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Afghanistan

Main attractions

Buddhist sites in Bamyan, Afghanistan
Empty niche where once stood the great statue of Buddha in Bamyan. / Afghanistan Matters, / CC BY 2.0

Long ago, in distant past in the area of present day Afghanistan evolved amazing cultures - here met Indian, Greek, Persian civilizations and unique local cultures. Recent decades have been harsh and some magnificent monuments of the past have been lost (including two giant statues of Buddha in Bamyan). Nevertheless many still exist. Most amazing landmarks in Afghanistan are:

  • Ancient Buddhist sites. Although one of the wonders of world - giant Buddhas of Bamyan - was lost due to unprecedented display of the satanic side in human nature, there are many more wonders. In Afghanistan are found hundreds of rock-cut caves - Buddhist monasteries.
  • Remnants of Greek - Bactrian settlements. It is amazing to see how deep has been the influence of Alexander's Asian campaign - millenia ago in this distant Asian country were built cities with true Greek architecture and art.
  • Ancient and medieval fortifications. Similar to neighboring Pakistan, also Afghanistan has a diversity of impressive fortifications - walled cities, citadels, forts.

Natural landmarks

Lapis lazuli, Afghanistan
Lapis lazuli, Afghanistan / Parent Géry, / CC BY-SA 3.0

Gemstone finds

  • Laghman Pegmatites (Nilaw, Mawi, Korgal) - Nurestan. Finds of the best known kunzite and other types of spodumene crystals (gemstones up to 1 m long), as well as tourmaline (possibly the best elbaite in the world), beryl (morganite, aquamarine and other types), garnets and other gems.
  • Panjshir emeralds - Panjshir. Rich find of some of the best emeralds in the world.
  • Sar i Sang Lapis Lazuli find - Badakhshan. For several millenia here is mined the best lapis lazuli in the world.

Other natural landmarks

Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan
Travertine terraces in Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan / / CC BY 2.0
  • Band-e Amir Springs - Bamyan. Group of six deep blue lakes which are separated by natural dams of tufa, forming up to 10 m tall and 3 m thick walls. Lakes and tufa dams have been formed by spring water which contains calcium carbonate. Lakes are located in beautiful canyon and represent a unique landscape. Deepest lake is at least 150 m deep. Not too far, in another site is located another lake with tufa wall - Band-e Azhdahar.
  • Hazarchishma Natural Bridge (Hazarcheshma Arch) - Bamyan. Giant natural arch over the canyon. Span of arch at its base is 64.2 m.

Man made landmarks

Ancient shrine in Mes Aynak, Afghanistan
Ancient shrine in Mes Aynak / Jerome Starkey, / CC BY-SA 2.0

Ancient settlements

  • Ai Khanoum - Takhar. Remnants of Greek-Bactrian city, founded in 280 BC by Antiochus I. Important centre of Hellenism, one of furthest Hellenistic cities. Declined in 145 AD. City was protected by walls and towers and included theater in Greek style, palace, enormous gymnasium, temples. Numerous sculptures and architectural details in Greek style have been found here.
  • Balkh - Balkh. One of the oldest cities in region (founded in 2000 - 1500 BC), ancient centre of Zoroastrianism, where, reportedly Zoroaster died. To the north from the centre is located Bala Hisar of Balkh - ancient citadel which still is surrounded by city walls. Earthen walls around the city are some 10 km long.
  • Dilbarjin - Balkh. Remnants of a fortified city, enclosed in 390 by 390 m large rectangle of fortification walls. This settlement developed in the times of Kushan Empire. In the centre is round hill - citadel. Here is found also a temple with wall paintings in Hellenistic style.
  • Mes Aynak settlement - Logar. Ruins of ancient Buddhist settlement next to a rich mine of copper. Here was located large Buddhist monastery (40 ha), more than 400 Buddhist statues and stupas. Site contains also remnants of older culture as well as Zoroastrian fire temple, ancient copper mines. Site is endangered by copper mining.
  • Mundigak - Kandahar. Remnants of large (21 ha) prehistoric city with artefacts of Harappan and Indus Valley civilizations. City was large already at 2400 BC, but some centuries later it was not occupied anymore.
  • Surkh Kotal - Baghlan. Ruins of ancient city of Kushan culture. Site contains remnants of huge temples (100 - 126 AD) and very important inscriptions which tell the history of early Kushan state.
  • Yemshi Tepe - Jowzjan. Remnants of ancient, fortified town. Site now represents a near perfect circular fortification with a diameter of 550 m. Nearby in Tillya Tepe mound in 1978 was found exceptionally rich hoard of golden artefacts - some 20,600 ornaments and sculptures made from pure gold and jewels.
Bala Hissar in Kabul in 1879, Afghanistan
Bala Hissar in Kabul in 1879 / John Burke, / public domain

Fortifications

  • Bala Hissar of Kabul - Kabul. Ancient citadel of Kabul, built around the 5th century AD. Here start Walls of Kabul which are up to 6.1 m tall and 3.7 m thick.
  • Farah Citadel - Farah. Massive, impressive fortress. First fortifications were built here around 500 BC or earlier, serving as a fortification on the Silk Road between India and Persia. Walls are some 2.5 km long and 15 m high.
  • Herat Citadel - Herat. Ancient, fortified centre of Herat. City was established around 500 BC, Alexander the Great was here in 330 BC. The enormous fortress has been renovated and is housing a museum.
  • Qala-e-Bost - Helmand. Ruins of an enormous fortress. Site contains large, renovated arch as well as a deep shaft where one can descend 60 m deep.
  • Shahr-i Ghulghulah - Bamyan. Remnants of a fortress - settlement on the Silk Road. Settlement existed from the 6th to the 10th century AD.
Minaret of Jam, Afghanistan
Minaret of Jam / David Adamec, / public domain

Islamic shrines

  • Friday Mosque of Herat (Jama Masjid) - Herat. Old and beautiful mosque, built in 1404 - 1446 in the site of an older mosque. First mosque was built in the site of Zoroastrian fire temples.
  • Green Mosque of Balkh - Balkh. Medieval mosque which was built in the first half of the 15th century. Although the building is in bad state, it is an excellent representative of Timurid architecture.
  • Minaret of Jam - Shahrak. Beautiful, 62 m tall minaret. It was built in 1190 from bricks. Minaret is beautiful - with stucco, glazed tiles, adorned with calligraphy. Tower is endamgered and can collapse in any moment. It might be located in the Firozkoh (Turquoise Mountain) - the lost capital of ancient Ghorid state.
  • Shrine of Ali in Mazar-i-Sharif (Blue Mosque) - Balkh. Gorgeous mosque with turquoise colored domes, one of the most venerated shrines in Afghanistan. First mosque was destroyed by Genghis Khan around 1220 and the current building was built in the 15th century. Constructed above the purported grave of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Some through consider that here is buried Zoroaster.

Buddhist shrines

  • Basawal cave temples - Nangarhar. Seven groups of rock-cut cave temples, in total some 150 caves. These Buddhist caves have several types of planning - some were built as dwellings, some - as temples.
  • Buddhist shrines in Bamyan - Bamyan. Group of Buddhist shrines, includes the oldest known oil paintings in world, made from the 5th to the 9th c. AD. Until 2001 site contained the highest Buddha statues in world, up to 53 m high. Smaller statue of Buddha was built in 507 AD, the larger one - in 554 AD. Deliberately destroyed in March 2001 by Taliban.
  • Kakrak Valley Caves - Bamyan. Group of more than 100 rock cut caves near Bamyan Caves, created in the 6th - 13th centuries as Buddhist shrines. Here are found remnants of 10 m tall standing Buddha, frescoes from the Sassanian period.
  • Lalai Ghami - Bamyan. Rock cut Buddhist shrine with ornamentations.
  • Qoul-i Akram - Bamyan. Rock cut Buddhist shrine with ornamentations.
Bagh-e Babur from above, Afghanistan
Bagh-e Babur from above / Jim Kelly, / CC BY 2.0

Other landmarks

  • Bagh-e Babur - Kabul. Sophisticated medieval garden, 11.5 ha in size. Garden was created in the time of emperor Babur after 1504 and is one of the oldest existing Mughal gardens, an exceptional example of Islamic garden architecture. Babur personally supervised the creation of this garden and later he was buried here. Garden was reconstructed and well tended also in the coming centuries.
  • Haji Piyada (Grave of Judge Yunus) - Balkh. Possibly the oldest Islamic structure in the area of Afghanistan, built in the 9th century AD. Grave is 20 by 20 meters large, interior is adorned with sophisticated stucco.

List of described attractions by provinces

Afghanistan is divided into provinces. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:

Badakhshan
Badghis
Baghlan
Balkh
ArrowShrine of Ali in Mazar-i-SharifIslamic shrines
Bamyan
Daykundi
Farah
Faryab
Ghazni
Ghor
Helmand
Herat
Jowzjan
Kabul
Kandahar
Kapisa
Khost
Kunar
Kunduz
Laghman
Logar
Nangarhar
Nimriz
Nurestan
Oruzgan
Paktia
Paktika
Panjshir
Parvan
Samangan
Sare Pol
Takhar
Wardak
Zabul

Map of Afghanistan

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