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Reviving the Glory of Murad Khani

After the collapse of Nader Shah’s empire in the mid-eighteenth century, Afghanistan emerged as a separate state for the first time in its history, with Ahmad Shah as its ruler and Kabul its capital. One of his military commanders called Murad Khan brought a number of Qizilbash soldiers to settle in the area around the palace that he had built for himself, and this became what later was known as the Murad Khani district. At first it was at the heart of the city, close to the royal residence, a bustling centre full of government buildings, bazaars, workshops as well as residential houses. Over the centuries, it became much reduced in size, and today is no more than a few streets and alleyways.
But now a huge restoration project under the auspices of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation is underway to preserve what has survived and reconstruct the magnificent architecture of the period. Craftsmen skilled in traditional techniques and the use of authentic materials have been brought from all over the country to help restore by hand, without the benefit of modern technology, the public and private buildings in Murad Khani. Some have been made into museums, others into arts and crafts centres to exhibit and teach traditional handicrafts and so preserve the cultural and artistic heritage of the district.    

Murad Khani still retains the atmosphere of the past, and to visit it today is like a journey in time, entering a different world, with the noise of traditional craftsmen at work, the sounds of the bazaar, and friendly manners from a bygone age. It has its own distinctive architecture – houses built like citadels with small windows, long covered passageways, narrow alleys, and large wooden doors, as though it was prepared for a siege, but this may have been more the result of religious tensions, as the descendants of the Qizilbash were predominantly Shi’ite and often were the object of religious suspicion or persecution. The houses might appear severe on the outside, but within there is an extraordinary wealth of beauty to be seen in the decorative plasterwork and delicate wood carving throughout. Thanks to the restoration project, it is hoped that Murad Khani will once again become an attractive, vibrant, unusually interesting area for visitors and residents alike.

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