Saturday 10 November 2012

Restored Mausoleum of Timur Shah opens in Kabul

The Mausoleum of Timur Shah, badly damaged during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s, has been reopened by President Karzai and the Agha Khan. Built in 1817, the octagonal red brick building is in the style of the early Moghul and Afghan kings of Delhi. 

The interior of the simple building, which is surrounded by a small park, contains a plain, undecorated sarcophagus. The tomb itself lies in the vaults beneath the building, alongside that of the ill-fated Shah Shujah, Timur's son, who was murdered outside the Bala Hissar citadel in 1842. 
Born in 1746, Timur Shah served as governor of Herat before facing down a military challenge to the throne from his elder brother, and then moving his capital from Kandahar  to Kabul. After his death in 1793 his son Zaman Shah buried him in a garden on the banks of the Kabul River, but it was not until 1817 that construction of the Mausoleum began. 
His court was highly influenced by Persia and he himself was reliant on the infamous Qizilbash bodyguards for his personal protection.
During the course of conservation work, negotiations took place for the relocation of the 200 or more informal traders who had encroached on what had been the garden around the Mausoleum. At one point it was thought that the traders could be incorporated into a new development on land adjoining the garden, but these plans were rejected and the traders were removed in 2005. Since then, a perimeter wall has been constructed to protect the site, which has been planted with mulberry trees – matching those seen in historic photographs (see below) – and laid out with paths.
Since its restoration, the central space of the Mausoleum has been used for lectures, seminars and exhibitions, and discussions are under way with the relevant authorities for the space and reclaimed garden to be used for cultural events.
Below is another picture of the Mausoleum, one of the earliest photographs taken in Afghanistan. The photo was taken by  John Burke in 1879-80.
In 1878 John Burke accompanied the British forces deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs "illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad". Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region.
Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, in partnership at first with William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. However, Burke is best known as the first significant photographer of Afghanistan and its people.(Pic courtesty of the British Museum).

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