Robert Byron and Tripadvisor review Balkh

Balkh is in northern Afghanistan and  is one of the oldest cities in the world, possibly the oldest. Tripadvisor make this claim, as does Robert Byron writing in 1937 in the supreme travel book The Road to Oxiana. Balkh is still known locally as 'the Mother of Cities.' It was the centre of Zoroastrianism and under the Greeks it was renamed Bactra, giving its name to the surrounding  Bactria territory. Balkh is now, for the most part, a mass of ruins but has an extremely long history, going back to the 26th century BC and further - when the plains were fertile…

Byron writes:

After Akcha, the colour of the landscape changed from lead to aluminium, pallid and deathly, as if the sun had been sucking away its gaiety for thousands and thousands of years; for this was now the plain of Balkh, and Balkh they say is the oldest city in the world. The clumps of green trees, the fountain-shaped tufts of coarse cutting grass, stood out almost black against this mortal tint. Sometimes we saw a field of barley; it was ripe, and Turcomans, naked to the waist, were reaping it with sickles. But it was not brown or gold, telling of Ceres, of plenty. It seemed to have turned prematurely white, like the hair of a madman – to have lost its nourishment. And from these acred cerements, first on the north and then on the south of the road, rose the worn grey-white shapes of a bygone architecture, mounds, furrowed and bleached by the rain and sun, wearier than any human works I ever saw: a twisted pyramid, a tapering platform, a clump of battlements, a crouching beast, all familiars of the Bactrian Greeks, and of Marco Polo after them. They ought to have vanished. But the very impact of the sun, calling out the obstinacy of their ashen clay, has conserved some inextinguishable spark of form, a spark such as a Roman earthwork or a grass-green barrow has not, which still flickers on against a world brighter than itself, tired as only a suicide frustrated can be tired.

So that's like a 4.5 out of 10 or possibly less - "tired as only a suicide frustrated can be tired" does not bode well..

Masjid Sabz - The Green Mosque at Balkh

Tripadvisor in 2014, warning visitors of safety and security concerns, give this review:

Green Mosque
"Really Ancient History"
Balkh is reputedly the oldest city in the world. The Green Mosque is right in the center of what is left of the city. Genghis Khan destroyed it many years ago. The mosque is tiled and very beautiful. The Afghan government is at present refurbishing the building and adding some additional walls in an effort to return it to its former glory. The mosque is in a park with large trees around it. In winter this place is cold but in summer be prepared for temperatures that are amongst the highest in the world.

Byron does not warn of this extreme heat and it appears he was there in the spring of 1934 when he may have also missed the cold. The late Paul Fussell wrote that The Road to Oxiana is to the travel book what "Ulysses is to the novel between the wars, and what The Waste Land is to poetry."

3 thoughts on “Robert Byron and Tripadvisor review Balkh

  1. Billa

    Yes Balkh has an incredible and very long history. Among other things it was the birthplace of the poet Rumi.

  2. Anonymous

    I'll use this latest post of yours as an opportunity to thank you for this blog. It is great. As I tell my wife, "it's a wonderful time to be alive." For this 56 year old, I still think it's a miracle that I can sit in my chair and have strangers work so hard just to bring me interesting things from around the world. Just think how much we see in a week, compared to a lifetime not so long ago.

    So, again, thank you for all you do. And by the way, I think I found via jot101 (is that true?) Anyway, anyone who enjoys jot101 may find that they also enjoy futilitycloset, though it's not as book-centric.

  3. admin Post author

    Thanks very much Anon. I checked out and am surprised I did not know him. He is on a vaguely parallel journey, albeit with 20 times more followers! Will add to our new links. More of a science buff – while we are people of the (paper) book as you say.. all the best. N


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