Built in the first half of the ninth century, the No Gumbad Mosque to the southwest of Balkh is one of the oldest known monuments of Islam. Its modern name, No Gumbad, refers to the nine vaults or domes that covered the original structure. These domes have since fallen, and the walls and columns of the mosque are buried in a more than a meter of mud-brick fragments. With one of its two remaining archways in danger of collapse, the structure is in urgent need of stabilization and restoration.
The mosque is aligned with qibla on the northeast-southwest axis and measures twenty-meters per side on the exterior. Inside, the prayer hall is divided into nine bays -- three rows and three aisles -- with triple archways. The arches rest on four thick columns at center and pairs of columns (single at the corners) that are embedded into the southeast, southwest and northwest walls. The northeast wall opposite qibla opens to the exterior with a triple arcade carried on two additional columns. Three arched openings were pierced into each side wall, while the southwest wall -- which contains the semi-domed mihrab niche -- was left blind. Only the columns and two arches remain today of the interior arcade, while the exterior walls have crumbled down in many places. A metal roof was erected recently to protect the ruins.
Built of mud bricks and covered with plaster, the mosque was richly decorated on the interior with deeply carved arabesques covering the capitals, imposts, spandrels and soffits of the arcades. This stucco decoration, although weather-worn, has largely remained. The surfaces of the columns feature a crisscross pattern made of headers above a base -- largely buried -- of arabesque carvings. Floral medallions adorn the spandrels remaining of the interior arches.
No Gumbad Mosque is flanked by a cemetery to its north that was established at least two centuries after its construction. A saint known as Hadji Piyade is buried in the small domed tomb standing immediately before the mosque entrance, giving it the alternative name "Masjid-i Hadji Piyade."
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