Monday, July 26, 2010

Friday Mosque

A Ghorid king built the first Friday Mosque in Herat in 1200. It survived damages from the Mongol invasion, an earthquake, and royal neglect as a later mosque usurped its place as the primary place of worship in the city. Over the years, it has been built over considerably, sometimes in the name of restoration and sometimes with new elements entirely.

Over the centuries, however, periods of investment and rebuilding have turned the mosque to a monument in tiled mosaics. The open vestibules off the main courtyard (iwan) have simple whitewashed walls, but every other surface boasts rich detail.

Our group (classmates Afreen and Francisco, plus new friends Ameel, Alyza and Farouk) slipped in on a quiet Saturday morning to photograph and explore. Slipping off our shoes before stepping out into a courtyard of white marble, we padded quietly among the arches with their sprawling geometric patterns and lilting calligraphy before rejoining for a moment together in the shade.

A workshop hidden in one corner of the complex houses the craftsmen who design new patterns and restore the old. Wandering past the sign for the "International Project for Preservation of Historical Monuments," we watch this team chip at tiles, stencil templates, and lay out new pieces, entirely unperturbed by their audience and its cameras.

Though prayers remain several hours off, our driver is impatient and many shrines remain on the day's agenda. And so, after expressing sincere admiration for the work underway, we exit through a different fa├žade, snap a few additional photos, and continue on to see more of Herat.

(As usual, the photos link to a full slideshow of the Friday Mosque)

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