7 of the Most Amazing Landmarks in Afghanistan

Afghanistan may be no bigger than the US state of Texas, but despite its size, this ancient, land-locked country is home to an incredible array of landmarks. The country have has a unique combination of diverse and distinctive geography and a historically important position at the crossroads of several different cultures.

As a result, Afghanistan boasts some of the world’s most fascinating sites, from natural wonders to historic monuments to culturally significant places. Read on to take a tour of some of Afghanistan’s many amazing landmarks, famous and lesser-known alike.

1. The Blue Mosque

It’s not surprising that the Blue Mosque, located in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, is one of the country’s best-known landmarks. The structure is simply breathtaking, often cited by experts as one of the world’s most stunning examples of classical Islamic architecture.

The Blue Mosque is a large complex, about 22,000 square feet in area, that is home to a large prayer hall, a small museum, a courtyard, and a number of holy tombs. Its name comes from the hundreds of thousands of gorgeous, intricate tiles covering nearly every inch of the building.

2. The Herat Citadel

Located in western Afghanistan, Herat is one of the country’s most beautiful cities. The citadel at its heart is nothing short of spectacular. Dating back to approximately 330 BCE, the Herat Citadel was originally built by Alexander the Great when he arrived in Afghanistan with his army.

Over the centuries, it has undergone repeated destruction and rebuilding. Much of the present structure, which includes 18 towers over 30 meters high, connected by walls two meters thick, was built in the 1400s. Today, after extensive rehabilitation efforts supported by UNESCO and other international organizations, the citadel is home to the National Museum of Herat.

3. The Hazarchishma Natural Bridge

The fact that Afghanistan has a great deal of remote, difficult-to-access territory means that some of its most amazing landmarks have only been discovered fairly recently. Such was the case with the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge, a colossal natural stone arch located in the central highlands of the country, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

Carved over millennia by the waters that once flowed through the now dry Jawzari Canyon, the natural bridge has a total span at its base of just over 210 feet, making it the world’s 12th-largest such formation. It was discovered in late 2010 by members of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who were conducting a wildlife survey in the area.

4. The Haji Piyada Mosque (Noh Gumbad)

Northern Afghanistan’s Haji Piyada Mosque measures a mere 20 by 20 meters, but its historic and cultural significance far surpasses its size. This is because the Haji Piyada Mosque is Afghanistan’s oldest known Islamic building, as well as one of the earliest surviving structures found anywhere in the eastern Islamic world. The mosque was built in the latter half of the ninth century, just after the arrival of Islam in Central Asia and only two centuries after the religion was first established.

Its alternate name, Noh Gumbad, comes from the nine cupolas that once covered the architecturally rich religious structure. No other similar buildings from this era are believed to have survived into the present day, a fact which endows the mosque with enormous cultural and architectural importance.

5. Basawal cave temples

The Haji Piyada Mosque may hold the distinction of being Afghanistan’s oldest Islamic structure, but long before Islam came to Afghanistan, the area was home to many different cultures, including a thriving Buddhist civilization. One of the most fascinating landmarks to have survived from this era is the Basawal cave temple complex in eastern Afghanistan.

Hewn directly into the region’s rocky territory, the complex consists of seven groups of cave temples that encompass roughly 150 caves. Exploration of the area has revealed that the caves originally served different purposes, from dwellings to places of worship.

6. Darul Aman Palace

An example of a fascinating landmark from Afghanistan’s more recent history is the Darul Aman Palace. This structure sits opposite the Afghan Parliament about 10 miles southwest of the city center of Kabul.

Darul Aman Palace
Image by PJ Tavera Photography | Flickr

Constructed in the early 1920s during the reign of King Amanullah Khan, the palace was to be a symbol of a modern, hopeful future for Afghanistan. In fact, the name Darul Aman means “dwelling place of peace.”

The palace fell into disrepair during Afghanistan’s conflict years and then spent spent decades in ruins. In recent years, the palace has undergone extensive renovations and refurbishments to mark Afghanistan’s 100th year of independence in 2019.

7. Band-e-Amir

Afghanistan may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of countries with impressive national parks. However, Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan’s first ever national park, may soon change that.

Designated as a national park in 2009, Band-e-Amir is a stunning system of six sapphire-blue travertine lakes located high up in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The area has long been popular with tourists. Afghanistan is hopeful that the national park designation will help even more people, locals and visitors alike, discover the area’s amazing natural beauty.

A Look at 7 UN Agencies Working in Afghanistan

Committed to building a stable, just, and prosperous future for Afghanistan, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and the World Bank are a few of the UN agencies that are undertaking development efforts in the country. Through its “country team,” a diverse collection of affiliated or partner organizations, the UN works across a number of different areas and oversees an incredible variety of projects all over Afghanistan. No fewer than 27 UN-associated organizations are currently involved in the country’s development. Read on for a closer look at some of these agencies, who they are, and what they’re doing in Afghanistan.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Food and Agriculture Organization

A member of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since 1949, Afghanistan works closely with the organization via its Ministries of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; Energy and Water; Public Health; and Rural Rehabilitation and Development. Today, FAO maintains five regional and three provincial offices around the country and focuses on contributing to sustainable agricultural development. Some of the key strategic objectives of FAO’s work in Afghanistan include reducing rural poverty, eradicating hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition; and enabling local, national, and international food and agricultural systems that are more inclusive and efficient.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

International Labour Organization

A specialized agency of the UN, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (Afghanistan joined the ILO in 1934, becoming the organization’s 60th member, and is considered today to be an original member state). Throughout its history, ILO has maintained that institution-building and local economic development are essential elements of social progress, particularly in nations like Afghanistan that are seriously affected by natural disasters and continuing conflicts. For this reason, ILO established a liaison office in Kabul in 2003 to provide resources, support, and guidance to Afghanistan in areas such as employment strategies, labor law reform, skills development, child labor, and social dialogue.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

International Organization for Migration

Established in 1951, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the world’s leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration based on its founding vision of humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. IOM established its mission in Afghanistan in 1992 and has maintained a continuing presence in the country ever since. In fact, IOM Afghanistan is one of the largest IOM missions in the world, comprised of close to 300 staff members working in nine regional offices. In cooperation with government and humanitarian partners and local communities, IOM Afghanistan oversees a range of programs and initiatives in areas such as humanitarian assistance, community stabilization, and migration management. For example, in recent years, one focus area of IOM has been on facilitating the return of skilled Afghan workers to their home country.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT)

United Nations Human Settlements Programme

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT) is the UN agency mandated to promote towns and cities that are socially and environmentally sustainable, and that provide adequate shelter for all. In Afghanistan, UN HABITAT is working with many partners to address the increasingly urgent challenge of Afghanistan’s unprecedented urban growth rates. According to UN HABITAT, while urbanization does offer important new opportunities for social and economic development, it is essential that this kind of growth be accompanied by sound planning and innovative policy approaches if it is to benefit Afghanistan’s population and society as a whole.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

United Nations Environment Programme

Once pristine and rich in biological diversity, Afghanistan’s natural landscapes have been devastated by decades of conflict, severe natural disasters and, more recently, the impact of rapid and unplanned urban growth and development. Since 2002, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working to mitigate these effects by establishing the environmental foundations for Afghanistan’s sustainable development. Today, the organization focuses on capacity building for environmental governance and natural resources management by providing government and non-governmental partners with training and technical assistance in fields ranging from environmental law and policy to climate change adaptation.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

United Nations Population Fund

Since 1976, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been working in Afghanistan to reduce infant, child, and maternal mortality; increase access to reproductive health services; and support universal primary education. The goal of the organization is to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, and that all children can be born safely and be able to fulfill their potential. In 2002, with the re-establishment of its country office in Afghanistan, UNFPA embarked on a new program of long-term support for women and young people, which has included the rehabilitation of three maternity hospitals in Kabul.

United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

United Nations Office for Project Services

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has supported reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan since 1995, with a particular focus on the construction of sustainable infrastructure. To achieve this goal, the organization collaborates with various partners and stakeholders, and concentrates on the key priorities of national ownership and capacity development. Some successes that UNOPS has achieved in Afghanistan include the construction and rehabilitation of more than 10,000 kilometers of roads; enhanced electricity access to 1,500 households and 100 small businesses; and support for the National Emergency Employment Program, which improved rural livelihoods by creating 2.5 million labor days during which 20 bridges were rehabilitated.

What Is the World Food Programme Doing in Afghanistan?

With an engaged government and population, strong international support, and an increasingly stable social and political climate, Afghanistan has the potential to make significant progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are the 17 goals that were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, some SDGs are proving more challenging to address than others. These include SDG 2, which concerns Zero Hunger and improved nutrition. Despite recent advances, food insecurity is on the rise in Afghanistan. It has been exacerbated by the fact that more than half the country’s population lives below the poverty line.

Roughly 12.5 million people in Afghanistan have been identified as severely food insecure. Additionally, undernutrition is disproportionately affecting a number of groups including children, women, displaced people, and people with disabilities.

One of the many organizations working to improve food security in Afghanistan is the World Food Programme (WFP). Present in Afghanistan since 1963, WFP works across a broad range of focus areas to address hunger in Afghanistan and the underlying issues that contribute to it. Read on to learn more about the World Food Programme and its work and activities in Afghanistan.

What is the World Food Programme?

World Food Programme

WFP is the world’s leading humanitarian organization working to save and change lives through food assistance and nutrition improvement. It was established in 1961 at the behest of then-US president Dwight Eisenhower and enshrined as a fully-fledged UN programme in 1965.

WFP has a particular focus on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation efforts, development aid, and special operations. It distributes more than 15 billion food rations every year. In addition, it conducts two-thirds of its work in conflict-affected countries. The organization has an international staff of over 17,000 people and is funded entirely by voluntary donations.

To achieve its objectives, WFP works closely with its two sister organizations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. It also partners with over 1,000 local and international NGOs. WFP’s work in Afghanistan spans the following key focus areas:

Emergency response

Every year in Afghanistan, roughly 250,000 people are affected by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, landslides, and earthquakes. In some years, this figure is much higher. In 2018, for example, Afghanistan experienced its worst drought in over a decade, which affected some 3 million people around the country.

children in afghanistan
Image by United Nations Photo | Flickr

WFP helps to mitigate the impact of these disasters by providing unconditional, fortified, and nutritionally-balanced food assistance to those most in need. Similar food assistance is also provided to people displaced by conflict as well as refugees and people affected by food insecurity on a seasonal basis.

Resilience building

Resilient communities and populations have a stronger ability to reduce their risk of disasters and to mitigate the impact of any disasters that do occur. This is an important foundation for achieving food security. WFP helps Afghan communities build resilience by contributing to projects such as road and canal construction or rehabilitation, reforestation, the construction of flood protection walls, and vocational training.

Nutrition

Proper nutrition means different things for different groups of people, particularly babies and children. WFP works to address the critical problems of undernutrition and stunting in young Afghan children by providing nutritional support that is specially tailored for different ages, genders, and vulnerabilities.

In 2018, for example, WFP helped prevent or treat close to 500,000 cases of malnutrition in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. WFP also works closely with UNICEF and the World Health Organization to address the lifelong consequences that poor nutrition can have on developing children.

Food systems

A strong and robust national food system can help Afghanistan distribute food more efficiently and address the geographic imbalances that exacerbate food security. In cooperation with the government of Afghanistan and various commercial partners, WFP supports smallholder farmers, builds local milling and fortification capacity, and strengthens value chains and food safety measures around the country. This helps all Afghans access nutritious food at affordable prices.

cereals, grains

Advocacy for Zero Hunger

Efforts to address hunger and food insecurity happen on the ground with the people most affected. However, they also need to happen nationally at the policy level if significant progress is to be made.

WFP plays an important role in helping Afghan government officials and their partners to focus on Zero Hunger as a development priority, and to create and implement a coherent Zero Hunger policy that includes capacity strengthening, advocacy, public awareness, and research efforts. Local ownership and buy-in is furthered by the creation of Food Security and Nutrition committees at the province level.

Capacity strengthening

WFP is committed to efforts that enhance the ability of both the government of Afghanistan and the broader humanitarian and development community to effectively respond to the needs of affected populations. Specific actions in this focus area include providing assistance with things like information and communication technology, facilities and information management, and supply chain oversight and management.