Famed Mosques of Balkh

Balkh, Afghanistan
July 7, 2019

Green Mosque
The Green mosque, colloquially called Haji Parsa is supposedly one of its highlights, but it is a battered sight. The damage suffered during the civil war shows in the jagged edges rearing against the sky. It was commissioned in the 15th century by Queen Gowhar Shad, wife of Eastern Timurid king Shahrukh. Many mosques and schools through their kingdom is attributed to her including the minarets I saw in Herat.

No Gumbat
The site maybe more famous in local lore as the shrine of Haji Pirada, but for me, the real attraction was the oldest mosque in Afghanistan. Called No Gumbat, because of its nine domes, it has been under restoration for years and the site closed to the public. I peered through the gate and attracted the attention of a man supervising the work. Speaking excellent English, he introduced himself as the archeologist in a French-Afghan collaboration. And graciously allowed me to not only to enter but told me of the uniqueness of this structure. How lucky can I get? I remember the same happening in Penjikent in Tajikistan when I had met yet another archeologist at work.

The patterns on the pillars are stunning, perhaps more so in the absence of color. No two pillars are the same he said, which is a daring departure from the rigidity of Islamic architecture. There are tombs in the forecourt, supposedly Timurid but not excavated yet. There are typical Timurid tiles too but again only in the forecourt. And best of all is that they think this mosque, old it might be, but it is built atop a structure far older. A temple, they think it might be. I would have likely dallied a lot longer, but another man had appeared at the scene. Distinctly disgruntled at the breach of rules, he gently but firmly ushered me out the gate. There is rationale behind it though. The archeologist told me that last year ten of his colleagues worked here as well but thanks to the rising tensions in Balkh, none of his  French colleagues have been allowed this year. He is the only one working here now. I did not tarry too long and left the city before I attracted too much attention.

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