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Afghanistan: Kabul Museum

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Kabul Museum | Afghanistan | Asia

[Visited: October 2017]

We have tried to visit a week before, but have found the museum closed. When we arrive at the nearby crossroads again, there is a prominent presence of armed soldiers. We walk to where we think the entrance is located, but it turns out to be the entrance for security staff. We walk around the six metre high concrete walls, so common in the Afghan capital nowadays, until we reach another entrance on the northeastern side. After the inevitable security check, we walk through the gardens of the museum to the front side of the building. We now see the old entrance gate, the concrete wall just behind it. Inside, we directly see some interesting objects, but the women indicate we should start at the top floor and make our way down.

Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Fragment of sculpture depicting the Kasyapa brothers

Kabul Museum was not only badly damaged during the wars that have ravaged the city, but it was also heavily looted in the 1990s, even by guards who were supposed to protect the treasures in the building. Once considered one of the prominent museums in Central Asia, a whopping 70% of its collection have disappeared, found their way to black markets, and sold to unscrupulous buyers - thus funding the very war that has inflicted disaster on the country. There are efforts to obtain some of the lost treasures, but the museum will probably never have the rich collection it once had. Still, we are positively surprised at what we see in the museum. It again confirms the rich heritage of Afghanistan, the many cultures, from Ancient Greece, China, Uzbekistan, India, and Persia, from Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, to Islam. This diverse culture has given the country a wealth of art, but also widespread destruction.

Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Farsi text engraved on this cauldron at the entrance of Kabul Museum

The top floor has relics of the Buddhist era of Afghanistan. Some have returned to the museum very recently: one room has a collection which has been restored with the help of the Japanese. It allows us a slight insight into how the caves around the Buddha statues of Bamiyan were once decorated through fragments of recovered frescoes. It shows finely carved statues and sculptures. One floor down, there is a hall dedicated to Nuristan, or the Land of Light. Here, we find a collection of wooden statues, with a resemblance to African statues, carved out by animistic tribes in the northeast of the country. The Taliban destroyed these artefacts during their occupation of Kabul, chopping up the statues, but they have been successfully restored. In the middle of the hall we find jewellery from the same region. Further down, there are more objects from the Islamic era in Afghanistan. At floor level, the staff of the museum have put pictures of the extensive damage of the museum, and the repair works that have re-established this building to what it once was. Outside, we spot old trains and classic cars, all under a thick layer of dust, as well as big, sweet-perfumed roses in the garden.

Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Jewellery of Turkmens
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Statue of female figure, entrance of Kabul Museum
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Sculpture of Triton with makara legs, found in Bagram, 11th century
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Buddhist female figure, maybe responsible of memorial service, found in Hadda
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Fragment of the left foot of Zeus, 3rd century BCE, Ai-Khanum
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Statue of a seated Buddha from Shotorak
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Wooden sculpture of male ancestor figure from Nuristan
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Candle holder with head of lion
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Marble door with rich carvings, Kabul
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Bowl with three bulls, found at Tepe Fullol, 3rd century BCE
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Fresco with Buddhist image on display in the museum
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Cadillac Fleetwood car under dust outside Kabul Museum
Picture of Kabul Museum (Afghanistan): Outside view of Kabul Museum

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