From its origins as an outpost of the Achaemenid Empire, the repeated strengthening of the Citadel of Qala Ikhtyaruddin, and the setting out of a walled settlement by the Ghaznavids, the city of Herat has had a turbulent history. Situated at the crossroads of regional trade, in the midst of rich irrigated agriculture, the area has been a prize for successive invaders. The city became a centre for Islamic culture and learning during the reign of Timur, whose successors commissioned several monumental buildings, but it then fell into decline under the Mughals. Considered part of Persia during the Safavid era in the eighteenth century, it was not until 1863 that Herat was incorporated into the emerging Afghan state.
The distinctive rectilinear layout of the city of Herat was delineated by massive earth walls that protected the bazaars and residential quarters that lay within. This was the extent of the city until the middle of the twentieth century, when administrative buildings were constructed outside of the walls to the northeast.
Situated in the Momandha quarter of the old city of Herat, the structure that is now used as the Hariva primary school was originally built as a synagogue in the late 19th century. One of four principal synagogues in the old city, the Shamawel (or Samuel) synagogue was built by the sizeable Jewish community that lived in Herat at that time. Probably built on the foundations of an earlier building, the present structure follows the established form, with nine brick‐domed bays forming the main prayer space, at the centre of which stands a raised platform bounded by four supporting piers. Along the west wall of this space are a series of small rooms that were used for religious rituals, and where the Torah was kept. The east elevation, which faces a large courtyard, makes use of both classical and vernacular elements, including traditional glazed tilework. In the courtyard lies a brick‐domed undergroundchamber (mikveh) that was used for ritual cleansing. Additional buildings along the west side of the complex were in ruins at the time of surveys in 2006.
After protracted negotiation with the Departments of Education and Historic Monuments in Herat, it was agreed that the historic part of the synagogue be restored and that new classrooms be constructed to the east, on the site of the ruined outbuildings. Work began on site in April 2009 with the propping of unstable parts of the structure and dismantling of those parts of the structure that were to be replaced. This was followed by the construction of the new classrooms, which follow the footprint of the original building and have been designed to respect the roofline of surrounding buildings in the old city. Toilets and washing facilities have also been incorporated into the new building.
During the later stages of this construction, restoration work was initiated on the historic synagogue, which was re‐roofed and internal plasterwork repaired, along with damaged parts of the east elevation. The completed building was handed back for use as a primary school in March 2010.