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.
Abandoned when the Jewish community left Herat, the Yu Aw synagogue in the Momandha quarter of the Old City soon fell into disrepair, and was subsequently damaged during the long conflict in the area. Dating from the turn of the century, this building follows a pattern seen in other synagogues in Herat, with a large domed central space, in the centre of which stands a raised platform or tebah. Technical support was provided by AKTC to the Department of Historic Monuments for work on the synagogue in 2007.
Initial structural repairs were made to the external walls, after which masonry arches over the first‐floor prayer area were propped, enabling removal of earth and reconstruction of the collapsed brick vaults and the main dome, which were finished with a weatherproof layer of brick paving. Damaged areas of plaster ‐ parts of which have painted decoration and had become detached from the walls ‐ were stabilized with gypsum, and cracks in the structural brickwork filled. During the course of the work, a cistern at the centre of which lies an octagonal pool was rediscovered under the level of the courtyard and restored
An important component of the social history and built heritage of Herat, the restored synagogue is now used as an educational and cultural centre for women and children from the surrounding neighborhood. As well as contributing to the development of skills among Afghan professionals and craftsmen, this project has helped to promote awareness of the richness of traditional construction and decorative techniques in the old city.