Walking from the citadel of Herat, through a meandering street with shops, brings us to a larger street. When we turn left, our eyes meet for the first time with four blue-and-green tiled minarets topping an arched portal. We are looking at the western face of the Friday Mosque. Walking around it, we see an armed guard doing security checks on those who come in. Just a few months before, a bomb attack killed seven here, while a later attack on another mosque claimed even more lives - those attacks were both on a Friday. We are not allowed in, as it is Friday, so we walk to the adjacent garden instead. Worshippers gather here, too, running in even after the prayers have already started. We listen to the call for prayers, watch the men roll out their prayer mats, watch them stand up, bow, prostrate, and sit leaning on their knees, after which the cycle starts again. The movement has been the same for many centuries; the mosque has changed. First built in the early 13th century, it was destroyed, rebuilt in the 15th century, and restored again in the 20th to its current state.
In the middle of the park is a memorial pillar with rusting military equipment next to it, with only Dari script on its side, it is impossible for us to know what this memorial is for. We exit the garden on the other side, walk around the mosque, and come back early next morning. The park is almost empty now, and we see the reflection of the facade of the historic mosque in one of the pools in the park. To enter the mosque, we have to take a side entrance and walk though a dark corridor. Then, the full beauty of the inner courtyard of the mosque overwhelms us. From all sides, we see the iwan, or vaulted walls, and the sun is just high enough to reflect the brilliance of the two minarets. We walk the cool, white, marble floor, sit down and just absorb the fine Islamic art surrounding us.
We pass by in the late afternoon, when the market surrounding the mosque is in full swing, and the sun is shining on the western side of the mosque. I am back early next morning. Men are doing their workouts in the park, running in their shalwar kameez, their local attire, some even with turbans. Seeing them do sports makes me a little restless, but instead of joining them, I wait at the small pool until the sun pops up above the horizon behind me, and sets the facade of the mosque ablaze. The colours are so different now, giving the mosque a much warmer appearance. I take the side entrance again, sit down on the far side, and wait to see the rays of sun move down the minarets, reaching the lower part of the arch, the Koranic writings on the walls, until it reaches the marble floor. All the while, the only others to share this magical moment are the pigeons flying around, their flutter being the only sound I hear. It is the most peaceful experience, the best way to say goodbye to this jewel of Herat.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Herat Jama Masjid (Afghanistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Herat Jama Masjid. Read more about this site.