Chahar Suq Cistern Complex Restoration
Herat, Afghanistan
Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme

From its origins as an outpost of the Achaemenid Empire, the repeated strengthening of the Citadel of Qala Ikhtyaruddin, and the setting out of a walled settlement by the Ghaznavids, the city of Herat has had a turbulent history. Situated at the crossroads of regional trade, in the midst of rich irrigated agriculture, the area has been a prize for successive invaders. The city became a centre for Islamic culture and learning during the reign of Timur, whose successors commissioned several monumental buildings, but it then fell into decline under the Mughals. Considered part of Persia during the Safavid era in the eighteenth century, it was not until 1863 that Herat was incorporated into the emerging Afghan state.

The prime focus of AKTC’s conservation work has been on two clusters of historic fabric, extending across the Bar Durrani and Abdullah Mesri quarters, where investments have been made in the conservation of key public buildings – mosques, cisterns and bazaars – as well as historic houses. A system of small-scale grants and building advice was also established, aimed at enabling some fifty owners of traditional homes to undertake basic repairs, which has resulted in improved living conditions while protecting the integrity of the historic fabric. As well as safeguarding historic property, these projects have provided a platform for the training of craftsmen, while demonstrating the potential of conservation and adaptive reuse in a context where there is a growing tendency to demolish historic property and ‘redevelop’.

At the centre of one such cluster lies the domed Chahar Suq Cistern, constructed in 1634, which, along with smaller cisterns, remained the primary source of water for inhabitants of the Old City until the 1970s. The massive structure supports a brick dome that spans nearly twenty metres over a square reservoir which, at the time of initial surveys, was filled with domestic waste. Extensive repairs were carried out on the war-damaged dome and the masonry substructure that had been weakened by encroachments from adjoining shops. An urban square has been created in front of the north entrance, after the relocation of shops that had encroached on this area. Since its conservation, the Chahar Suq Cistern has been in regular use for cultural events, including exhibitions and music recitals.

Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Chahar Suq, Herat Old City, Herat, Afghanistan
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Associated Names
Part of Site
Associated Collections
1634, restored 2005-2008
Style Periods
Variant Names
Chahar Suk
Chahar Souk
Building Usages