Nasir Khusraw Shrine Restoration
Hazrat‐e Sayyed, Afghanistan
Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme

In the context of its wider conservation and training program in Afghanistan and the expansion of project activities to Badakhahan province, in May 2011 the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) commence critical conservation works on the historic shrine of Nasir Khusraw located in remote Badakhshsan province. In 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between AKDN and the Ministry of Information and Culture outlining the scope of works envisaged for the comprehensive structural stabilization of the site and the full restoration of the Shrine and rehabilitation of its landscape.

 

As it stands today, the shrine (or ziyarat) of Nasir Khusraw is both the funerary structure marking the grave of a great Persian writer and philosopher, and a fine example of vernacular building.

 

Provisional project visits by AKTC in both 2010 and early 2011 prepared the way for implementation of the project in August 2011. At the onset of the project additional investments were made in the training local project personnel in carpentry and masonry works through the implementation of a pilot restoration project for the Mullah Barat Mosque, located in the Hazrat‐e Sayyed village, which contributed to building local capacity ahead of the full restoration works on the Shrine.

 

The Shrine of Nasir Khusraw was constructed on the final resting place of the 11th century Ismaili scholar, philosopher and poet Nasir Khusraw, who came to Yamgan by way of Balkh and Faizabad in 1060AD. The shrine is a registered historic monument and protected under laws on the preservation and safeguarding of Afghanistan’s heritage. The village of Hazrat‐e Sayyed is located in a narrow valley on the eastern bank of the Kokcha River in southern Badakhshan. A highly remote area, the village is about a 7‐hour drive (125 Km) on unpaved roads from Faizabad with major settlement along the route being the town of Baharak and Jurm. The precarious route south from Jurm winds through precipitous valleys and is often inaccessible in winter.

 

The building is situated on top of a 15m high exposed conglomerate outcrop some 50m above the village of Hazrat‐e Sayyed (coordinates N 36º27.934, E 70º46.969) at an elevation of 2100m above sea level. The site is accessed from the south, across a terrace paved with pebbles that extends some 10 by 40 meters, beside which is a stone lined pool, used for ablutions, fed by a channel from a stream that runs through the village. To the southeast are the ruins of a small mosque, said to have been built in the 1920’s, and to the north is a ruined langarkhana, where food was cooked for religious festivals. Since 2003, a small garden has been laid out to the north‐east, with four terraces divided by stone retaining walls, where visitors to the ziyarat gather. This garden is reasonably well maintained and, on certain days, the terraces are said to be set aside for women.

 

The fine timber inscriptions found in the ‘mazar’ indicate that the building was transformed in 1109H / 1697 CE. Limited repairs were later again made during the reign of King Abdul Rahman Khan in the late 19th century, when a small mosque was built on an adjacent terrace slightly higher than level of the mausoleum. While the site has continuously been used by Ismaili and Sunni Muslims throughout the 20th century and has been in a general state of disrepair, it suffered significant damage when a bomb was dropped on the site of the mosque built next to the shrine during an aerial bombardment of the area during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

 

In light of reports on the on‐going deterioration of the site, which included extensive structural weaknesses in the condition of the conglomerate mound upon which the shrine is built and the damage caused to the architecture of the building through seepage of water, it was decided to commence a full‐scale conservation project in 2012.

 

AKTC’s intervention aimed primarily to achieve the following objectives:

 

  1. Safeguard a key historic monument with inter/national, cultural and religious significance;
  2. Improve public access and enhance safe to the site and enable the use of its green space by the local community, including women and children.
  3. Raise awareness amongst the local community and governmental institutions about the importance of their historic and architectural heritage and appropriate forms of physical intervention on these sites;
  4. Contribute to the development of Afghan capacity in planning and managing conservation activities in Badakhshan;
  5. Develop critical skills for local craftsmen required to undertake the restoration of the Shrine and towards future maintenance of the site;
  6. Contribute to the improvement of livelihoods in the area of the restoration project; and
  7. AKTC also adhered to a number of overarching principles in its approach to the conservation work, including; (i) the involvement and support of the local community for the project through regular coordination meetings with exiting governance structures, (ii) initiating training initiatives focused on building local capacity in carpentry and masonry, and (iii) the integration and coordination of AKTC project activities with other agencies of AKDN. Laborers for the projects were sourced locally and training in masonry, plastering and carpentry were provided by experienced AKTC craftsmen seconded to the project from Kabul. A rotational employment system for daily laborers was implemented in coordination with the Aga Khan Foundation and community development councils, extending the benefits of employment and training to a wider segment of the community.

 

Upon the completion of project activities in 2013, the Shrine was returned to the custodianship of the local community and a permanent plaque, documenting the site as a registered historic monument was installed in coordination with local authorities and the Department of Historic Monuments. This report provides a background on the Shrine and the conservation activities undertaken by AKTC during the implementation period.

Location
Hazrat‐e Sayyed, Afghanistan
Images & Videos
Documents
Associated Names
Associated Collections
Events
Restored: 2011-2013
Dimensions
Site area: 40 x 10 meters
Variant Names
Nasir Khusraw Shrine Restoration
Ziarat of Nasir Khusraw Restoration
Variant
Building Usages
mausoleum
funerary
shrine
religious
Keywords
poets
Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme
restoration and conservation
vernacular architecture
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