Umm Al-Belaad

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Umm Al-Belaad is the Arabic name given by the native population of Afghanistan's Balkh province to the city of Balkh (Bactra). Umm Al-Belaad means Mother of All Cities. In Vedic literature, it is known as Bhakri, and it became Bactra as the area was Hellenized after the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was from then on the capital city of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom.

Also, the city is the birthplace of Zoroaster, and many also believe that he is buried there. Its foundation is mythically ascribed to Keyumar and it was the rival of Ecbatana, Nineveh and Babylon. There is a long-standing tradition that an ancient shrine of Anahita was here, a temple so rich it invited plunder.

For a long time, the city and country was the seat of the Zoroastrian religion, the founder of which, Zoroaster, died within the walls, according to the Persian poet Firdousi. Armenian sources state that the Parthian Arsac established his capital here. Some scholars believe that a number of mythological rulers of ancient Iran, especially some kings of Kavi Dynasty (Kayanian in Persian) were historically local rulers of an area centered around Balkh. From the Memoirs of Xuanzang, we learn that, at the time of his visit in the 7th century, there were in the city at least a hundred Buddhist monasteries, with 30,000 monks, and that there was a large number of stupas, and other religious monuments. The most remarkable was perhaps the Buddhist monastery called Nava Vihara, or "New Monastery", which possessed a very grand statue of Buddha. The Vihara was led by Kashmiri Brahmins called "Administrative Officers" or Pramukha (who, through the Arabized form of the name, Barmak, came to be known as the Barmakids). A curious notice of this building is found in the writings of Arabian geographer Ibn Hawqal, an Arabian traveler of the 10th century, who describes Balkh as built of clay, with ramparts and six gates, and extending half a parasang. He also mentions a castle and a mosque.

The renowned philosopher and theologian Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (Rumi) was born here.