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HERAT, Afghanistan — In the 1970s, tourists traveled to western Afghanistan to climb on the ruins of an ancient citadel, a fortress resembling a sand castle that has stood overlooking the city of Herat for thousands of years.
The citadel was crumbling then, but now the newly restored structure is a hopeful sign of progress in a country beset by war.
Hundreds of Afghan craftsmen worked to restore the ruins’ glory with help from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and about $2.4 million from the U.S. and German governments.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, was among the tourists drawn to Herat decades ago, and on Sunday he celebrated the citadel’s restoration and the opening of a museum of Afghan artifacts at the site.
“We look forward to the day when Afghans and visitors from around the world will once again come here to learn about Afghanistan’s rich history and enjoy the great hospitality and beauty that this land and its people have to offer,” he said.
Tourism seems far-fetched in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of foreign troops are in the 10th year of fighting Taliban insurgents. Yet, the rebuilt, imposing brick structure called the Qala Ikhtyaruddin is a symbol of the nation’s desire to emerge from the bloody conflict.
“As this citadel represents, Afghanistan stood as a great nation. It will so stand again,” Mr. Crocker said.
Taliban attacks have recently occurred inside Herat. They are rare, though there are districts on the city’s outskirts where violence flares.
The Ministry of Information and Culture is the caretaker of the citadel, which has survived years of territorial battles among Persians, Uzbeks, Afghans, and today’s Taliban.
The structure was built on the site of an ancient citadel that some historians claim was established by Macedonian warrior-king Alexander the Great around 330 B.C. The battlements and towers that still stand are believed to date from the 14th or 15th century, when it was reconstructed after being destroyed by Mongol invaders. Some of the blue tile work from that period still can be seen on some towers.
Mohammad Rafiq, a mason from Herat who worked on the project, said he took pride in the work because he sees it as part of the country’s broader reconstruction.
“It was not only about making money. It was good work to do,” he said. “This is the biggest monument in the region. We tried our best to do the reconstruction so it recopied the old styles of the building.”
At the citadel is the National Museum of Herat, one of four provincial museums in Afghanistan to reopen.
The Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin worked with the German Archaeological Institute to document and restore artifacts and prepare them for display. There are about 1,100 items from the Herat region in the museum; about 250 are on display.
Nancy Dupree, an American who has worked in Afghanistan for decades to protect and preserve the country’s culture and heritage, stood outside the museum and glanced up at the citadel’s sunbaked towers.
“I think the most exciting thing is to see something finally accomplished,” she said. “I have seen so many half-finished things.”