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Herat is a city in Western Afghanistan, the capital of Herat Province. It has a long cultural history as a gateway between Persian and Turkic culture, bordering on Iran and Turkmenistan. In 2008, its Old City was recognized by UNESCO as [1] It has suffered much damage in the wars of Afghanistan.

Ancient history

First settled approximately 5,000 years ago, it was an established city when Alexander the Great came in the 3rd century BCE. Herodotus called it the "breadbasket of Asia." [2] Later, it was the main city of the Persian kingdom of Khorasan; it is the only one of the four cities [3] of the kingdom that is largely intact. [4] Its central mosque was first built in the seventh century, and rebuilt by the Ghorid Dynasty in 1200. It was associated with Sufism, especially with the poet Khawaja Abdullah Ansari, who died in 1088.


In Herat if you stretch out your feet you are sure to kick a poet — Ali Sher Nawa

In the 14th and 15th centuries, under the Timurid dynasty, it became known as the "Florence of Asia". [5]

Still a major cultural attractions, a mosque, tomb and madrassa complex, built in 1417 by Gohar Shad, daughter of a Chugtai noble, one of the Mongol hordes. Called the "most incomparable woman". she restored many buildings in Herat. Her grave reads "The Bilkis of All Time"; Bilkis is the Islamic name for the Queen of Sheba.[4] While Herat is conservative for women's rights, she has been called Afghanistan's first feminist.


It revolted against the pro-Soviet Amin government in March 1979. Unrest had grown when large numbers of unemployed Afghans, who had been in Iran, were armed by the Khomeini government and sent back to Afghanistan. There also had been urging to the Herat Shi'a from Tehran. A number of Soviet advisers and their families were killed in the revolt. The Soviets rejected Afghan appeals for troops, but made a show of force on the border.[6] Ismail Khan told Ahmad Rashid that the Soviets bombed the city and did more damage than the Mongols. [7]

In Afghan politics, it is still strongly associated with Ismail Khan,who had been strong for education, including that of women. In October 1996, however, there was a protest by Herat's women on their schools being shut down; the female students and teachers, including teachers of the boys' schools, were beaten and arrested by Taliban. The full impact of these gender restrictions were not realized until the Taliban imposed them in Kabul.

He was later removed as governor, by President Karzai, in 2004. It was one of the centers of the Northern Alliance in the war against the Taliban

When the Taliban took Herat in 1996, some of the first protests were from women. In the wars of Afghanistan, it is geographically important, in that it controls a highway to Kandahar.

The 209th Corps of the Afghan National Army is headquartered in Herat.

Herat, which had no significant Hezara population, may be undergoing a rebirth due to an Iranian influence. The new governor, The present governor of Herat, Sayed Hussain Anwari, is a Shia Hazara. He is suspected of working for the Iraqis. In like manner, the suburb of Jibrael, has some of the best amenities. It is Hazara. Sunni Heratites wonder if the migrant workers came back with Iranian financial help.[8]


  1. United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (November 28, 2008), The Herat Old City wins the Award of Excellence in the 2008 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage
  2. Ahmed Rashid (2000), Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300089023, p. 37
  3. Balkh in northern Afghanistan, Mary in Turkmenistan and Nishapur (where Omar Khayyam is buried) in Iran
  4. 4.0 4.1 Romesh Bhattacharji, "Historic Herat", Frontline: India's National Magazine 23 (22)
  5. "Herat, the 'pearl' of Afghanistan", BBC News, November 12, 2001
  6. Diego Cordovez, Selig S. Harrison (1995), Out of Afghanistan: the inside story of the Soviet withdrawal, Oxford University Press US, ISBN 0195062949, pp. 35-37
  7. Rashid 2000, p. 38
  8. Nicholas Schmindle (Winter 2008), "Democracy is not a Postcard: Iranian Influence in Western Afghanistan", Virginia Quarterly Review