Breathing new life into the legacy of past civilisations calls for a creativity, imagination, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom well beyond the ordinary. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP), established in 1992, implements conservation, urban revitalization and area development projects in historically significant sites of the Islamic world undertaking the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that spur social, economic and cultural development. Its projects seek to mobilize local potential and resources in order to ensure their eventual self-sustainability through operational income, human resource development and institutional management capabilities. Through this integrated approach, the Programme seeks to demonstrate that strengthening cultural identity can go hand in hand with socio-economic progress.
Going beyond mere restoration of monuments, the Programme engages in activities related to adaptive re-use, contextual urban planning and the improvement of housing, infrastructure and public spaces. It carries out related socio-economic development initiatives directed at upgrading local living conditions and improving quality of life.
Investments in single project locations or regions are coordinated with other Aga Khan Development Network programmes so that they reinforce each other as they grow together into a critical mass for positive change. In all project locations, community participation and training of local professionals are essential components.
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.