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019. Balkh: Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa Shrine

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

Dates: Achaenemid, 6th-4th century BC;
           Graeco-Bactrian, 3rd-mid 1st century BC;
           Kushan, 1st century BC–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 A.D. 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.

Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa Shrine

Variant Names: Khvaja Abou Nasr Parsa Mosque, Ziarat-i Khoja Abu Nasr Parsa, Khodja Abu Nasr Parsa Ziarat, Khvajeh Abu Nasr Parsa Ziyarat, Green Mosque

Date(s): Timurid period, dated 1460/61


Sixty four additional photos of this site can be found at Archnet.

The Archnet Digital Library describes the Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa Shrine in the following manner: "Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa (d. 1460) was a spiritual leader of the Naqshbandi order and a theological lecturer in Herat. While there is no epigraphical evidence identifying his shrine as the site of his tomb, art historians Golombek and Wilber have identified an unmarked tombstone in front of the portal as the khwaja's grave marker. Another unmarked tomb found in the crypt is thought to belong to the patron of the shrine. The tile kufic inscription around the dome's drum, with the date 1598, was probably placed after a restoration. The shrine was restored most recently in 1974-75."

"The plan of the shrine is a chamfered square enveloping a cross-shaped dome chamber aligned with qibla along the southwest-northeast axis. Its elevation is dominated by the monumental portal screen and dome. The long sides of the exterior were carved with eight-meter-deep rectangular iwans, while the chamfered corners had bi-level, five-sided porches; the roofs of the iwans and the upper porches have largely collapsed, exposing the octagonal substructure of the circular drum."

"The towering portal screen frames the northeast iwan and is bound on both sides by engaged cabled columns with bulbous bases. Its top section, now collapsed, had an arched gallery that rose taller than the dome. The bi-level porches flanking the portal are topped with minarets, of which the shafts remain. Stairs entered from the corner porches give access to the upper porches, the minarets and the roof. Only fragments have survived of the blue and white mosaic faience and the inscriptive tile bands that once adorned the portal screen and its flanking porches. The dome, its muqarnas base and its drum are also covered with plain, floral and inscriptive tiles dominated by shades of blue"

"A small wooden door leads from the northeast iwan into the dome chamber, crowned by a tall umbrella vault. The four arched niches that animate the walls of the chamber at the ground level are doubled in number at the gallery level with the addition of corner arches supporting the dome's pendentives. Sixteen windows placed at the rim of the vault illuminate the interior. The dome cham"

"The crypt directly below the dome chamber has a low vault supported by intersecting arches and pendentives. A column was added later to support the crown of the crypt vault. The platform with tombstones before the main portal was also added at a later date."

Source: Archnet


  36° 46' N
  36.759° N
  66° 54' E

66.8975° E


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

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Earth satellite view of the Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa Shrine at Balkh