Mazar-i-Sharif or Mazar-e Sharif is the fourth-largest city of Afghanistan, with a population of about 375,000 as of 2006. It is the capital of Balkh province and is linked by highways with Kunduz in the east, Kabul in the southeast, Herat in the west and Uzbekistan in the north. Mazar-e Sharif, along with Herat, Jalalabad in the east and Kandahar in the south, makes Afghanistan an important strategic location in Asia. The city also serves as one of the many tourist attractions because of its famous shrines as well as the Muslim and Hellenistic archeological sites. In 2006, the discovery of new Hellenistic remains was announced.
The region around Mazar-e-Sharif has been historically part of Greater Khorasan and was controlled by the Tahirids followed by the Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Ilkhanates, Timurids, and Khanate of Bukhara until the mid-18th century when it became part of the Durrani Empire after a friendship treaty was signed between emirs Murad Beg and Ahmad Shah Durrani. The Mazari Sharif Airport in the city has been heavily used during the 1980s Soviet war and the latest 2001-present war.
The name "Mazar-e Sharif" means "Noble Shrine", a reference to the large, blue-tiled sanctuary and mosque in the center of the city known as the Shrine of Hazrat Ali or the Blue Mosque. Some Muslims believe that the tomb of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, is at this mosque in Mazari Sharif, after Ali's remains were transferred to Mazar-i-Sharif as per request of Ja'far as-Sadiq. However, most Muslims believe that the grave of Ali is at the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, Iraq.[source]