32 interesting facts about Afghanistan

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The most interesting facts about Afghanistan, from one of the planet’s most dangerous countries to the world’s first oil paintings.

The Bamiyan Valley with a destroyed statue
Interesting facts about Afghanistan include the Bamiyan Valley (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Population: 37,466,414 
Area: 652,230 sq km
Capital city: Kabul
Major languages: Afghan Persian or Dari, Pashto, Uzbek, English
Major religions: Islam
Time zone: UTC+4.5 (Afghanistan Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Afghanistan

1. Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in Southern Asia bordering China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

2. It is believed that Afghanistan has been inhabited for as long as 100,000 years – since Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) times.
– Source: Britannica

3. The earliest evidence of human occupation, the remains of a Neanderthal skull, date to around 30,000 years ago.
– Source: Britannica

A map of Afghanistan
A map of Afghanistan (Shutterstock)

4. Afghanistan literally means the “Land of the Afghans”. “Afghan” was originally referred to the Pashtun people and the suffix “-stan” means “place of” or “country”.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

5. Alexander the Great conquered most of Afghanistan around 330 BC where he married Roxanne (also known as Roxana).
– Source: Britannica

6. Britain repeatedly tried to conquer Afghanistan during a series of conflicts known as the Anglo-Afghan Wars: 1839–42; 1878–80; 1919.
– Source: Britannica, The Telegraph

7. In 1842, a 16,000-strong Anglo-Indian army was famously defeated by Afghan forces in the Khyber Pass. Only one man managed to escape the massacre.
– Source: History Channel

Flag of Afghanistan
The Flag of Afghanistan (Shutterstock)

8. The flag of Afghanistan has black, red and green vertical stripes and a central coat of arms. Black represents the dark ages of the past, red for the bloodshed in the independence struggle, and green for the hope and wealth of the future.
– Source: Britannica

9. During the 20th century, Afghanistan had more changes to its national flag than any other country. The flag was changed up to 19 times!
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

10. Afghanistan’s coat of arms includes the Arabic inscriptions “Afghanistan”, “There is no deity but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God” and “God is great”. It also includes a mosque, two flags, sheaves of wheat and the date 1298 in the Islamic calendar (1919 in the Gregorian), the year Afghanistan achieved independence.
– Source: Britannica

11. Afghanistan was invaded by the USSR in 1979 and mired in a ten-year conflict between various mujahideen groups and Soviet forces.
– Source: BBC News

The remains of a tank in Afghanistan
Many facts about Afghanistan are a result of its tragic history (Shutterstock)

12. Following the USSR withdrawal, Afghanistan was embroiled in a devastating civil war that saw the Taliban take power and impose strict Islamic rule.
– Source: BBC News

13. Afghanistan was again invaded in 2001, this time by a US-led coalition following the September 11 attacks on the USA. Foreign troops remain in Afghanistan due to a Taliban resurgence after the war officially ended in 2014.
– Source: BBC News

14. Afghanistan is among the most dangerous countries in the world according to the latest International SOS Travel Risk Map. It has been assessed as carrying an ‘extreme travel security risk’.
– Source: The Independent

15. Additionally, according to the UK Foreign Office, Afghanistan is one of 17 countries deemed to be entirely unsafe for tourists to visit.
– Source: The Telegraph

16. Afghanistan has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of which is the 65m-tall Minaret of Jam dramatically located in a deep river valley between mountains. The ornately decorated minaret dates from the 12th century.
– Source: UNESCO

The Minaret of Jam between two mountain slopes
The Minaret of Jam (Shutterstock)

17. Afghanistan’s other UNESCO site is the Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley. The site was once home to the world’s two largest standing Buddhas. The “Buddhas of Bamiyan” stood at 38m and 55m respectively and were carved into the side of a cliff.
– Source: UNESCO

18. Tragically, the 1,700-year-old statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Anti-aircraft guns, tanks and eventually, dynamite was used in its destruction. The Taliban attempted to eradicate all non-Islamic statues in the country.
– Source: The Telegraph

The Buddhas of Bamiyan before and after their destruction
The Buddhas of Bamiyan before and after their destruction (Various Public Domain & CC 3.0)

19. The world’s first oil paintings originated in Afghanistan, hundreds of years before oil paint was used in Europe. Paintings, dating from the 7th century AD, were discovered in the caves behind the Buddha in Bamiyan statues.
– Source: Reuters

20. Afghanistan is one of the world’s hungriest countries and suffers from “serious” levels of hunger according to the 2021 Global Hunger Index.
– Source: Global Hunger Index

21. Afghans celebrate their new year, Nowruz, on 21 March, the first day of spring.
– Source: National Public Radio (NPR)

22. One of the most famous images of Afghanistan was this 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine. The image of 12-year-old-refugee Sharbat Gula was taken during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan after she became orphaned at age six. She spent three decades as a refugee in Pakistan before finally returning to Afghanistan in 2016.
– Source: National Geographic

1985 cover of National Geographic magazine
The 1985 cover of National Geographic magazine (Fair use: National Geographic)

23. Afghanistan’s national game is buzkashi, also known as “goat-grabbing”. The game is played by two teams of horseback riders (similar to polo) who compete over a headless, freshly slaughtered goat.
– Source: National Geographic

24. Afghanistan suffers from some of the world’s worst air pollution. A recent analysis suggests it has the world’s seventh-highest death rate from air pollution.
– Source: Our World in Data

25. Afghanistan’s most famous historic city Herat. Herat has been at the centre of much of Afghanistan’s history and is considered its “cultural heart” today with its Great Mosque considered one of Islam’s great buildings.
– Source: Lonely Planet

The Grand Mosque of Herat in Afghanistan
The Grand Mosque of Herat (Shutterstock)

26. Afghanistan was a busy section of the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes that connected China with the West, as the high mountain passes allowed for passage across Asia.
– Source: National Geographic

27. Afghanistan is famous for its poetry with one epic poem called Shahnameh, written over 1,000 years ago, compared to Homer’s Odyssey.
– Source: The Guardian

28. Kite flying is a popular pastime in Afghanistan. However, kite flying is competitive with the objective of a kite fight to cut the other opponent’s string with your own and send it crashing to the ground.
– Source: New York Times

29. Afghanistan is home to the endangered snow leopard. Snow leopards live in high, rugged mountain landscapes above 3,000m.
– Source: WWF

Mountains of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a mountainous country (Shutterstock)

30. In post-war Afghanistan around 2004, bodybuilding became extremely popular with Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming a role model in Kabul as young men strived to emulate him.
– Source: The Guardian

31. During the 13th century, Afghanistan was also conquered by Genghis Khan and was incorporated into the Mongol empire.
– Source: The Telegraph

32. Afghanistan is by far the world’s largest producer of opium. According to the US military, 90% of the world’s heroin is made from opium grown in Afghanistan.
– Source: BBC News

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