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.
Attarbashi house, a large family home in the Bar Durrani quarter of the Old City, was originally built in the mid 19th century by a distinguished grocer. This home follows the traditional layout of a northern (for winter use) and southern (for summer use) range of rooms, arranged around a large central courtyard that is accessed from a covered passage or dalan. The complex retains some of the characteristic elements of large family homes of the era, including a double-height central domed reception room, at the northern part, and timber colonnades along the upper levels of both ranges. The courtyard elevations contain timber screens in characteristic Herati style and sections of geometric patterned brickwork. At the eastern side of the courtyard, an unusual domestic hammam can be found beside a small shrine, adjacent to the main entrance. A servant quarter is located on the west side which contains a large domed kitchen.
Attarsbashi house, along with many other homes in the Old City of Herat, had fallen into disrepair and partially collapsed when surveyed in 2005. It was documented and restored by AKTC/HCP between 2006 -10. As part of the restoration works, the doubled height room was reconstructed and traces of fine molded and painted plasterwork have been documented and safeguarded.
Through the conservation initiatives in Herat Old City, the project provided opportunities for a range of specialist craftsmen to demonstrate their skills in restoring decorated plaster and woodwork, while training apprentices in workshops set up on site. With growing local interest in the conservation of the Attarbashi and other houses in this quarter, it is hoped that the project might have raised awareness locally of the potential for retaining and upgrading traditional structures in a context where many owners still see no alternative but to demolish and ‘redevelop’ historic property.