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089. Herat: Qal'a-i Ikhtiyar al-Din (Citadel)

Herat Province. 1,053 kilometers by road west of Kabul.

Dates:  Achaemenid, 6th-4th century BC (epigraphic evidence);
           Sassanian, 3rd-7th century AD (numismatic, stylistic);
           Seljuk, Ghurid, Kart and Timurid, 11th-16th century
           (architectural, documentary, stylistic).

Herat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site candidate (Sept. 2004), is thought to have been established before 500 BC as the ancient Persian town of Artacoana or Aria. The city's older section is partially surrounded by the remains of massive mud walls, where several monuments still stand, such as: the Qal'a-i Ikhtiyar al-Din (a 15th-century citadel) and the Great Mosque, which contains examples of 12th-century Ghurid brick-work and 15th-16th century Timurid tilework. The city's other important monuments are outside the walls. To the north, atop a large artificial mound called Kuhandazh (the likely site of pre-13th century Herat), we find the 15th-century Mausoleum of Shahzada 'Abul Qasim and the 15th-century Abdullah bin Muawiyah Shrine on the opposite side of the road. Farther to the north is the Gawharshad Musalla Complex. Two hundred meters southwest of the Herat city walls is a dated 1487 mausoleum, the Shrine of Abdullah al-Valid.

Qal'a-i Ikhtiyar al-Din (Citadel)

Variant Names: Citadel of Herat, Qal'ah of Herat (Qal'a, Qal'eh, Qalah, Qala, Qaleh), Hesar (Hisar, Hissar) of Herat, Herat Fortress, Qal'a-e Ikhtiyar al-Din, Qala-ye Ekhtiyaruddin

Date(s): Ghurid, Kartid, Timurid periods, 13th to 15th century

Click here to view the Archnet Digital Library description and 33 photos of
the Herat Citadel.

One of the oldest extant structures in the historic center of Herat is Qal'a-i Ikhtiyar al-Din, built on the site of an ancient citadel built by Alexander teh Great in 330 BC atop the ruins of a previous Achaemenid period (6th-4th century BC) fortress. For centuries the citadel was a prized asset for a succession of rulers: Seleucids, Parthians, Kushans, Sasanians, Hephthalites, Umayyads, Saffarids and Samanids until the tenth century. By this time, the walled city was described by Arab geographers as having four gates leading into crossing commercial avenues and a square citadel adjoining the northern city wall. In 1175, the citadel at Herat served as capital of the Ghurid dynasty after a century and a half of Ghaznavid and Seljuk rule.

Obliterated in 1221 by Genghis Kahn's Mongol army, the citadel and city were rebuilt by the Kartid governors who established their capitol at Herat during the late 13th century. In 1299-1300 Kartid Amir Fakhr al-Din (reign: 1295-1308) reinforced the citadel's towers, walls, ramparts and moat, and his successor Ghiyath al-Din (reign: 1308-1329) built two palaces inside the citadel to the east. The name Ikhtiyar al-Din is thought to be the name a particular Kartid amir or military commander from this period.

Destroyed a second time by Timur's army in 1380, the citadel once again became the seat of power for a succession of Timurid rulers during the 15th and 16th centuries, including Sultan Shah Rukh (reign: 1405-1447), who governed an empire that stretched from the Tigris to the Chinese frontier. Shah Rukh and his Queen Gauwershad (reign: 1447-57) reinforced the citadel with stone and commissioned the glazed tilework that still exists on the towers at Qal'a-i Ikhtiyar al-Din. Used as a royal residence, treasury and prison under the Afghan Kingdom, after Safavid rule ended in 1747, the citadel suffered damage in numerous wars with the Persians, British, and Russians.The structure was excavated and restored by UNESCO between 1976 and 1979.

Source: Warwick Ball, Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan, 1982, n. 425

"Qala-ye Ekhtiyaruddin." SPACH (Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage.

  34° 20' 44.79" N
  34.33333º N
  62° 11' 22.30" E

62.18333º E


Herat is found at the above
coordinates on JOG map