As part of our Dispatches from Kabul series, CLR Alum Jessica Wright ’14, who’s currently working as a lawyer in Kabul, files the following photo essay. It’s from Herat, one of Afghanistan’s westernmost cities, in close proximity to Iran and Turkmenistan. To see the slide show, please click on the first image.
Herat is a city with ancient roots, located in Afghanistan’s most western province along the Iranian border.
It was the capital of Areia in the Persian Empire, and has remained one of the region’s key urban centers since that time.
Culturally and politically, Herat has been tied into the Iranian world as one of the major cities of the historical region of Khorasan.
The Citadel, also known as Qala Iktayaruddin, dates back to the days of Alexander the Great.
It was saved from demolition in the 1950’s, excavated by UNESCO in the 1970’s, and with funding from the United States and Germany, was completely restored in 2011.
Built in 2010, the Jihad Museum in Herat tells the story of the Afghan mujahideen and the Soviet Invasion.
Statues, panoramas, military weapons, and memorials line the museum walls and grounds, some depicting battle scenes in grisly detail.
In Herat, some women wear the light blue chadri, but many also opt for the Iranian chador, a long billowing veil in black or somber-patterned fabric.
Herat was once one of the most important cities on the trade routes of Khorasan.
And the roads from the city to Iran and Turkmenistan remain strategically important.
Before the Arab invasion, Herat was predominantly Zoroastrian, though at points in its history there is evidence of some small Christian communities.
Construction on the Friday Mosque or Masjid-i Jami, one of the oldest and most ornate mosques in Afghanistan, began in the 13th century. It has been expanded and restored several times.
Most visitors enter the mosque through a park, which leads to a richly tiled facade.
The mosque is laid out in the classical plan of four iwans or halls around a central courtyard.
Two large minarets flank the main iwan.
The walls are covered with colourful mosaic, surrounded by blue bands of Quranic script.
It was the Timurids who restored the mosque and introduced the bright mosaic to replace the original plain brick and stucco decoration.
A restoration project has been underway since the 1940’s, and some consider the mosque, with its varied design, colour, and calligraphy, to be an example of “contemporary Islamic abstract expressionism.”
“If any one ask thee which is the pleasantest of cities, Thou mayest answer him aright that it is Herāt. For the world is like the sea, and the province of Khurāsān like a pearl-oyster therein, The city of Herāt being as the pearl in the middle of the oyster.” -Rumi