SPACH Photo Catalogue of Major Priority Sites and Monuments:

Provinces:

Badakhshan Badghis
Baghlan
Balkh
Bamyan
Farah
Faryab
Ghazni
Ghor
Herat
Helmand
Jawzjan
Kabul
Kandahar
Kapisa
Khost
Kunar
Kunduz
Laghman
Logar
Nangarhar
Nimroz
Nuristan
Paktika
Paktya
Parwan
Samangan
Sari Pul
Takhar
Uruzgan
Wardak
Zabu
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MUSALLA COMPLEX

The musalla complex, designed and built (1417) under Queen Gawhar Shad’s artistic direction, has been described as “the most beautiful example in colour in architecture ever devised by man to the glory of his God and himself.” (Byron). Only three examples remain. Most of the buildings in this complex were purposely demolished under the direction of British troops in 1885 when a Russian attack on Herat was feared. The attack never materialized but these great works of art were irretrievably lost.
Three of the nine minarets left standing in 1885 were subsequently downed by earthquakes in 1931 and 1951. those which remain totter precariously. One, the more simply decorated, stands beside Gawhar Shad’s Mausoleum which is topped by a flamboyant ribbed dome of Persian-blue, set above a high drum encircled with a dazzling white Koranic inscription against a royal-blue background. Tall panels bejewelled with floral decorations add to the richness of the decoration. The interior is equally rich with painted and architectural ornamentation: a profusion of interlacing arches, fan-shaped squinches, stalactite niches, small and large domes, are delicately adorned with bands of calligraphy and all manner of floral motifs painted in lapis lazuli, rust-red and gilt. The blue pigment used in this painting was made from crushed lapis lazuli from Badakhshan. In the center are the tombstones of the Queen, her son Baisunghur and various grandsons and great-grandsons. Gawhar Shad was murdered when she was well past the age, in 1457.
The minaret which stands to the east of the mausoleum was one of a pair which stood on either side of the portal to the Queen’s madrassa (religious school). The shaft is of plain brick, set horizontally, dotted with rows of large royal-blue diamonds embellished with mosaics of flowers and Arabic script. Two balconies from which the call to prayer was made ring the shaft, each heavily ornamented with deep stalactite brackets.
A second minaret stands at the far end of the garden attached to the northern façade of a modern madrassa. There were originally four minarets like this one, standing at the four corners of Queen Gawhar Shad’s musalla (place of workship) which was the quintessence of Timurid architectural decoration. The Seljuks (12th century) began to enliven the exteriors of buildings by setting broad geometrical patterns of colored brick into the plaster. The Ghorids perfected the technique of cut brick and molded terracotta, and Timurid innovations led constantly to an elaboration of design and intensification of color. Queen Gawhar Shad’s musalla in Herat was the most glorious fruition of this development…
Four tall minarets stand to the north of the Queen’s mausoleum. They stood at the four corners of a madrassa built by sultan Husain Baiqara (1468-1506), last of the Timurid rulers in Herat. Here a lacy network of glistening white faience seemingly tumbles over a shaft covered with light Persian-blue lozenges of floral mosaic. The technique and effect is quite different from Gawhar Shad’s buildings, mirroring the more efette life style of the Golden Age. The lower portions of these minarets are undecorated because they originally formed part of the main building.
All these minarets are subjected to extreme wind and sand abrasion during the period of the 120-days’ wind. You will find bits and pieces of mosaic pried loose by the relentless force scattered on the plain around them. What man ha not destroyed, nature seems intent on claiming. Even so, what has withstood 560 years of onslaught still gleams with a brilliance and purity of color impossible to duplicate today.
An unadorned domed structure between the two madrassas is the mausoleum of Mir Ali Sher Nawai, Sultan Husain’ prime minister. He was an avid builder-restorer and is credited with building 370 mosques, colleges, hospitals, libraries, bridges and rest houses. He died in 1501 at the age of 62.

From Dupree, N. H. An historical guide to Afghanistan. Kabul. 1977. p. 250


CONDITION:

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