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Province of Balkh



Balkh    بلخ

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Capital Mazar-e-Sharif
Population 869,000
Area 17,249 Km˛
Time Zone UTC + 4:30
Main Languages Dari (Persian)

The Districts of Balkh

District Area Population
Balkh n/a n/a
Chahar Bolak n/a n/a
Chahar Kint n/a n/a
Chimtal n/a n/a
Dawlatabad n/a n/a
Dihdadi n/a n/a
Kaldar n/a n/a
Khulm n/a n/a
Kishindih n/a n/a
Marmul n/a n/a
Mazar-e-Sharif n/a n/a
Nahri Shahi n/a n/a
Sholgara n/a n/a
Shortepa n/a n/a
Zari n/a n/a

Balkh (Persian: بلخ), also known as Bactra, was once a major world city but was destroyed entirely by the Mongols. Today it is a small town in the province of Balkh, northern Afghanistan, about 20 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital, Mazari Sharif, and some 74 km (46 miles) south of the Amu Darya, the Oxus River of antiquity, of which a tributary formerly flowed past Balkh.

Balkh was one of the major cities of Khorasan. It was located in a Persian-speaking area of eastern Persia.

The ancient city of Balkh, the oldest in today's Afghanistan, is associated with the Vedic name Bhakri, which later became Bactra for the Greeks, giving its name to Bactria. 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).

History of Balkh

Balkh is one of the oldest cities of the region and is considered to be the first city to which the Indo-Iranian Aryan tribes moved from the North of Amu Darya, approximately between 2000 - 1500 BCE. The Arabs called it Ummul-Belaad or Mother of Cities due to its oldness and antiquity.

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 the birth place of Zoroaster at Balkh and also believed by Zoroastrians that he is buried there. Its foundation is mythically ascribed to Keyumars, the Persian Romulus; 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 Firdousi. 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 centerd around Balkh. 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 Nava Vihara, which possessed a very costly statue of Buddha. The temple was led by Kashmiri Brahmins 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.

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 Mahommed Akram Khan, Barakzai, captured Balkh, and from that time it remained under Afghan rule.

Balkh in 1911

Because of a malaria outbreak during flood season at Balkh, the regional capital was shifted in the 1870s to Mazari 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 Abu-Nasr Parsa (pictured to the right). 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 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 magnificent chenar trees Platanus orientalis.



Balkh Districts Map

Historic Mosque of Balkh



Provinces of Afghanistan

Badakhshan » Badghis » Baghlan » Balkh » Bamyan » Daykundi » Farah » Faryab » Ghazni » Ghor » Helmand » Herat Jowzjan » Kabul » Kandahar » Kapisa » Khost » Konar » Kunduz » Laghman » Lowgar » Nangarhar » Nimruz » Nurestan Oruzgan » Paktia » Paktika » Panjshir » Parwan » Samangan » Sar-e-Pol » Takhar » Wardak » Zabul


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