• The RokSprocket Module needs the RokSprocket Component enabled.
The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project 

Introduction to Balkh

دری ]

Shrine to Ali in Mazar-i Sharif, Balkh ProvinceShrine to Ali in Mazar-i Sharif, Balkh Province.Why study Balkh?

Historical Balkh is an important place to study for three main reasons. First, it has survived over more than four millennia; secondly, it has the untarnished reputation as a city of great scholarship and mysticism; and thirdly, it is noted for an exceptional level of mercantile achievement. Balkh is a major historical site, but about the place itself we know very little. This is why the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project was established in 2011 (see Our research Section for details).

Where is Balkh?

Historical Balkh is located in the northwestern part of Afghanistan. The region is at the fringe of Afghanistan, and as fringes go, it is not easily accommodated in one or another of the major areas of the present or the past. One scholar, Richard Foltz, clearly situates Balkh (together with Mawara' al-nahr, 'the land across the river', i.e. the Oxus, but not the rest of Afghanistan) within Central Asia. Map showing the city of Balkh in Afghanistan. Source: Google Maps.Map showing the city of Balkh in Afghanistan. Source: Google Maps.According to the Fada'il-i Balkh written in the late 12th century AD, Balkh came into direct or indirect contact with places, such as Badakhshan (shared today between Afghanistan and Tajikistan and bordering the Pamir Mountains); China (chin wa ma-chin); Tirmidh, Bukhara and Samarqand (in today's Uzbekistan); the generic area of 'Turkistan' which includes places like Ferghana (in today's Kazakhstan); the Bamiyan Valley and al-hind/hindustan; and to a lesser extent with Kuhistan (in today's Iran) and Merv (Turkmenistan). Seen in this light, early Islamic Balkh can be securely placed within a Central Asian context, with significant links to South Asia.


made with love from




This video was produced by Matthias Naue, while conducting fieldwork for the numismatic research of the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project with Professor Stefan Heidemann in Kabul, in the autumn of 2013. During their cleaning of the coins, the numismatic team had the opportunity to work alongside staff from the National Museum of Afghanistan to train them in some of the techniques of coin analysis. The video outlines the team’s aims, and presents interviews with the two Museum staff who explain what they were able to gain from the work. Owing to the highly corroded state of the copper alloy coins and the volume of excavated material to be analysed, a chemical method was used to remove some of the oxidized material. It was made clear during the training, therefore, that this method is unsuitable for general conservation of the Museum artefacts, and is a rapid method focussing only on the legibility of the coin inscriptions and insignia.



Banner Image: Tepe Rustam of Balkh, thought to be the old Buddhist temple site of Naw Bahar. Photo by Arezou Azad