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.
“It’s a miracle it’s still standing despite time and erosion,” said Italian architect Ugo Tonietti, from the University of Florence, who specializes in heritage conservation.
According to Digital Journal, the mosque, which has weathered the centuries partly due to the arid climate of the region, is one of the best preserved Islamic buildings of its age in the world and is “highly valuable and highly vulnerable”, he said.
But the mosque at Balkh could be even older, with the carbon dating and historical sources suggesting it could have been built as early as the year 794.
“This means that the mosque of the Abassid Empire has been influenced by Afghanistan, not the other way around,” said Julio Sarmiento-Bendezu, director of the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan, who is leading excavations at the site.
In July archaeologists unearthed the base of the pillars, at a depth of 1.5 meters (five feet), but surveys suggest even deeper remnants.
Noh Gonbad remains a place of pilgrimage: the women come to gather on Friday and weep over the tomb of an obscure saint, Hadji Pyada, the walking pilgrim, buried there in the 15th century.
“Like all excavations, those of the Nine Domes Mosque pose more questions than they answer,” says the archaeologist.