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 Dehdadi Mosque was built in what we believe to be two
distinct periods. The wooden veranda with intricate decoration seems to hail from the
18th century, while the masonry brick domed and vaulted range of rooms was built in the early
part of the 19th
century. The Mosque and the khanaqa was built by Mirza Mohammad
Yousuf, a Sufi mystic who distinguished
himself as a scholar and poet.
Mosque or Khanaqa (place of Sufi worship) was built in two distinct
phases and architectural styles using highly intricate wood carved elements and
floral stucco decoration. The large site includes a large reflective water pool
and an open-plan madrasa used for religious education and mass prayer.
Remaining historic structures in Balkh consist mainly of mosques, shrines, and
madrasas, reflecting the deeply religious nature of these communities and the
sustained religious donations (zikat) that are made towards the maintenance
of these structures. In addition to worship and religious education, such communal
spaces are often used by the residents of the area to hold council, discuss community
matters and at times for large gatherings aimed at finding resolutions to
shared problems. As such they represent important spaces of prayer, teaching,
communal and social interaction.
the Dehdadi Mosque itself has finely carved doors and painted stucco decoration
on the upper parts of the arches, domes and the mihrab, resembling similar
religious buildings in Bukhara from the 18th and 19th centuries. In the oldest section of
the Mosque, the wooden pillars stand on unique cylindrical bases, and its main
walls are covered in finely carved plaster floral motifs resembling the ‘tree
of life’. Following an initial survey of the khanaqa in 2009, the Aga Khan Trust
for Culture has monitored the condition of the monument since commencing
conservation works in Balkh in 2011. Continued erosion coupled with extensive
damage caused by rain and snowfall has resulted in the destabilization of the
structure to the extent that urgent conservation works are required in order to
safeguard the Mosque.
of the project was to undertake essential repair and restoration works on an important
historic monument in Balkh, employing local craftsman and daily labourers ensuring
that the trained personnel can assist with future maintenance of the site. Additionally, the project aimed to make the site safe and
accessible for use by the community as a religious and social space. This
project will also provide a platform for continued development of Afghan
professional capacity and training for skilled craftsmen. The Mosque, as both a historic monument and a place of
worship, remains an important part of social adhesion for the surrounding
community. Any work undertaken would enjoy their support and that of local
authorities and the various departments of the Ministry of Information and
Culture. Furthermore, the project aimed at increasing public awareness towards
the importance of preserving Afghanistan’s built heritage.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Constructed in 18th and 19th centuries; restored 2013-2014