BALKH, AGHANISTAN – In the white dusty plains of northern Afghanistan, archaeologists are seeking to unravel the secrets of one of the oldest mosques in the world, whose structure is still standing after a thousand years of solitude.
The Nine Domes Mosque, named for the cupolas that once crowned its intricately decorated columns, glimmers with remnants of the blue lapis lazuli stones that encrusted it.
Carbon dating in early 2017 suggests the ancient structure in Balkh province was built in the eighth century, soon after Islam swept into Central Asia — but exactly when, and who by, remains a mystery.
The very survival of this modest square of just 20 by 20 meters (65 by 65 feet) has beguiled experts.
Afghanistan’s Nine Domes Mosque is also called Masjid-e Haji Piyada (Mosque of the Walking Pilgrim). | AFP-JIJI
In July archaeologists unearthed the base of the pillars, at a depth of 1.5 meters (5 feet), but surveys suggest even deeper remnants.
“This is a window open to the ancient period. Here we can find the base of the next culture to come,” said Arash Boostani, an Iranian architect and engineer from the University of Tehran, who was commissioned by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to work on the site.
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