The history of Herat has been one of repeated destruction and reconstruction. Conqueror after conqueror, from the time of Alexander the Great, has taken it, destroyed it and then rebuilt it.
In the 4th century BC, Alexander built the citadel, Qala-e-Ikhtiyaruddin, which is still standing in the center of the city.
In 1040, the Seljuks defeated the Ghaznavids and destroyed the fortress of Herat. From 1040 to 1175, Herat was ruled by the Seljuks and was then captured by the Ghorids. Under the rule of Sultan Ghiyasuddin-i-Ghori, the Ghorids remained in power for 40 years. Upon the death of Sultan Ghiyasuddin-i-Ghori, Herat fell under the control of the Khwarizm Empire which ruled from Merv. Herat was then deserted and left to the hands of petty adventurers.
In 1221, Herat was taken by the Mongols. 12,000 defenders of the citadel were killed. Tuli, the son of Ghenghis Khan, ruled for a time, but the citizens revolted and killed the Mongol garrison. Extremely angered, Ghenghis Khan rode into the city with 80,000 troops and besieged the city for six months. Only forty people survived. In 1245, the Mongols parceled out some of their holdings, and Herat was given over to the rule of the Kart maliks. The Kart maliks received their independence from the "Khans" in 1332.
In 1381 Tamerlane took Herat from the Karts, plundered the city’s treasure and destroyed the walls. The city revolted and Tamerlane destroyed Herat.
Shah Rukh, the son of Tamerlane, rebuilt Herat and started the cultural renaissance which was to make Herat the center of learning and culture. During the Timurid rule, the famous poet of Herat, Jami, was born, Queen Gawhar Shad’s Musalla Madrassa was built, the miniaturist Bihzad was born, Gazer Gah was restored for the second time and Herat flourished.
In 1507, Herat was captured by the Uzbek Shaibanj Khan, and with that the house of Timur ended. From then on, the Uzbeks and the Safavids of Persia struggled for Herat until 1634 when Hasan Khan Shamlu became governor of Herat under the Safavids. After his reign Herat began to decline.
In 1718 an Afghan clan by the name of Hotaki struggled for Heart’s independence. From 1718 until 1880, there was a continuous struggle for Herat, until finally the city became an integral part of Afghanistan.
Points of Interest
Masjed-i-Jami Located in the center of the city, this great mosque has been the site of a place of worship since the time of Zoroaster. Rebuilt several times, the mosque now stands in perfect splendor since its most recent restoration which is nearing completion. Visitors are welcome.
Said to be the greatest of the 15th century poets, Mulla Nuruddin Abdurrahman-i-Jami is buried in a grave, unadorned except for a pistachio tree which has sprung from the tomb itself. Jami, born in 1414, achieved widespread fame in his time and many rulers tried to entice him to their courts. He died in 1492 in Herat. His tomb is located in the outskirts of the city on the road to Islam Qala.
Windmills of this type have been in Herat since the 7th century. These windmills antedate the windmill in Europe and China and it is generally thought that the inspiration for the European and Chinese windmill as taken from this Middle Eastern type. The Windmills are located next to Jami’s tomb.
The shrine of the famous 11th century Sufi poet and mystic philosopher, Khaja Abdullah Ansari, is a place of pilgrimage and the home of the Brotherhood of Ansari. It was restored by Shah Rukh, the youngest son of Tamerlane, in 1428 and much of the restoration is still evident today. This is one sight that tourists should not miss when visiting Herat. It is located on the hill north of Herat.
Gashar Shad’s Mansoleum
This mausoleum was built for Gawhar shad, wife of Shah Rukh. It stands in the corner of the Park-i-Bihzad. The Brightly colored, ribbed domes such as this were popular with the Timurids. The magnificent range of decor on the interior ceiling of the mausoleum is an experience for a lover of art and architecture
Today, six of the original twelve minarets remain standing, of Queen Gashar Shad’s Musalla, built in the early1400’s. Originally the minarets were covered with a mosaic of glazed tiles.
It was the Queen’s contribution to the Timurid Empire during a period of learning and cultural accomplishment. Leading architects of her day built for her a madrassa (place of learning) and a musalla (place of worship). These magnificent buildings flanked by the minarets were once described (by Byron among others) as “the most glorious productions of Mohammedan architecture” to be seen in all of Asia.
This fort was originally built by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Although it has suffered repeated attacks over the centuries, it remains standing, dominating the landscape of Herat.
Held by the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks, the Ghorids, the Mongols, the Timurids, the Safavids and the Afghans, the citadel continues to be a reminder of the times of kings, conquerors and great pageantry.
At one time covered bazaars were common to the whole of Afghanistan. Some of these splendid, barrel-vaulted structures can still be seen near the Chahr Suq. In Herat, once an important stop on the caravan route from China to Europe, silks, uncut gems and the splendors of the East and West could be found in these once busy bazaars.
Today, a few of the covered bazaars that are left abound with items of interest to the tourist as well as to the Afghan. Chapana (brightly colored robes) carpets, donkey bags, Herat silks, embroidered skull caps and vests, turbans and many other interesting objects are sold here.