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.
Located next to what was once the main northern and royal gate of the old city of Herat, the Malik Cistern was used to store water for the residential quarters adjoining Herat’s citadel, ‘Qala Ikhtyaruddin’. The mosque, which is known under the same name, provided prayer space for the public as much as the employees in the lower citadel. As most other mosques in Herat, the Malik mosque complex has a winter and summer prayer space and, across the courtyard, an opening to the cistern for access to water. Thick masonry walls support large arches and vaults for roofing. Part of the cistern’s exterior had been demolished during a road widening in the 1940s.
In 2006-8, this site was part of AKTC/HCP’s wider programme of conservation and urban rehabilitation works in the north-western part of the Herat’s old city. Following removal of waste that had for some years been dumped in the structure, surveys were made of the cistern and adjoining summer/winter mosques. Repairs were then undertaken on the brick masonry vaults and squinches that support a small brick dome spanning over the centre of a rectangular pool. The entire roof was then laid with a finish of brick paviors and, in order to protect the building from traffic along the adjoining street, the original plinth was reconstructed. Work was subsequently initiated on the adjacent summer mosque, dating from Safavid times (17th century A.D.), featuring an open brick-arched iwan over a raised floor, from which modern concrete was removed and the vaulted sub-structure repaired. The high brick vaults over the prayer space were repaired and the original carved marble inscription fixed back in place. Removal of the modern plaster from the elevation and interior of the semi-underground winter mosque revealed sections of glazed tiling on the elevation of the modest iwan. This has been repaired, along with a raised prayer platform in front of the mosque and a row of vaulted study-rooms along the northern side of the courtyard. The restored cistern has been re-used as a cultural centre for the inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood while the mosque had been continuously used during the ongoing conservation works.