Shamis en Balkh, 'Sams-i-Bala', 'Elevated Candle', 'Mother of All Cities', Bactra
"This is part the ruins of one of the outer walls of the ancient city of Balkh, seven miles in circumference..... Balkh (Bactra, 67E..36N)..... In the center of these ruins was the great Kal'ah (Castle, Calah, Kala). It was laid out similar to the Persian city of Ekbatana as described by Herodotus: "Concentric walls within walls, each higher than the preceding wall as one passed toward the center hill where the Great Palace stood.
"It is also known that at the time of Geber it can be found that one of the strongholds of the Afghan-Sufi-Buddhists was at Balkh, and at the monastery known as Nava Vihara. This monastery and nearby shrines was through many centuries the hot-bed of esoteric sufi-buddhist-zoroaster teachings. These doctrines lived side by sides at that place. And no Buddhist was allowed entry to it unless he first was known to have written a paper on Buddhism. The Nava Vihara Monastery was it is said build on an old fire-temple of the Zoroastrians. A number of their temples had a form like a CUBE and was placed in the center of the shrine almost similar to the Kaaba at Mekka......"
"From the Memoirs of Xuanzang, we learn that, at the time of his visit in 630, there were in Balkh about a hundred Buddhist monasteries, with 30,000 monks, and that there was a large number of stupas, and other religious monuments and that Buddhism was flourishing in the Bactrian portion of Western Turk empire. He also described it as having strong links with the Kingdom of Khotan in the Tarim Basin. The temple was led by Kashmiris called Pramukh (who, under the arabized name of Barmak, came to be known as the Barmakids).
"Balkh was old long before Alexander’s raid, and its history of 2500 years records more than a score of conquerors. The Arabs, impressed by Balkh’s wealth and antiquity, called it Umm-al-belad, the mother of cities. When the Silk Road was the chief artery of commerce between East and West, Balkh was second to none. But then came Ghengis Khan, and wreaked upon it the utter devastation that has made the Mongols’ name a byword for barbarism. Balkh never fully recovered..."
".....several natural trade routes intersect at Balkh. From there, caravans could follow the well-watered foot of the mountains westward towards Herat and Iran, or across the Oxus to Samarkand and China. The valley of the Balkab still gives passage to Bamiyan and thence to Kabul; of all the routes across the Hindu Kush, this is the most westerly and the easiest. But geography is at most opportunity, not destiny; and the greatness of Balkh owes even more to those distinctive people who promoted craftsmanship and trade, created cities and wrote poetry all across the Iranian world. On the down side, Balkh was usually rich rather than powerful, and became the envy and the prize of more warlike neighbors.".....http://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/cities/afghanistan/balkh.html
"....Balkh changed hands repeatedly among Arab, Persian and Turki rulers, and was sacked more than once, yet it continued to flourish. The Arab geographers Yaqubi and Moqaddasi (9th and 10th centuries) depict Balkh as it was under Samanid rule, whe Bukhara was the center of power. A large and prosperous city of mud brick some three square miles in area, it held perhaps 200,000 persons. It was surrounded by mud-brick walls pierced by seven gates. A splendid Friday Mosque occupied the center, and many more mosques were scattered among the dwellings. The fire temple in the suburbs, which Xuanzang had admired when it was a Buddhist monastery, was still noteworthy. The city was home, not only to Persians and Turks but also to communities of Jews and Indian traders. It nourished poets and scholars, lawyers and even geographers and astronomers. But peace was a sometime thing; even when Balkh came under Seljuk rule for over a century, the nomads were never far away."........http://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/cities/afghanistan/balkh.html