Balkh the ancient Bactra or Zariaspa, was formerly a great city; but is now, for the most part, a mass of ruins, situated on the right bank of the Adirsiah or Balkh river, in a large and fertile plain eighteen hundred feet above the sea. The ruins, which occupy a space of about twenty miles in circuit, consist chiefly of fallen mosques and decayed buildings of sunburnt bricks. The antiquity and greatness of the place are recognised by the native populations, who speak of it as the Mother of Cities. Its foundation is mythically ascribed to Kaiomurs, the Persian Romulus; and it is at least certain that, at a very early date, it was the rival of Ecbatana, Nineveh, and Babylon. For a long time the city and country were the central seat of the Zoroastrian religion, the founder of which is said to have died within its walls. It was the seat of the principal Persian pyrceum, or fire temple, and the residence of the archimagus, or chief priest. In the 7th century there were in the city and vicinity about a hundred Buddhist convents, with three thousand devotees; and there were also a large number of stupas and other religious monuments. In the 10th century Balkh is described as built of clay, with ramparts and six gates, and extending half a parasang (about two miles). There were several important commercial routes from the city, stretching as far east as India and China. See Ency. Brit. (9th ed.), s.v.

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