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Balkh
بلخ
Ruins of the Masjid Sabz (the "Green Mosque"), named for its tiled dome (in July 2001)
Balkh is located in Afghanistan
Balkh
Location in Afghanistan
Coordinates: 36°45′N 66°54′E / 36.75°N 66.9°E / 36.75; 66.9
Country  Afghanistan
Province Balkh Province
District Balkh District
Elevation 1,198 ft (365 m)
Time zone + 4.30

Balkh (Persian: بلخ - Balḫ, Old Persian: 𐎲𐎾𐎧; Ancient Greek: Baktra), was an ancient city and centre of Zoroastrianism in what is now northern Afghanistan. Today it is a small town in the province of Balkh, about 20 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, and some 74 km (46 miles) south of the Amu Darya River. It was one of the major cities of Khorasan.

The ancient city of Balkh, in today's Afghanistan was under the Greeks renamed Bactra, giving its name to Bactria.[citation needed] It was mostly known as the centre and capital of Bactria or Takharistan. 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 365 m (1,200 ft).

Contents

History

Balkh is one of the oldest cities in the world and is considered to be the first city to which the Indo-Iranian tribes moved from the North of Amu Darya, approximately between 2000 - 1500 BC.[1] The Arabs called it Umm Al-Belaad or Mother of Cities due to its antiquity.[2] The city was traditionally a center of Zoroastianism.[3] The name Zariaspa, which is either an alternate name for Balkh or a term for part of the city, may derive from the important Zoroastrian fire temple Azar-i-Asp.[3] Balkh was regarded as the first place where Zoroaster first preached his religion, as well as the place where he died.

Map showing Balkh (here indicated as Bactres), the capital of Bactria

Since the Indo-Iranians built their first kingdom in Balkh (Bactria, Daxia, Bukhdi) some scholars believe that it was from this area that different waves of Indo-Iranians spread to Iran and Seistan, where they became today's Persians, Pashtuns, and Baluch. The ones that stayed in Bactria became modern Tajiks, who are located in modern Balkh and surrounding areas. The period between 2500s BC-1900s BC was the most important period in the history of Balkh, its in this relatively short period that a kingdom is established and then the population start to disperse and the kingdom start to shrink in importance until the Median and Persian empires in 700 BC, around 1000 years later. The changing climate has led to desertification since antiquity, when the region was very fertile. The city's long history and former importance are recognized by the native population, who speak of it as the Mother of Cities and the place of Zoroaster's death.[4] Its foundation is mythically ascribed to Keyumars, the first king of the world in Persian legend ; and it is at least certain that, at a very early date, it was the rival of Ecbatana, Nineveh and Babylon. 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 Firdowsi. Armenian sources state that the Parthian Arsac established his capital here. Some scholars believe that a number of mythological rulers of ancient Iran e.g. some kings of Kavi Dynasty (or Kayanian in Persian) were historically local rulers of an area centered around Balkh.[citation needed]

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Buddhism

The chinese pilgrim Fa-Hein (c.400) found the Hinayana prevalent in Shan Shan , Kucha , Kashgar, Osh , Udayana and Gandhara. Hsuan-tsang also notices its presence in Balkh, Bamyan, and Persia .[6]

According to Memoirs of Xuanzang there were about a hundred Buddhist convents in the city or its vicinity at the time of his visit there in the 7th century. There were 3,000 monks and a large number of stupas and other religious monuments. The most remarkable stupa was the Navbahar (Sanskrit, Now Vihara: New Monastery), which possessed a very costly statue of Buddha. The temple was led by Kashmiri called Pramukh (who, through the arabized form of the name, Barmak, came to be known as the Barmakids). Shortly before the Arabic conquest, the monastery became a Zoroastrian fire-temple. A curious notice of this building is found in the writings of Arabian geographer Ibn Hawqal, 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.

Furthermore we know that a number of Buddhist religious centres had flourished in Khorasan the most important was the Nawbahar (New Temple) near the town of Balkh , which evidently served as a pilgrimage centre for political leaders who came from far and wide to pay homage to it .[7]
A large number of Sanskrit medical, pharmacological toxicological texts were translated into Arabic under the patronage of Khalid, the vizier of AL-Mansur. Khalid was the son of a chief priest of a Buddhist monastery. Some of the family were killed when the Arabs captured Balkh ; others including Khalid survived by converting to Islam. They were to be known as the Barmikis of Baghdad.[8]

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. Later, in the 9th century, during the reign of Ya'qub bin Laith as-Saffar, Islam became firmly rooted in the local population.

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 Genghis 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 describe it as "a noble city and a great."

In the 16th century the Uzbeks 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 Emirate of Bukhara. In 1850, Dost Mohammad Khan, the Emir of Afghanistan, captured Balkh, and from that time it remained under Afghan rule. In 1866, Balkh lost its administrative status to the neighboring city of Mazar-e Sharif.[9]

Balkh in 1911

Because of a malaria outbreak during flood season at Balkh, the regional capital was shifted in the 1870s to Mazar-e Sharif.[citation needed]

In 1911, Balkh comprised a settlement of about 500 houses of 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 6½-7 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 were built well above the town on a barren mound and are walled and moated. There was, however, little left of them but the remains of a few pillars. The Green Mosque Masjid Sabz, named for its green-tiled dome (see photograph top right corner) and said to be the tomb of the khwaja Abu-Nasr Parsa, had nothing but the arched entrance remaining of the former madrasa.

The town was garrisoned by a few hundred irregulars (kasidars), the regular troops of Afghan Turkestan being cantoned at Takhtapul, near Mazari Sharif. The gardens to the north-east contained a caravanserai that formed one side of a courtyard, which was shaded by a group of chenar trees Platanus orientalis.[10]

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 the West as "Persian lamb" (Karakul), 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 Khwaja Nasr 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.
  • Tap-e Rustam and Takht-e Rustam

Ancient ruins of Balkh

Remains of a Hellenistic capital found in Balkh.

No professional archaeologist had ever been able to work at Balkh until 2003[citation needed] when excavations started to identify early strata down to the period of the Achaemenids and the Greeks. Remains of Hellenistic capitals were found, identified as remnants of the Seleucid and Greco-Bactrian city of Bactra.

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 pisé mud (i.e. mud mixed with straw and puddled). It is possible that in these ruins we may recognize the Nava 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. A famous figure from the Balkh Province was Sultan Muhmmad Khan from the Mamozai tribe. Sultan Muhmmad Khan was the wealthiest person in Balkh at one time. He was believed to own Hundreds of thousands of acres of land. The people of Balkh considered him to be Khan of Balkh. In 1969 his son Shah Muhmmad Khan became a representative of the Balkh Province in The House of representatives so called The Woloesi Jirga.

Cultural Role

Balkh was the main city from which the Aryans moved to the other parts of Persia and Hindustan. It remained as a key city for the spread of Aryan Civilization for several centuries.

Balkh had a major role in the development of Persian language and literature. The early works of Persian literature were written by the poets and writers who were originally from Balkh.

Many famous Persian poets came from Balkh. e.g.

  • Sanih Balkhi Who is a poet.
  • Nasir Khusraw A poet and scholar.
  • Rashidudin Watwat A poet.
  • Manuchihri Damghani According to Dawlat Shah Samarkandi. He was born in Balkh.
  • Amir Khusrawi Dehlavi His father, Amir Saifuddin was from Balkh.
  • Rabi'a Balkhi who is the first poetess in the History of Persian Poetry, lived in 10th century
  • Daqiqi Balkhi, 10th century
  • Shaheed Balkhi, Abul Muwayed Balkhi, Abu Shukur Balkhi, Ma'roofi Balkhi, the early poets from 9th and 10th centuries
  • Unsuri Balkhi, a 10th/11th century poet
  • Anvari, 12th century, lived and died in Balkh
  • Avicenna or Ibn Sina, the famous philosopher and scientist of 10th century whose father was a native of Balkh
  • Mawlānā Rūmī, who was born and educated in Balkh, in 13th century

Etymology

The name of province or country appear in Old Persian inscriptions (B.h.i 16; Dar Pers e.16; Nr. a.23) as Bāxtri, i.e. Bakhtri. It is written in the Avesta Bāxδi. From this latter came the intermediate form Bāxli, Sanskrit Bahlīka, Balhika ‘Bactrian,’, Armenian Bahl, and by transposition, the modern Persian Balx, i.e. Balkh"[11]

See also

References

  1. ^ Nancy Hatch Dupree, An Historical Guide to Afghanistan, 1977, Kabul, Afghanistan
  2. ^ Frank Harold, Balkhi and Mazar-e-Sharif, Silk Road Seattle (a project of the Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington), LINK
  3. ^ a b The Greeks in Bactria and India. William Woodthorpe Tarn. 1st Edition, 1938; 2nd Updated Edition, 1951. 3rd Edition, updated with a Preface and a new bibliography by Frank Lee Holt. Ares Publishers, Inc., Chicago. 1984. (1984), pp. 114-115 and n. 1.
  4. ^ Padshahs & Pehelvans: by Rohinton G.N. Panthaky
  5. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica
  6. ^ Buddhism in central Asia By Baij Nath Puri , Motilal Banarsi Dass Publishers ,Page 130
  7. ^ Reinterpreting Islamic historiography: Hārūn al-Rashīd and the narrative of the ʻAbbāsid caliphate By Tayeb El-Hibri Edition: illustrated, reprint Published by Cambridge University Press, 1999 Page 8 ISBN 0-521-65023-2, 9780521650236
  8. ^ India, the ancient past: a history of the Indian sub-continent from c. 7000 BC to AD 1200 By Burjor Avari Edition: illustrated Published by Taylor & Francis, 2007 ISBN 0-415-35616-4, 9780415356169 Page 220
  9. ^ Grenet, F.. "BALK". Encyclopædia Iranica (Online Edition ed.). United States: Columbia University. http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/v3f6/v3f6a024.html. Retrieved January 2008. 
  10. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Balkh". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 
  11. ^ Daniel Coit Gilman, Harry Thurston Peck, Frank Moore Colby, "The New international encyclopædia, Volume 2",Dodd, Mead and Company, 1902. pg 341

External links


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Tomb of Khoja Abu Nasar Parsa in the center of town
Tomb of Khoja Abu Nasar Parsa in the center of town

Balkh is a town in Afghanistan.

Understand

Historically Balkh is believed to be a centre of the Bactrian Empire, even before the arrival of Alexander the Great. It was destroyed many times over by the likes of Ghengis Khan and Timur-i-lang.

Talk

Compared to the rest of the country, almost all citizens of Balkh can speak English. There are English schools/lessons and computer courses are also taught (such as Microsoft Office programs). A traveller will be hard pressed not to run into one of the teachers and invited into their home. The young students are shy about using their English.

Get in

Balkh is easily reachable from Mazar-e Sharif by shared taxi for about 20 afghani. Watch out for the passengers sitting in the open boot of some cars. The road passes through a fort with destroyed tanks and APCs; the fort was probably a road block during the Warlord and Taliban period. The landscape before and around the town is fields. South of the town at the turnoff is a large mound that was probably a watchtower.

See

The town is completely enclosed by its ancient fortifications; brick and mud walls at least 30 feet high and in good condition. They can be climbed giving views of the countryside and the town. At the north end is another larger mound that was the fortress. The walls slope on the outside and are vertical on the inside, giving and impression from the inside of being very tall. Turrets along the walls are in varying states of decay providing glimpses of building techniques.

The town has a central park, where children play soccer or volleyball. At one end are the ruins of a tiled mosque, the other the gate of a madrassa. Again the construction technique of the madrassa can bee seen. As the park is full of trees and small shops surround the part it is difficult to take photos of the madrassa. Full shots of the mosque are easy.

  • Shrine of Khoja Abu Nasar Parsa – also known as Bala Hasar, dominating the park in the center of the town sits this 15th century shrine, built in the Timurid style.
  • Dargah of Rabia Balkhi – adjacent to the Parsa shrine is this small tomb of the famous female Persian poet. She was sealed in a basement by her brother after having an affair, and wrote her most famous poem in her own blood on the wall as she died.
  • Noh Gonbad (Haji piyada) mosque; is well worth a visit. Its history is unclear but it is certainly one of Afghanistan's most important historical buildings. Possibly dating from Zoroastrian times the remains are now under a protective roof, and are worth the bumpy 2km drive from the main Balkh - Mazar road. Head south from the centre of Balkh, cross the main east-west road and keep going. After 500 metres you'll see a sign (in English) telling you to turn right.
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BALKH, a city of Afghanistan, about loo m. E. of Andkhui and some 46 m. S. of the Oxus. The city, which is identical with the ancient Bactra or Zainaspa, is now for the most part a mass of ruins, situated on the right bank of the Balkh river, 1200 ft. above the sea. It comprises about Soo houses of Afghan settlers, a colony of Jews and a small bazaar, set in the midst of a waste of ruins and many acres of debris. Entering by the west (or Akcha) gate, one passes under three arches, which are probably the remnants of a former Jama Masjid. The outer walls (mostly in utter disrepair) are about 62 to 7 m. in perimeter, and on the south-eastern borders are set high on a mound or rampart, indicating a Mongol origin. The fort and citadel to the north-east are built well above the town on a barren mound and are walled and moated. There is, however, little left but the remains of a few pillars. The Masjid Sabz, with its green-tiled dome, is said to be the tomb of a Khwaja, Abu' Narsi Parsar. Nothing but the arched entrance remains of the Madrasa, which is traditionally not very old. The earlier Buddhist constructions have proved more durable than the Mahommedan buildings. The Top-i-Rustam is 50 yds. in diameter at the base and 30 yds. at the top, circular and about 50 ft. 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. square and 4 or 5 in. thick. The Takht-i-Rustam is wedge-shaped in plan, with uneven sides. It is apparently built of pise mud (i.e. mud mixed with straw and puddled). It is possible that in these ruins we may recognize the Nan Vihara of the Chinese traveller Hsiian Tsang. There are the remains of many other topes (or stupas) in the neighbourhood. The mounds of ruins on the road to Mazar-iSharif probably represent the site of a city yet older than those on which stands the modern Balkh. The town is garrisoned by a few hundred kasidars, the regular troops of Afghan Turkestan being cantoned at Takhtapul, near Mazari-Sharif. The gardens to the north-east contain a caravanserai, which is fairly well kept and comfortable. It forms one side of a courtyard, which is shaded by a group of magnificent chenar trees.

The antiquity and greatness of the place are recognized by the native populations, who speak of it as the Mother of Cities. 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. For a long time the city and country was the central seat of the Zoroastrian religion, the founder of which is said to have died within the walls. From the Memoirs of Hsiian Tsang, 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 3000 devotees, and that there was a large number of stupas, and other religious monuments. The most remarkable was the Nau Behar, Nava Bihara or New Convent, which possessed a very costly statue of Buddha. A curious notice of this building is found in the Arabian geographer Yaqut. Ibn-Haukal, an Arabian traveller of the 10th century, describes Balkh as built of clay, with ramparts and six gates, and extending half a parasang. He also mentions a castle and a mosque. 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 defence, - treatment to which it was again subjected in the 14th century by Timur. Notwithstanding this, however, Marco Polo can still, in the following century, describe it as "a noble city and a great." Balkh formed the government 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.

See Hsiian Tsang, tr. by Julien, vol. i. pp. 29-32; Burnes's Travels in Bokhara (1831-1833); Ferrier's Travels; Vambery's Bokhara (1873); Report of the Russo-Afghan Boundary Commission of 1884-1885. (T. H. H.*)


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Simple English

Balkh is a small city in Balkh Province of Afghanistan. It was a big city hunderds of years ago, but it was ruind by Mongols.


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