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.
The shrine complex of Khwaja Abdullah Ansari in Guzargah, north-east of Herat, is both an important example of Timurid architecture and a popular place of pilgrimage. Having spent a life of contemplation and writing in and around the village, Ansari was buried here in 1089. Records suggest that a madrasa was established in Guzargah in the late twelfth century, and this was probably the complex reconstructed by Shah Rukh in 1424 and which now makes up the shrine complex.
The large courtyard of the hazira of Abdullah Ansari, with its arched iwans on the main axes and rows of study rooms between, takes a form that is more commonly associated with a madrasa. Both the main entrance arch and the high iwan that rises above Ansari’s grave retain sections of fine glazed tile epigraphy and areas of geometric decoration. Some of the finest extant Timurid decoration in the region has been documented here as part of the limited intervention of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in the complex.
Beginning in 2005, repairs were carried out to all roofs of the Shrine, which had been poorly maintained. The removal of concrete that dated from the 1970s permitted a detailed structural analysis, on which basis a series of brick buttresses was constructed on the eastern side. At the same time, three vaulted rooms in the north-east corner of the complex, which were found to be unstable, were reconstructed on the same footprint as the original, using traditional materials. One of these rooms houses an intricately decorated basalt grave known as the Haft Qalam. In order to facilitate the visits of pilgrims, original sections of marble paving were relaid at the main entrance. Incongruous aluminium doors were replaced with traditional wood, along with other doors leading on to the courtyard. To establish improved records, the historic gravestones that now fill this courtyard were methodically documented, prior to repairs and consolidation of the most vulnerable graves. Brick paving was also laid in key areas, to enable access and guard against the removal of historic stones when new graves are dug within the courtyard. Discreet external lighting that is regularly used at night for religious ceremonies has also been installed around the courtyard.
Following a detailed survey of the existing structure, restoration work on the Namakdan Pavilion, which dates from the fifteenth century, was initiated in late 2005. Following repairs to the ribbed dome, a modern intermediate floor was removed, restoring the original double-height central space, where traces were found of a water pool and channel, which were subsequently reconstructed. During the course of removal of modern plaster, traces of glazed-tile decoration were found on two external elevations, and have been restored. After more than four years of painstaking conservation, the Namakdan Pavilion again resembles the structure that its Timurid builders intended, while work continues on landscaping the surrounding area.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
Khwaja 'Abd Allah Ansari Funerary Shrine (Variant)