Balkh (ancient Bactra) is a city in northern Afghanistan. It lies on an alluvial fan to the west of Mazar-i Sharif, the modern regional center and capital of the province of Balkh. Balkh is a city of great antiquity, pre-dating the Islamic period by centuries. It gave its name to the satrapy (province) of the Achaemenid Empire known as Bactria, and remained an important regional center – at times ruled independently – during the Hellenistic and Islamic periods. Only in the mid-nineteenth century, with the growth of Mazar-i Sharif, did the ancient city lose its regional importance. Its longstanding significance was in part due to its location at the crossroads of east-west caravan networks linking Transoxiana to India.1
Islamic Balkh comprised a walled inner city or shahristan and a suburban area or rabad. The oldest section of the city dating to before the Hellenistic period is an enclosure, roughly circular in plan, known as Bala Hisar. A fortified citadel (arg) was located along its southern walls. The city expanded into the areas south and east of the original circular enclosure, and defensive walls were built around this exterior area during the Hellenistic period and renovated and extended in Islamic times under the Timurids. The modern town of Balkh lies south of the Bala Hisar in the area of expansion mentioned above.
Remains of several important Islamic monuments can be found within and surrounding the city. The oldest Islamic monument on site is the Mosque of Haji Piyadah, also known as the Masjid-i Nuh Gumbad (Mosque of Nine Domes), which likely dates to the 9th/late 2nd or early 3rd century AH. The form and ornamentation of this mosque speak to the linking of Afghanistan and the central Islamic lands, for the piers and springing of the arches that once supported its domes retain stucco ornament stylistically similar to that found at imperial Abbasid sites in Mesopotamia. At the center of the modern city stand the Timurid Shrine of Abu Nasr Parsa (d. 1459-61/864-5 AH) and the 17th century Madrasa of Sayyid Subhan Quli Khan. The Balkh oasis also boasts the remains of several pre-Islamic, Buddhist monuments. The mound known as Tepe Rustam contains the remains of a grand stupa. It is thought to be the shrine of the monastery known as Naw Bahar mentioned in many Islamic and pre-Islamic sources. The ruins of the shrine itself may be synonymous with another nearby mound known as Takht-i Rustam.
Simpson, St J., F. Hiebert, P.L. Kohl, R. Talbert, Jeffrey Becker, W. Röllig, Tom Elliott, H. Kopp, DARMC, Sean Gillies, B. Siewert-Mayer, Francis Deblauwe, and Eric Kansa, 'Bactra/Zariaspa: a Pleiades place resource', Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, 2019 https://pleiades.stoa.org/places/961886 [accessed: 05 December 2019].
The rehabilitation of
the landscaping surrounding the Khwaja Parsa Shrine at the centre of Balkh focused on
providing safe access and improved services and facilities for the public. In
order to facilitate better access to the park new pathways and stairs were laid
using brick masonry and, where appropriate, existing pathways were improved and
made ready for use by large numbers of people. Laborers cleared debris from the
site, leveled and graded the earth by hand, before laying 12,000 square meters of
brick pathways using lime-mortar base and over 780,000 locally produced bricks.
In warmer months, weekly markets selling food, spices, and used trinkets are
located within the park and this itinerant commercial use of the site required
the upgrading and paving of dedicated areas within the park, allocating fixed
hard-surfaces for use by large numbers of people in order to avoid damage to
trees and plants. The area around the remains of the Subhan Qoli Madrassa Gate
was paved and the once neglected monument was transformed as the main gateway
into the park.
The natural landscape
was enhanced through the removal of 800m3 of and the clearing of silt deposits
from 2000 linear-meters of surface channels, improving the existing gravity-fed
irrigation system distributing water to trees, plants and bushes. As part of
the landscaping works, more than 700 invasive species of plants and trees were
removed and the site was replanted with more than 1200 trees and flowers
consisting of indigenous species widely available in the local nurseries such
as cypresses, plane trees and roses. A small on-site nursery was established in
order to propagate the planting of additional trees in the future.
The upgrading and
improvement of more than 580 linear-meters of walling at the perimeter of the
garden, which included the construction of structural brick piers and the
fabrication of metal railings greatly improved the overall security of the
site, making it possible to use the park in the evenings in the future.