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Afghanistan: Gowhar Shad Mausoleum

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Gowhar Shad Mausoleum | Afghanistan | Asia

[Visited: October 2017]

We walk the pleasant streets of Herat in the early autumn sun to the north of the city centre. From a distance, we see a heavily tilting minaret, and the silhouet of a dome: the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad, wife of Shah Rukh, Timurid ruler in the 15th century. Further ahead: four more minarets, and in the distance, the mountains to the north of this ancient city in western Afghanistan. When we arrive at the entrance of the park in which the mausoleum lies, we find it closed. The people on the other side of the gate pretend not to understand that we want to enter. Someone in the street speaks English, talks to the guys through the fence, and joins us when the gate opens. We walk to the building with the enormous ribbed dome, which once was covered with green tiles. The caretaker opens the door for us, and as soon as we are inside, we see that the decorations on the walls and ceiling have survived the onslaught of time, war and earthquakes much better.

Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): The four remaining minarets of the Musalla complex, commissioned by Gowhar Shad who rests in her nearby mausoleum

On the floor is a row of tombs, one of which contains the remains of Gowhar Shad, one of the most influential women in the history of Afghanistan. We would love to stay inside and let the beauty of the place sink in, but the caretaker seems to be in a hurry, pushes us out, and takes us to another, much smaller mausoleum with a much less remarkable dome: the resting place of Mir Ali Shir Nawai, a former prime minister, who is resting in a white marble tomb. Once again, we are taken out before we can take the time to absorb what we are seeing. On our way back to the gate, the father asks for a little baksheesh for his son before locking the gate behind us. We try to get to the area where the four minarets are standing, but the gate here remains closed. The road once ran through the Musalla complex, but is now fenced off, probably because of landmines or the damage of ongoing traffic to the minarets.

Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Ribbed dome of the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad with some blue decorative tiles remaining

Gowhar Shad was the mastermind of the Musalla complex, which included a madrassa, mosque, and mausolea. At present, all that remains are the four standing minarets, which have lost most of their original decorations but at least were not dynamited by the British in 1885 like most minarets of the Gowhar Shad mausoleum. We linger around the fence, until we realize that the door leading to a small adjacent mosque is open. Through it, we can cross a small canal, which brings us close to a couple of boys running their kites which are high up in the sky. We get a better look at the dome on the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad, and end up waiting for sunset at the corner of a nearby street with many people saluting us. A few days later, I am back at the same fence, because I want to see the mausoleum in the early morning, with more favourable light. At first, I take pictures over the fence, as there is no one to be seen, but then, someone comes out of the small house, and after struggling a little to explain my purpose of visit, they let me in. After taking my pictures, they invite me in for bread and chai, and we have a clumsy conversation with my Dari phrasebook. What a pity the mausoleum is not more easily visited!

Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Looking up the ceiling of the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Leaning minaret of the Gowhar Shad mausoleum
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Detailed view of remaining decorations on one of the minarets of the Musalla complex
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Tall minaret of the Musalla complex, which lost most of its decorative elements
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Two of the minarets of the Musalla complex that are still standing
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): The ribbed dome of the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Minaret of the Musalla complex with some embellishments remaining
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): The dome of the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad towering above the trees of the park
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): The mausoleum of Mir Ali Shir Nawai
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): The ceiling of the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Marble tomb of the prime minister Mir Ali Shir Nawai
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): Graves in the mausoleum of Gowhar Shad
Picture of Gowhar Shad Mausoleum (Afghanistan): The mausolea of Gowhar Shad ad Mir Ali Shir Nawai

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