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018. Balkh: Haji Pirada Mosque

Balkh Province. 21 kilometers west of Mazar-i Sharif.

Dates: Achaenemid, 6th-4th century BC;
           Graeco-Bactrian, 3rd to mid 1st century BC;
           Kushan, 1st c. BC to 3rd century AD;
           Sassanian, 3rd-7th century;
           Turk, early Islamic, 7th-12th century;
           Timurid, 15th century
           (architectural, ceramic, numismatic, documentary, and stylistic evidence)

Balkh (ancient Paktra or Baktra or Bactria), a UNESCO World Heritage Site candidate (2004), is an urban site of some 11 square kilometers, situated 21 kilometers west of Mazar-i Sharif and 74 kilometers south of the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, which ran close to the city during antiquity. Reputedly the birthplace of Zoroaster, Bactria was for a long time the spiritual center for the Zoroastrian religion and was said to have rivaled urban centers such as Babylon. Accounts of visitors to Balkh in ancient times include Alexander the Great, a succession of Graeco Bactrian kings, pilgrims, countles Silk Road traders and pilgrims attracted by the many Buddhist monasteries in the Balkh region during the 4th-7th centuries, Genghis Kahn (who sacked the city 1220), Marco Polo (who declared Balkh a "noble city and great" in 1271) and Timur (who destroyed the city again in 1370). Accounts from the 10th century AD onward indicate that Balkh was ringed with earthen walls, within which stood a fine citadel, mosque and other buildings necessary for Balkh to become an important trading center (a necessary stop on the Silk Road with links to India and China) and a center of education (in 980 AD the philosopher-scientist Ibn Sina was born in Balkh, as was the poet Ferdowsi). Those same earthen walls can still be seen over a length of some 10 kilometres, to the north of which lies a secondary fortified area, the Bala Hissar. Other notable sites needing protection in or near Balkh include the tiled Timurid-era Shrine of Khwãja Abu Nasr Parsa, the Samanid-style Haji Piyadi (No Gumbad) Mosque from the second half of the 9th century, and the 17th century Madrasa of Sayyid Subhan Quli Khan located in Balkh City, the Khwaja Aghacha Mosque located some three kilometers to the south, and farther south, the Buddhist monastery Takht-i Rustam and the associated stupa of Tepe Rustam, of which an earth-brick base, 40 meters in diameter, still survives. See also the Minaret of Zadyan. Looting at Balkh since 2001 has been extensive.

Haji Piyada Mosque

Variant Names: Masjid-i No Gumbad (Noh Gumbad, Nuh Gunbad, Nu Gumbad),, No Gumbad Mosque, Masjid Hadji Piyade (Haji Piyada),
Nuh Gunbad
, Masjid-i Tarikh, Masjid-i Ka'b al-Akhbar or Tarikh Khaneh

Balkh Province. Three kilometers south of Balkh, 1.5 kilometers to
the west of the road to Pul-i Imambukri.

Date: (?)Samanid period, second half of the 9th century A.D.
         (stylistic evidence)


Site of a badly damaged Samanid-style mosque of unmatched historical value, considered one of the "100 Most Endangered Sites" by the World Monuments Fund (2006).

Believed to date from the 9th century, Haji Piyadi Mosque is thought to be the earliest Islamic building in Afghanistan—and one of the earliest structures in the eastern Islamic world— completed just 200 years after the birth of Islam and shortly after its introduction into Central Asia.

The remains of the building show a small structure (the interior measured some 10 meters square, exterior walls 20 meters square) with nine equal bays, each of which had a brick dome, all of which have collapsed (its modern name, No Gumbad, refers to these nine vaults). Despite the collapsed roof, the building is regarded as one of the earliest examples of a nine-domed mosque in the entire Islamic world.

The Archnet Digital Library describes the Haji Piyada Mosque in the following manner: "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 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."

The walls and columns of the mosque are buried in 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.

According to the World Monuments Fund's World Monuments Watch program" "the Mosque of Haji Piyada is threatened by looting, high humidity, and erosion, which are taking their toll what has survived. Urgently needed measures to safeguard the site against further damage include the construction of a fence around its perimeter to prevent illicit excavations and the consolidation of surrounding walls to protect against harsh weather conditions. [A metal roof was erected recently to protect the ruins.] Decades of war and civil unrest in Afghanistan have made maintenance of the site all but impossible and have stripped the country of the capacity to carry out even basic conservation projects. It is hoped that Watch listing will not only highlight the need to preserve this extraordinary building, but also provide a laboratory for training a new generation of Afghan conservators."

According to Archnet: "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."

Source: Archnet

See also: Fischer, K. 1978. "From the Rise of Islam to the Mongol Invasion." The Archaeology of Afghanistan: From Earliest Times to the Timurid Period. (F. R. Allchin and N. Hammond, eds.) London: Academic Press Inc., 305-307, 413.

Golombek, Lisa. 1969. "Abbasid Mosque at Balkh". In Oriental Art 15, 173-189.

Hillenbrand, Robert. 1994. Islamic Architecture: Form, Function and Meaning. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 78, 104, 290, 410, 488.

Knobloch, Edgar. 2002. The Architecture and Archaeology of Afghanistan. UK: Tempus Publishing, 58 65, 104, 107.

Melikian-Chirvani, A. S. 1969. "La Plus Ancienne Mosquée de Balkh". In Arts Asiatiques 20, 3-20.

  36°43'48.0000" N
  36.73° N
  66°53'06.0000" E

66.885° E

  311140 E
  4067006 N

Balkh is located at the above coordinates along the border between JOG map

Click here to view the Google
Earth satellite image of the Haji Parada Mosque, located south of Balkh