29 July, 2014. In late-July, UNESCO, the Afghan Government – at the level of the Ministry of Information and Culture, and the level of Herat’s Governor – and representatives from Herat’s Cultural and Civil Society, had a series of discussions relating to the work UNESCO is undertaking in Herat as part of its Italian Funds in Trust project to safeguard the cultural and archeological heritage of Herat’s Mosalla Complex and Gawhar Shad Mausoleum. UNESCO received a permission to begin the work from within Herat’s Cultural and Civil Society, His Excellency Dr. Sayeed Makhdoon Raheen, Minister of Information and Culture, and His Excellency Fazlullah Wahidi, the Governor of Herat; this reflects a positive commitment to the preservation of cultural heritage of one of the most important Timurid cities in the world.
The task for UNESCO and its partners, with the generous and sustained support of the Italian Government, is to safeguard the historical sites in Herat. The project will begin in August 2014 with, as per the permission granted to UNESCO, the rehabilitation of a wall to surround the sites and enable a thorough cleaning of the site, prior to archeological works on the Mosalla Complex. The work on the Gawhar Shad Mausoleum’s cupola and drum is underway, with molds of the tiles and muqarnas having been taken and the ground work being laid for cooperation with the Herat Tile Workshop to make the necessary tiles in Herat. The re-tiling of the Gawhar Shad Mausoleum, whose exquisite cupola and drum encircled with dazzling white Koranic inscriptions will once again provide a beautiful addition to Herat’s skyline and serve as a stunning reminder of the city’s rich history as a world center for culture and architectural excellence is an enormously positive development for Herat and Afghanistan. UNESCO is hugely grateful for this opportunity to undertake such work in Herat, and remains extremely appreciative of the support received from within Herat’s cultural sphere and the Government of Afghanistan, but above all, UNESCO is thankful to the Italian Government for their support to this essential project in Herat.
UNESCO is also working towards the stabilization of the firth minaret and a survey of the four minarets in the Mosalla Complex. This will be an important contribution to the rehabilitation and conservation of this site. The momentum created by the successful completion of this project will hopefully help bring about greater awareness of and care for Herat’s cultural legacies to Afghanistan the world. Contacts with Herat University have been established so as to begin an international exchange of ideas, experience and understanding on Herat’s Timurid and medieval history the results of which will greatly benefit the wider academic community in its understanding of Herat’s history and cultural legacy.
The Mosalla Complex and Gawhar Shad Mausoleum are an expression of a tradition of Timurid architectural and artistic decoration which reached its apogee in this collection of buildings, of whose enormous scale the world has never again seen the like. The complex was built in the early 15th century by Queen Gawhar Shad, wife of Shah Rukh, the son of Tamerlane, and was described by British architectural historian Robert Byron, who visited the site in 1933, as ‘the most beautiful example in color in architecture ever devised by man to the glory of his God and himself.’ The state of preservation in the Mosalla Complex and Gawhar Shad Mausoleum has gradually declined since the fall of the Timurid dynasty and the coming of the Uzbeks in the early 16th century. In 1885 British forces, fearful of a Russian attack on Herat, ordered the partial destruction of the site so as to have a clear line of sight for their guns to defend an attack which never materialized. Through earthquakes and conflict in the 20th century, the site has suffered greatly, and yet it remains a site of huge archeological, historical and cultural significance for Herat and Afghanistan.