Abu Nasr Shrine and Park, Balkh restoration projects, Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Afghanistan.

AKDN / Simon Norfolk

Restoration of Noh Gunbad, Balkh restoration projects, Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Afghanistan.

AKDN / Simon Norfolk

Abu Nasr Khwaja Parsa mosque, Balkh, Afghanistan. The restored mosque stands opposite a platform containing a ...

AKDN / Simon Norfolk

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AKTC laid over 2,000m2 of brick pathways at the Khwaja Parsa Shrine complex

Restoration of the historic Khwaja Parsa shrine in the old city of Balkh, Balkh province, Afghanistan.

AKDN / Simon Norfolk

Khwaja Parsa Shrine Complex

We identified the need for urgent conservation and landscaping works at the 16th-century shrine of Abu Nasr Khwaja Parsa and a complex of historic structures, located in a public park at the centre of Balkh. Supported by the German Federal Foreign office, AKTC’s Khwaja Parsa Conservation and Landscaping Project included:

  • restoring the Khwaja Parsa Shrine and reconstructing a historic mosque to replace an illegal modern concrete intervention adjacent to the Shrine;

  • rehabilitating the 3.5-hectare Khwaja Parsa public park. This included landscaping and planting activities, providing basic public services and utilities, and improving and upgrading existing pathways and the perimeter wall in order to provide safe access to and use by the general public; and

  • consolidating two important historic structures within the park, including the tomb of the famous female Dari language poet Rabia Balkhi and the remnants of the 16th-century gate of the Subhan Qoli Madrassa, now converted into the main entrance of the park.

The rehabilitation of the landscaping surrounding the park and at the centre of Balkh focused on providing safe access and improved services and facilities for the public. New pathways and stairs were laid using brick masonry. Where appropriate, existing pathways were improved and made ready for use by large numbers of people. Labourers cleared debris from the site, and levelled and graded the earth by hand, before laying 12,000m2 of brick pathways using lime-mortar base and over 780,000 locally produced bricks.

The natural landscape was enhanced through removing 800m3 of silt deposits from two kilometres of surface channels and improving the existing gravity-fed irrigation system that distributes water to trees, plants and bushes. More than 700 invasive species of plants and trees were removed. The site was replanted with more than 1,200 trees and flowers consisting of indigenous species widely available in the local nurseries, such as cypresses, plane trees and roses. A small on-site nursery was established in order to propagate additional trees in the future.

Restoration of the Noh Gombad Mosque, Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Afghanistan.

AKDN / Simon Norfolk

Noh Gumbad Mosque

Built between the early eight century and the first half of the ninth century CE, the Noh Gunbad Mosque is believed to be the oldest and most important early Islamic-era building in Afghanistan and possibly in the wider region.

Its original features make it stand out as an early example of an innovative style for mosques, probably influenced by pre-existing Irano-Sassanid patterns. The rare stucco decorations that remain on the columns and arches are believed to be in early Abbasid or Samanid styles. The building has been placed on a tentative list for UNESCO's World Heritage List.

With all nine domes collapsed, the three standing columns and two arches constitute the architectural and artistic core of the site. Badly damaged by time and disregard, the risk of structural failure of the arches in the event of an earthquake is extremely high. AKTC worked to stabilise the damaged columns and arch and protect the plaster decoration.

This project was implemented together with the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture and local institutions in Balkh Province, and coordinated with international partners including the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA), Associazione Giovanni Secco Suardo / World Monuments Fund, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), UNESCO and other technical partners.