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147. Mazar-i Sharif

Balkh Province.

Dates: Ghaznavid period, 1st half 12th century (epigraphic, stylistic evidence);
           Timurid, 15th-16th c. (stylistic)

The principal monument is the Shrine of Hazrat 'Ali (The Blue Mosque), built during the time of Husain-i Baiqara but now covered in modern additions and decorations. A large hall and iwan to the southeast of the Shrine probably dates from the Timurid period (15th-16th century). In a small chamber to the left of the main entrance to the Shrine is a decorated marble gravestone, probably from the Ghaznavid period.

The present condition of the Blue Mosque is due in no small part fo the steps taken to avoid the structure and preserve it during 2001 military operations in northern Afghanistan (source): "The key thing there to remember, like we talked about earlier, is the collateral damage. Mazar is the home of the Blue Mosque, and we, as a detachment, had already recognized that we were not going to drop ordnance on the Blue Mosque or anywhere to risk collateral damage of the Blue Mosque. That was key. A lot of fighting there wasn't the close air support; there was more of combat and dismounted effort there. ..."

Hazrat Ali Shrine Complex (The Blue Mosque)

Variant Names:  Tomb and Shrine of Caliph 'Ali bin Abi Talib, Blue Mosque, Blue Masjid, Rawze-e Sharif (Rawze ..., Rawze-e-Sharif)

Dates: Timurid period, 1480-1481 (with later additions)

Builder/Patron: Sultan Husain Baiqara


Eighty-one photos of this site may be view at Archnet.

The Archnet Digital Library describes Mazar-e Sharif (literally "Tomb of the Exalted") as: "the final resting place of fourth caliph 'Ali bin Abi Talib (d. 661 A.H.). Legend contends that the caliph's body was moved from Najaf to a secret tomb near Balkh, which was 're-discovered' by a mullah in the village of Khwaja Khayran in early twelfth century. Seljuk sultan Sanjar erected a shrine on this site in 1136, which was probably destroyed in Mongol invasion of 1220. Timurid sultan Husain Baiqara (1469-1506) built the present shrine in 1480-81 (885 A.H.), furthering to the town's development into a large urban center. The shrine was restored extensively in the mid-20th c. and draws Shi'a pilgrims throughout the year, and especially during the celebration of New Year (Neuroz).

The shrine is roughly rectangular in plan, and measures about fifty-three meters by thirty-eight meters at the largest. It is aligned northwest-southeast and is enclosed within a fenced precinct that includes the large mosque built in mid-twentieth century to the southwest of the shrine. A site plan of the shrine complex sketched by Niedermayer in 1916-1917 shows a smaller walled precinct, with bazaar streets leading out from the shrine to the southeast and, possibly, to the northwest. These historic structures were razed to create parklands later in the twentieth century, leaving only their monumental portals that now serve as gateways for the shrine.

The Timurid core of the shrine contains the tomb chamber of Ali and its ziaratkhana, whose blue-tiled domes rise above the shrine's roofline. A grand pishtaq flanked by bi-level loggias leads into the ziaratkhana, an ante-chamber dedicated to prayer and worship, from the southeast. Inside, the chamber has a cruciform plan extended with polygonal bays to the northeast and southwest. It is covered with a central dome about ten meters in diameter and opens into the caliph's room to its northwest. The larger tomb chamber is also cruciform in plan and is crowned by a taller dome of about fifteen meters in diameter. A doorway is centered at the end of each cross arm: the northeast door leads into an octagonal chamber that projects beyond the shrine's wall, while the northwest door opens onto a triple-domed portico, now enclosed with wooden screens. The southwest doorway, now a view-window with a metal grill, belongs to the monumental side portal.

Tombs of various shape and size belonging to Afghan rulers and religious leaders were added to the Timurid shrine through the centuries, creating its current irregular profile. The square domed tomb of Amir Dost Muhammad (1826-1863) and his family adjoins the southeast portal to its southwest. A similar tomb containing the graves of Amir Sher Ali (1863-1879) is located between this tomb and the side portal on the southwest façade.

The shrine's exterior is covered entirely with polychrome tile mosaic and painted tile panels dominated by shades of blue. Many of these tiles were renewed or replaced during twentieth century renovations. A continuous parapet and decorative turrets unify the jagged cornice line. Timurid interiors of the shrine have retained their original squinch-net vaulting; their epigraphic decoration, on the other hand, is mostly from the nineteenth century. The interior of the ziaratkhana dome, which is adorned with concentric rows of muqarnas on a sixteen-sided base, features painted arabesque decoration that may be of the Timurid period. The shrine has a rich treasury that contains, among other objects, a marble slab remaining from the Seljuk shrine inscribed with the words 'Ali, Lion of God.'"

Source: Warwick Ball, Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan, 1982, n. 716

  36° 42' 33.84" N
  36.7094º N
  67° 6' 40.6794" E

67.1113º E


Mazar-i Sharif Blue Mosque is
located at the above coordinates along the border between JOG
map 1501CNJ4213_geo.pdf