Herat City

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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.

Herat City

Capital of the province of the same name in Afghan- istan, situated in 34° 22' N. and 62° 9' E., in a fertile and well-watered valley, about 3 miles from the right bank of the Hari Rud, 407 miles from Kandahar via Farrah and Sabzawar, and 469 from Kabul ; 3,026 feet above the sea. The plain surrounding the city is closely studded with villages, especially on the south, east, and west. These villages are, as a rule, large and straggling, with walled gardens and orchards. The fortifications and ditch are kept in excellent order, and a strong Afghan force is always maintained within the walls. The city, nearly square in plan, has five gates, two on the north face, and one on each of the others. There are four bazars meeting under a domed structure, called the Charsu, at the cross-roads in the centre of the city. Near the Charsu the shops are apparently rich and flourishing ; but the farther away from it, the more squalid and poor they become. Beyond the four main thoroughfares of bazars, there are no roads properly so called.

The interior of the city is a crowded mass of small domed hovels, built of mud or sun-dried bricks, and intersected by narrow alleys, many of them arched over. The only pieces of open ground in the city, and these of small dimensions, are the space around the governor's house, the gun park, the barracks, and an open square near one of the gates on the north face. The principal buildings are the Jama Masjid and the Ark-i-Nao, or ' new citadel.' The latter is of comparatively recent construction ; the former was built at the end of the fifteenth century in the reign of Shah Husain. Originally a splendid edifice, 465 feet by 275, and adorned with gilding, carving, mosaics, &c., it is now much out of repair.

The total population of Herat, exclusive of the garrison, is probably between 10,000 and 14,000. There are said to be over 1,300 shops in the city, representing 53 different trades and occupations, and giving employment to 3,500 persons. It is an important centre for the trade of the outlying districts. The principal exports are wool, silk, pistachios, opium, asafoetida, sheepskins, and astrachans ; the principal British imports are indigo, tea, sugar, cotton cloth, muslin, drugs, and porcelain goods. Of recent years, Russian goods — chintzes, silk and cotton cloth, certain kinds of broadcloth, hardware, and sugar — have commenced to obtain a footing in the Herat market.

Herat, the foundation of which, as Alexandria Ario?i, is ascribed to Alexander the Great, is not only the capital of a province, but has a strategical value and historical reputation which have given to its possession a moral influence out of all proportion to its present importance whether as a city or as a fortress. It enjoys the pre- eminence of having stood more sieges, and having been depopulated and destroyed more often, than almost any other city in Central Asia. It has invariably risen from its ruins, if not always with renewed splendour, at all events with a vigour that is without parallel. After Alexander's death Herat passed successively under the domination of the Seleucids, the Parthians, and the Sassanids ; and on the extinc- tion of their empire it was captured (661) by the Arabs, under whom it became one of the great cities of the Muhammadan world. After the break-up of the Khalifat it fell in turn to the Persian dynasties of the Saffarids and Samanids, to the Ghaznivids and to the house of Ghor, and to the Khwarizm Shahs. Then came the Mongol conquest, after which the Karts, an offshoot of the Ghorids, estab- lished a local dynasty (i 245-1389) which was overthrown by Timur Lang. From his descendants it passed to the Safavid kings of Persia, and on their decline was for a short time held by the Durranis.

Regained for Persia by Nadir Shah in 1730, it was added in 1751 to the Durrani kingdom of Ahmad Shah, and on the dissolution of that kingdom became an independent principality under his great-grandson Kamran. In 1823, while Kamran was in power, the Persians attacked Herat and were defeated. In 1837 they renewed the attack with 35,000 men ; but after a siege which lasted for ten months, and which was only unsuccessful owing to the splendid services of Lieutenant Eldred Pottinger, who had arrived from Kabul just before it com- menced, they were compelled to retire, on the appearance of Colonel Stoddart with power to threaten the Shah with the hostile intervention of Great Britain. After the retirement of the Persian army, the British Government proclaimed the independence of Herat under Shah Kamran, and a treaty was concluded with the latter in 1839 whereby his independence was guaranteed. Shah Kamran's all-powerful Wazir, Yar Muhammad Khan, objected to concede the terms which the British demanded in return for the guarantee, and commenced to intrigue with Persia. Early in 1842 he murdered his master and usurped the government. Under his vigorous rule Herat began to prosper, but he died in 1851 and was succeeded by a son who proved to be imbecile and profligate. The latter was ousted soon afterwards by Muhammad Yusuf Khan Sadozai, his cousin.

Early in 1856 the Shah of Persia again sent an army to Herat; but though Muhammad Yusuf Khan was Persian at heart, the people e.xpelled the Persian advance guard and hoisted British colours. Muhammad Yusuf was sent to the Persian camp, the people rallying round Isa Khan, who wrote to the Amir Dost Muhammad, declaring himself a servant of the Kabul government and inviting the Amir to march on Herat. He was, however, unable to hold out, and in October Herat surrendered to the Persians. At the close of the war between Great Britain and Persia in March, 1857, the Shah withdrew his forces from Herat, having first installed Sultan Ahmad Khan as ruler of the province. In 1861 a quarrel arose between Sultan Ahmad and Amir Dost Muhammad ; the latter advanced on Herat in the following year ; and after a siege of ten months, during which Sultan Ahmad died, the fort fell into his hands. Since then Herat has remained subject to the Amirs of Afghanistan.

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