One of the best known mosques in the Muslim world, located in Mazar-i-Sharif, a provincial capital near the Amu River, the northern border of Afghanistan for hundreds of miles. It is believed by some Muslims that the site of the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, and the Fourth Caliph, is in Mazari Sharif. Both Shi’ites and the more numerous Sunnis come in large numbers as pilgrims, especially at the spring equinox, March 21, the Moslem New Year.
Other historical references claim that Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism is buried here. In the 12th century, the Seljuk sultan Ahmed Sanjar ordered a shrine erected on the sacred site and to escape Mongol raids it was covered with earth, remaining lost, until re-discovered during the rebuilding of the mosque in the 15th century. Attributed to both Sunni and Shia artisans, Mazar-I-Sharif is an outstanding example of classic Islamic architecture, every inch covered with gleaming cobalt blue and turquoise tiles inscribed with verses from the Qur`an. Local legend credits it with the mystical power to turn white any dove alighting in its courtyard. The mosque escaped the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1970`s and has survived the destructive Taliban era. Both Mazar-I-Sharif and the ancient city of Balkh, 9 km, are outstanding cultural attractions but few visitors, save devout Muslim and a few Zoroastrian pilgrims attempt the hazardous 5-hour road journey from Kabul.