Earthquakes Decimate Western Afghanistan’s Ancient Villages and Historic Monuments

A number of ancient structures have been damaged in Afghanistan‘s rural countryside following four deadly 6.3 magnitude earthquakes and dozens of aftershocks between October 7 and 15.

Ancient villages constructed from bricks and mud straw were destroyed during two initial earthquakes in the territory around Zinda Jan in the Herat province. At least 1,500 people died in the two quakes, and thousands were left injured, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A total of 11 villages were decimated, while 114,000 people are in need of humanitarian aid.

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The worst damage occurred in the Zinda Jan and Injil districts. Many villages in those districts were home to ancient vernacular architecture structures dating to the Safavid dynasty (16th to 18th centuries), with a few key elements dating back even further, to the Ilkhanate dynasty (13th to 14th centuries).

“There were windmills in this area that were around 600 years old … they are vertical windmills, which are truly one of a kind,” Arash Boostani, a project manager for the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Afghanistan, told the Art Newspaper.

Key monuments in the city of Herat also experienced damage due to the earthquake. Herat has been on UNESCO‘s tentative list since 2004.

There, the Ikhtyaruddin Citadel complex now has cracks in its towers and a collapsed stairwell that had been restored. Originally constructed in 330 BCE, the complex is thought to have been created after Alexander the Great captured Herat in the war against the Achaemenid Persian Empire. It was previously demolished by Genghis Khan in the 13th century and rebuilt two decades later by the Kart dynasty. In the 14th century, it was ruined by Timur and rebuilt by his son. It went through a number of phases before being restored in 2011.

The 13th-century Ghurid mosque Masjid-i Jami also has a number of cracks, and parts of its blue-tiled minarets collapsed altogether. Meanwhile, the early 15th century Musalla complex, which was built by Queen Gawharshad and is the largest surviving architectural ensemble in the region, weathered damage to its tiles and brickwork. One minaret on the structure also partially collapsed.

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