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.
Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Urban Conservation and Area Development in Afghanistan. Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 2007.
Dedicated as it is to the in-depth rehabilitation of urban heritage in the Islamic World, the Historic Cities Programme (HCP) of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture deals with a complex reality. For historic cities harbour an important architectural legacy that goes well beyond the realm of “bricks and mortar”. Their monuments and their traditional urban patterns speak to us about the attitudes, the aspirations and the living conditions of past generations of human beings. That is how cities gain their symbolic dimension and how they are enabled to dispense cultural identity.