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.
highly unusual figurative painted decoration in the ‘coffee-house’ style,
dating from the 19th century - as well as fine internal plasterwork, this house
is one of the most important examples of residential property to be recorded as
part of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture's survey in the old city. Painted on a plastered dome and, by
2009, in a very poor state of repair, it is remarkable that this mural has
some traditional houses in Herat have floral or geometric
painted decoration, a figurative painting on this scale is very unusual.
Stylistically, this mural resembles the folk art of the ‘qahveh khaneh’ or
coffeehouse, popular in Iran in the late 19th century Qajar Period. Such
paintings usually provided a backdrop for story-telling and religious rituals,
particularly during Muharram, but it is not clear how this small domestic space
might have been used. Conservation works entailed the reconstruction of
collapsed sections of brick masonry as well as repair of the roof, the
colonnaded veranda and the distinctive moulded brickwork on the courtyard
elevations of the house. The external timber screens along the upper colonnade
were conserved and surviving areas of decorative internal plaster stabilised.
In order to reduce the risk of future flooding of this low-lying property,
measures were taken to improve drainage in the wider area.