Herat minarets under threat
Peninsula On-line, Qatar - 25 Jun 2007
|Vehicles pass the ancient minarets of Herat in this file photo. They survived three decades of war but risk being toppled by road traffic - the last five medieval minarets of Herat are being slowly shaken to dust. (REUTERS)|
HERAT • They survived three decades of war but risk being toppled by road traffic-the last five mediaeval minarets of Herat are being slowly shaken to dust. The minarets are all that remain of what was once a wonder of art and architecture, a brilliantly decorated complex of Islamic learning and devotion on the Silk Road in western Afghanistan.
Little more than a century ago, more than a dozen of these minarets peered over the ancient city of Herat, part of a madrassa-mosque complex built in the 15th century by the daughter-in-law of the all-conquering mogul emperor Timur. War and neglect have since toppled most of the camel-coloured mud-brick towers, which were once sheathed in sparkling blue, green, white and black mosaic tiles, reaching heights of more than 100 feet (30 metres) and shining out across the desert.
But after US-led forces evicted the Taleban from national power in 2001, a relative amount of both peace and prosperity has returned to Herat and there are hopes that they can be preserved. But there is one big problem: traffic. Trucks and cars rumble along a busy road that runs right through the middle of the group of remaining minarets, shaking the ground and sending tremors through their foundations.
If it is not closed, there are fears that any of the minarets could crumble or fall in the coming years and decades. One of them is already on a dangerous tilt. "In the past five years, we tried to block the road going close to the minarets. Fortunately, we succeeded and blocked the road-for a little bit," said Ayamuddin Ajmal, who runs the Culture Ministry's historical monuments office in Herat.
But residents objected and the provincial government, unable or unwilling to invest in a road diversion, backed down, he said. The road reopened. "The government has also a commitment regarding preserving the minarets, but still we see that the government has not blocked the road," said Ajmal, who keeps a small office in a niche of another of Herat's treasures, the Friday Mosque.
The Afghan government has submitted the old city of Herat, including the minarets, as a candidate for listing as a World Heritage site. This would put Herat in the same class as China's Great Wall, the pyramids of Egypt and the Acropolis of Athens.