HERAT -- The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has partnered with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to restore the "fifth minaret" of Herat city, a 600-year-old monument, in light of concerns over its possible collapse.
The restoration of the minaret involves three phases.
In the first phase, workers are connecting rings around the minaret to a surrounding metal structure to prevent its collapse.
The second phase is aimed at strengthening the minaret's tiles and its restoration, while the third is set to fortify the minaret's surroundings and plan for the long-term protection of the monument.
The first phase of the restoration work, which started almost a year ago, is now 95% complete and expected to finish in two months. The second phase will start in 2023, the AKTC told Salaam Times in an email.
"The second phase of the work will begin with joint funding from the AKTC and the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH)," it said. "With restoration and fortification, the fifth minaret of Herat will have higher resistance to earthquakes and other natural disasters."
"The international community's efforts to protect the fifth minaret of Herat, an architectural masterpiece from the Timurid era, started in 2002."
"Temporary stabilisation of the minaret by holding it with steel cables was one of the projects implemented by UNESCO in 2003," the AKTC added.
Herat's "fifth minaret", situated in the Gawhar Shad Madrassa, was damaged during Afghanistan's civil war. The historical structure has repeatedly been subjected to mortar fire and shelling.
It is known as the fifth minaret because of its distance from four other minarets, which are part of the Musalla complex in Herat. The fifth minaret is 35 years older than the other four.
Ordered by Queen Gawhar Shad, Shah Rukh Mirza's wife, the construction of the Musalla minarets of Herat started in 1417.
Eleven minarets were initially built, according to historical documents. But only five remain. The other six minarets were destroyed over the years by wars and natural disasters.
Saving Herat's heritage
The first phase of the fifth minaret's restoration has addressed the danger of its collapse, ensuring that it will stay intact, said the AKTC.
Preventing the collapse of the fifth minaret of Herat is good news, said Zalmai Safa, director of the Herat Monuments Department.
"This precious and historical minaret belongs not only to Afghans but to all culture lovers of the world," he said.
Saving the fifth minaret means strengthening a historical pillar of Herat's civilisation, Safa said, adding that the survival of many of Herat's historical relics relies on the assistance of international organisations.
The restoration and rehabilitation of the fifth minaret have restarted the heartbeat of Herat's civilisation and ancient history, said Abdul Jalil Tawana, a cultural scholar in Herat city.
"Herat's minarets, inherited from the Timurid era, are world architectural masterpieces," he said.
"Saving this historical complex is saving an important part of the world's history and heritage."
"I am very happy that the fifth minaret was saved from collapsing."
"The protection and maintenance of historical heritage such as the Herat minarets require the co-operation of all countries. The fifth minaret would have collapsed years ago if it were not for the co-operation of the AKTC and UNESCO."
The minarets are a symbol of Afghanistan's history and civilisation and must remain sturdy, Tawana said.
Together with Google Arts, the AKTC has launched a permanent online exhibition of some of Herat's historical sites.
The online exhibition "Herat: The Pearl of Khorasan", on display since November 10, showcases Herat's ancient history and historical sites, which have been restored by the AKTC in recent years.
The goal of the exhibition is to highlight Afghanistan's cultural heritage and raise awareness, both domestically and overseas, about the need to continue preserving the country's heritage for future generations, the AKTC told Salaam Times.
The online exhibition is a good opportunity to introduce Herat's monuments to the world, Waheed Ahmad Sultani, director of the Herat Department of Tourism, said.
"We have unique historical sites in Herat that remain unknown," he said. "If these historical and must-see sites are introduced to the world, tourists from across the globe will come to visit these sites."
"The online exhibition showing some of Herat's historical sites is very effective, thanks to technology and widespread internet access," he said.
Sultani is hopeful that knowledge of such sites will pave the way for their registration with UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
Registering with UNESCO
After decades of waiting, there is now more hope for the addition of Herat to UNESCO's World Heritage List, said Mohammad Sediq Mir, another cultural scholar in Herat city.
"The display of Herat's historical sites such as the Grand Mosque, Qala Ikhtyaruddin (Arg), and the minarets on the world stage means that these sites will be introduced to the world," he said.
As Herat's historical sites become better known, tourists from around the world will visit the province, which in turn will provide an opportunity to register these sites on the World Heritage List, he said.
Restoring Herat's historical sites, which were damaged in recent decades, is critical to their registration, he said.
"Some of Herat's historical sites such as the Grand Mosque, Qala Ikhtyaruddin, the minarets, and the old city meet the criteria to be registered on the World Heritage List," he added.
"With the recent measures, we have great hope that these historical relics will be added to UNESCO's list."
"If these historical monuments are registered on the World Heritage List, ... Herat's historical heritage will earn more income every year, which could be used to restore other historical monuments," he said.