkh, later converted to a Buddhist temple and given the name of Nava Vihara (Navbahar) in Persian chronicles, the Kashmiri Brahmins called Pramukh kept the lamps burning.

From the Memoirs of Xuanzang, we learn that, at the time of his visit in the 7th century, there were in the city, or its vicinity, about a hundred Buddhist convents, with 3,000 devotees, and that there was a large number of stupas, and other religious monuments. The most remarkable was the Nau Behar, (avci Bihara or New Convent), which possessed a very costly statue of Buddha. A curious notice of this building is found in the Arabian geographer Yaqtit Ibn-Haukal, an Arabian traveler of the 10th century, who describes Balkh as built of clay, with ramparts and six gates, and extending half a parasang. He also mentions a castle and a mosque.

At the time of the Islamic conquest of Persia in the 7th century, however, Balkh had provided an outpost of resistance and a safe haven for the Persian emperor Yedzgird who fled there from the armies of Umar.

Ibn Sina ("Avicenna"), a Tajik born in Balkh in 980 CE, was the most celebrated philosopher-scientist of his time. He is particularly known for his contributions in the field of Aristotelian philosophy and medicine. His works found their way to Toledo, Spain, where they were copied and translated and influenced the rise of Aristotelian philosophy in 12th-century Europe.

Idrisi, in the 12th century, speaks of its possessing a variety of educational establishments, and carrying on an active trade. There were several important commercial routes from the city, stretching as far east as India and China.

In 1220 Jenghiz Khan sacked Balkh, butchered its inhabitants and levelled all the buildings capable of defense — treatment to which it was again subjected in the 14th century by Timur. Notwithstanding this, however, Marco Polo could still, in the following century, describe it as "a noble city and a great."

In the 16th century the Uzbek entered Balkh. The Moghul Shah Jahan fruitlessly fought them there for several years in the 1640s. Balkh formed the government seat of Aurangzeb in his youth. In 1736 it was conquered by Nadir Shah. Under the Durani monarchy it fell into the hands of the Afghans; it was conquered by Shah Murad of Kunduz in 1820, and for some time was subject to the khan of Bokhara. In 1850 Mahommed Akram Khan, Barakzai, captured Balkh, and from that time it remained under Afghan rule.

External links

bg:Балх de:Balch nl:Balkh


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