Herat: Monuments and Markets

After our four days on the road I’m sure that any town would have seemed luxurious but Herat really is a treasure chest. Its long history is said to go back to the foundation of the Citadel by Alexander the Great but it was as an important trading centre on the Silk Road that it grew to prominence. It still retains a lot of the vibrancy of such a city, and to wander around it is to see artisans practising age old handicrafts and to glimpse wonderful old courtyards and warehouses stacked high with goods. Of course, some of the leather workers are busy producing gun holsters and some of the traders are selling brightly coloured plastic junk but, nevertheless, they still organise themselves into districts: kitchenware, jewellery, carpets, as they have done for centuries.

And, my goodness, the carpets! All credit to our guide for advising us to wait until we got to Herat; we spent a whole morning dawdling about the rug vendors and, so tempting was the produce that only one of us (who claims that Morocco has given him carpet-fatigue) escaped without a purchase. I chose small items simply because I knew that I would not be able to carry anything larger but I’m pleased to say that my selection included a lovely little Beluchi that I hope will assist in the retirement of someone’s 1970’s classic orange and brown swirls. We all chose traditional styles with not one souvenir “war rug” purchased between us, I’m proud to say.

The exquisite beauty of the Friday Mosque is only marred by the knowledge that a few streets away the great Musalla complex, once one of the World’s greatest show pieces of Islamic architecture, has been allowed to crumble away into semi-ruin. Five precarious minarets, so denuded of decoration that it is impossible not to be reminded of industrial chimneys, a half-restored mausoleum with the characteristic melon shape and some of its original turquoise tiles being all that remains of its former magnificence.

Probably the best way to introduce the city is to post the pictures, so I shall brave the internet cafe back here in Kabul and do my best to upload them this afternoon.

Categories: Central Asia

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