One of the largest surviving Islamic monuments in central Kabul, the Mausoleum of Timur Shah marks the grave of the son of Ahmad Shah Durrani, who effectively united Afghanistan in the late eighteenth century. Born in 1746, Timur Shah served as governor of Herat before facing down a military challenge to the throne from his elder brother, and then moved his capital from Qandahar northeast to Kabul. His son Zaman Shah laid him to rest in 1793 in a garden on the banks of the Kabul River, but it was not until 1817 that the actual construction of the Mausoleum began.
Timur Shah’s Mausoleum comprises an octagonal structure with two intersecting cross-axes organized on six levels. Above a crypt in which the grave stands is a square central space surrounded by an octagonal structure, with four double-height iwans on the main elevations. There are sixteen brick-vaulted spaces of varying size on the first floor, encircling the central space, with a flat roof above, surrounding the sixteen sided drum under the domes. Following the central Asian tradition, the Mausoleum has an outer dome constructed on a high drum above a ribbed inner dome.
During the course of conservation work, negotiations took place for the relocation of the two hundred or more informal traders who had encroached on what had been the garden around the Mausoleum. A range of options was explored aimed at incorporating the traders into a new development on or adjoining the garden of the Mausoleum, but these were not approved by the Municipality, and the traders were removed in 2005. Since then, a perimeter wall has been constructed to protect the site, which has been planted with an orchard of mulberry trees – matching those seen in historic photographs – and laid out with paths for pedestrian access through the garden.
Since its restoration, the central space of the Mausoleum has been the setting for lectures, seminars and exhibitions, and discussions are under way with the relevant authorities for the space and reclaimed garden to be used for cultural events on a regular basis. Despite the challenging physical and institutional context in which the project was realized, it stands as an example of how an important historic monument can help to encourage a wider process of regeneration in a fast-changing urban setting.
The movie, Afghanistan: Hope Takes Root, presents the conservation and cultural work of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) since it became active in Afghanistan in 2002. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Afghanistan designs and implements cultural heritage and restoration projects to promote Afghan culture and makes historical sites, landscapes, and residential quarters safe and usable. To date, AKTC has restored over 145 individual heritage sites, ensuring their continued use by future generations and helping to preserve Afghan cultural identity. These projects, undertaken in coordination with local communities, are a means to invest in access improvements, infrastructure upgrading, and vocation training, which contribute to improving quality of life and socio-economic opportunities for local residents.
Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage is in danger of being cast aside in the race to modernity after years of war. Far more than a programme of historic preservation, the work of AKDN in Afghanistan has sought to contribute to the lasting redevelopment of the economy, society and culture of the country. In this context it is important to ensure that the rich pluralism of Islam within Afghanistan is respected, and sustained for the peace and serenity of all Afghans, as we work together to improve the quality of life for the people of this country and this region, and for generations yet unborn. Just as fear can be infectious, so is hope.