1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Herat

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21831361911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 13 — HeratThomas Hungerford Holdich

HERAT, a city and province of Afghanistan. The city of Herat lies in 34° 20′ 30″ N., and 62° 11′ 0″ E., at an altitude of 2500 ft. above sea-level. Estimated pop. about 10,000. It is a city of great interest historically, geographically, politically and strategically, but in modern days it has quite lost its ancient commercial importance. From this central point great lines of communication radiate in all directions to Russian, British, Persian and Afghan territory. Sixty-six miles to the north lies the terminus of the Russian railway system; to the south-east is Kandahar (360 m.) and about 70 m. beyond that, New Chaman, the terminus of the British railway system. Southward lies Seistan (200 m.), and eastward Kabul (550 m.); while on the west four routes lead into Persia by Turbet to Meshed (215 m.), and by Birjend to Kerman (400 m.), to Yezd (500 m.), or to Isfahan (600 m.). The city forms a quadrangle of nearly 1 m. square (more accurately about 1600 yds. by 1500 yds.); on the western, southern and eastern faces the line of defence is almost straight, the only projecting points being the gateways, but on the northern face the contour is broken by a double outwork, consisting of the Ark or citadel, which is built of sun-dried brick on a high artificial mound within the enceinte, and a lower work at its foot, called the Ark-i-nao, or “new citadel,” which extends 100 yds. beyond the line of the city wall. That which distinguishes Herat from all other Oriental cities, and at the same time constitutes its main defence, is the stupendous character of the earthwork upon which the city wall is built. This earthwork averages 250 ft. in width at the base and about 50 ft. in height, and as it is crowned by a wall 25 ft. high and 14 ft. thick at the base, supported by about 150 semicircular towers, and is further protected by a ditch 45 ft. in width and 16 in depth, it presents an appearance of imposing strength. When the royal engineers of the Russo-Afghan Boundary Commission entered Herat in 1885 they found its defences in various stages of disrepair. The gigantic rampart was unflanked, and the covered ways in the face of it subject to enfilade from end to end. The ditch was choked, the gates were unprotected; the tumbled mass of irregular mud buildings which constituted the city clung tightly to the walls; there were no gun emplacements. Outside, matters were almost worse than inside. To the north of the walls the site of old Herat was indicated by a vast mass of débris—mounds of bricks and pottery intersected by a network of shallow trenches, where the only semblance of a protective wall was the irregular line of the Tal-i-Bangi. South of the city was a vast area filled in with the graveyards of centuries. Here the trenches dug by the Persians during the last siege were still in a fair state of preservation; they were within a stone’s-throw of the walls. Round about the city on all sides were similar opportunities for close approach; even the villages stretched out long irregular streets towards the city gates. To the north-west, beyond the Tal-i-Bangi, the magnificent outlines of the Mosalla filled a wide space with the glorious curves of dome and gateway and the stately grace of tapering minars, but the impressive beauty of this, by far the finest architectural structure in all Afghanistan, could not be permitted to weigh against the fact that the position occupied by this pile of solid buildings was fatal to the interests of effective defence. By the end of August 1885, when a political crisis had supervened between Great Britain and Russia, under the orders of the Amir the Mosalla was destroyed; but four minars standing at the corners of the wide plinth still remain to attest to the glorious proportions of the ancient structure, and to exhibit samples of that decorative tilework, which for intricate beauty of design and exquisite taste in the blending of colour still appeals to the memory as unique. At the same time the ancient graveyards round the city were swept smooth and levelled; obstructions were demolished, outworks constructed, and the defences generally renovated. Whether or no the strength of this bulwark of North-Western Afghanistan should ever be practically tested, the general result of the most recent investigations into the value of Herat as a strategic centre has been largely to modify the once widely-accepted view that the key to India lies within it. Abdur Rahman and his successor Habibullah steadfastly refused the offer of British engineers to strengthen its defences; and though the Afghans themselves have occasionally undertaken repairs, it is doubtful whether the old walls of Herat are maintained in a state of efficiency.

The exact position of Herat, with reference to the Russian station of Kushk (now the terminus of a branch railway from Merv), is as follows: From Herat, a gentle ascent northwards for 3 m. reaches to the foot of the Koh-i-Mulla Khwaja, crossing the Jui Nao or “new” canal, which here divides the gravel-covered foot hills from the alluvial flats of the Hari Rud plain. The crest of the outer ridges of this subsidiary range is about 700 ft. above the city, at a distance of 4 m. from it. For 28 m. farther the road winds first amongst the broken ridges of the Koh-i-Mulla Khwaja, then over the intervening dasht into the southern spurs of the Paropamisus to the Ardewan pass. This is the highest point it attains, and it has risen about 2150 ft. from Herat. From the pass it drops over the gradually decreasing grades of a wide sweep of Chol (which here happens to be locally free from the intersecting network of narrow ravines which is generally a distinguishing feature of Turkestan loess formations) for a distance of 35 m. into the Russian railway station, falling some 2700 ft. from the crest of the Paropamisus. To the south the road from Herat to India through Kandahar lies across an open plain, which presents no great engineering difficulties, but is of a somewhat waterless and barren character.

The city possesses five gates, two on the northern face, the Kutab-chak near the north-east angle of the wall, and the Malik at the re-entering angle of the Ark-i-nao; and three others in the centres of the remaining faces, the Irak gate on the west, the Kandahar gate on the south and the Kushk gate on the east face. Four streets called the Chahar-súk, running from the centre of each face, meet in the centre of the town in a small domed quadrangle. The principal street runs from the south or Kandahar gate to the market in front of the citadel, and is covered in with a vaulted roof through its entire length, the shops and buildings of this bazaar being much superior to those of the other streets, and the merchants’ caravanserais, several of which are spacious and well built, all opening out on this great thoroughfare. Near the central quadrangle of the city is a vast reservoir of water, the dome of which is of bold and excellent proportions. The only other public building of any consequence in Herat is the great mosque or Mesjid-i-Juma, which comprises an area of 800 yds. square, and must have been a most magnificent structure. It was erected towards the close of the 15th century, during the reign of Shah Sultan Hussein of the family of Timur, and is said when perfect to have been 465 ft. long by 275 ft. wide, to have had 408 cupolas, 130 windows, 444 pillars and 6 entrances, and to have been adorned in the most magnificent manner with gilding, carving, precious mosaics and other elaborate and costly embellishments. Now, however, it is falling rapidly into ruin, the ever-changing provincial governors who administer Herat having neither the means nor the inclination to undertake the necessary repairs. Neither the palace of the Charbagh within the city wall, which was the residence of the British mission in 1840–1841, nor the royal quarters in the citadel deserve any special notice. At the present day, with the exception of the Chahar-súk, where there is always a certain amount of traffic, and where the great diversity of race and costume imparts much liveliness to the scene, Herat presents a very melancholy and desolate appearance. The mud houses in rear of the bazaars are for the most part uninhabited and in ruins, and even the burnt brick buildings are becoming everywhere dilapidated. The city is also one of the filthiest in the East, as there are no means of drainage or sewerage, and garbage of every description lies in heaps in the open streets.

Along the slopes of the northern hills there is a space of some 4 m. in length by 3 m. in breadth, the surface of the plain, strewn over its whole extent with pieces of pottery and crumbling bricks, and also broken here and there by earthen mounds and ruined walls, the débris of palatial structures which at one time were the glory and wonder of the East. Of these structures indeed some have survived to the present day in a sufficiently perfect state to bear witness to the grandeur and beauty of the old architecture of Herat. Such was the mosque of the Mosalla before its destruction. Scarcely inferior in beauty of design and execution, though of more moderate dimensions, is the tomb of the saint Abdullah Ansari, in the same neighbourhood. This building, which was erected by Shah Rukh Mirza, the grandson of Timur, over 500 years ago, contains some exquisite specimens of sculpture in the best style of Oriental art. Adjoining the tomb also are numerous marble mausoleums, the sepulchres of princes of the house of Timur; and especially deserving of notice is a royal building tastefully decorated by an Italian artist named Geraldi, who was in the service of Shah Abbas the Great. The locality, which is further enlivened by gardens and running streams, is named Gazir-gáh, and is a favourite resort of the Heratis. It is held indeed in high veneration by all classes, and the famous Dost Mahommed Khan is himself buried at the foot of the tomb of the saint. Two other royal palaces named respectively Bagh-i-Shah and Takht-i-Sefer, are situated on the same rising ground somewhat farther to the west. The buildings are now in ruins, but the view from the pavilions, shaded by splendid plane trees on the terraced gardens formed on the slope of the mountain, is said to be very beautiful.

The population of Herat and the neighbourhood is of a very mixed character. The original inhabitants of Ariana were no doubt of the Aryan family, and immediately cognate with the Persian race, but they were probably intermixed at a very early period with the Sacae and Massagetae, who seem to have held the mountains from Kabul to Herat from the first dawn of history, and to whom must be ascribed—rather than to an infusion of Turco-Tartaric blood introduced by the armies of Jenghiz and Timur—the peculiar broad features and flattish countenance which distinguish the inhabitants of Herat, Seistan and the eastern provinces of Persia from their countrymen farther to the west. Under the government of Herat, however, there are a very large number of tribes, ruled over by separate and semi-independent chiefs, and belonging probably to different nationalities. The principal group of tribes is called the Chahar-Aimák, or “four races,” the constituent parts of which, however, are variously stated by different authorities both as to strength and nomenclature. The Heratis are an agricultural race, and are not nearly so warlike as the Pathans from the neighbourhood of Kabul or Kandahar.

The long narrow valley of the Hari Rud, starting from the western slopes of the Koh-i-Baba, extends almost due west for 300 m. before it takes its great northern bend at Kuhsan, and passes northwards through the broken ridges of the Siah Bubuk (the western extremity of the Environs
of Herat.
range which we now call Paropamisus) towards Sarakhs. For the greater part of its length it drains the southern slopes only of the Paropamisus and the northern slopes of a parallel range called Koh-i-Safed. The Paropamisus forms the southern face of the Turkestan plateau, which contains the sources of the Murghab river; the northern face of the same plateau is defined by the Band-i-Turkestan. On the south of the plateau we find a similar succession of narrow valleys dividing parallel flexures, or anticlinals, formed under similar geological conditions to those which appear to be universally applicable to the Himalaya, the Hindu Kush, and the Indus frontier mountain systems. From one of these long lateral valleys the Hari Rud receives its principal tributary, which joins the main river below Obeh, 180 m. from its source; and it is this tributary (separated from the Hari Rud by the narrow ridges of the Koh-i-Safed and Band-i-Baian) that offers the high road from Herat to Kabul, and not the Hari Rud itself. From its source to Obeh the Hari Rud is a valley of sandy desolation. There are no glaciers near its sources, although they must have existed there in geologically recent times, but masses of melting snow annually give rise to floods, which rush through the midst of the valley in a turbid red stream, frequently rendering the river impassable and cutting off the crazy brick bridges at Herat and Tirpul. It is impossible, whilst watching the rolling, seething volume of flood-water which swirls westwards in April, to imagine the waste stretches of dry river-bed which in a few months’ time (when every available drop of water is carried off for irrigation) will represent the Hari Rud. The soft shales or clays of the hills bounding the valley render these hills especially subject to the action of denudation, and the result, in rounded slopes and easily accessible crests, determines the nature of the easy tracks and passes which intersect them. At the same time, any excessive local rainfall is productive of difficulty and danger from the floods of liquid mud and loose boulders which sweep like an avalanche down the hill sides. The intense cold which usually accompanies these sudden northern blizzards of Herat and Turkestan is a further source of danger.

From Obeh, 50 m. east of Herat, the cultivated portion of the valley commences, and it extends, with a width which varies from 8 to 16 m., to Kuhsan, 60 m. west of the city. But the great stretch of highly irrigated and valuable fruit-growing land, which appears to spread from the walls of Herat east and west as far as the eye can reach, and to sweep to the foot of the hills north and south with an endless array of vineyards and melon-beds, orchards and villages, varied with a brilliant patchwork of poppy growth brightening the width of green wheat-fields with splashes of scarlet and purple—all this is really comprised within a narrow area which does not extend beyond a ten-miles’ radius from the city. The system of irrigation by which these agricultural results are attained is most elaborate. The despised Herati Tajik, in blue shirt and skull-cap, and with no instrument better than a three-cornered spade, is as skilled an agriculturist as is the Ghilzai engineer, but he cannot effect more than the limits of his water-supply will permit. He adopts the karez (or, Persian, kanát) system of underground irrigation, as does the Ghilzai, and brings every drop of water that he can find to the surface; but it cannot be said that he is more successful than the Ghilzai. It is the startling contrast of the Herati oasis with the vast expanse of comparative sterility that encloses it which has given such a fictitious value to the estimates of the material wealth of the valley of the Hari Rud.

The valley about Herat includes a flat alluvial plain which might, for some miles on any side except the north, be speedily reduced to an impassable swamp by means of flood-water from the surrounding canals. Three miles to the south of the city the river flows from east to west, spanned by the Pal-i-Malun, a bridge possessing grand proportions, but which was in 1885 in a state of grievous disrepair and practically useless. East and west stretches the long vista of the Hari Rud. Due north the hills called the Koh-i-Mulla Khwaja appear to be close and dominating, but the foot of these hills is really about 3 m. distant from the city. This northern line of barren, broken sandstone hills is geographically no part of the Paropamisus range, from which it is separated by a stretch of sandy upland about 20 m. in width, called the Dasht-i-Hamdamao, or Dasht-i-Ardewán, formed by the talus or drift of the higher mountains, which, washed down through centuries of denudation, now forms long sweeping spurs of gravel and sand, scantily clothed with wormwood scrub and almost destitute of water. Through this stretch of dasht the drainage from the main water-divide breaks downwards to the plains of Herat, where it is arrested and utilized for irrigation purposes. To the north-east of the city a very considerable valley has been formed between the Paropamisus and the subsidiary Koh-i-Mulla Khwaja range, called Korokh. Here there are one or two important villages and a well-known shrine marked by a group of pine trees which is unique in this part of Afghanistan. The valley leads to a group of passes across the Paropamisus into Turkestan, of which the Zirmast is perhaps the best known. The main water-divide between Herat and the Turkestan Chol (the loess district) has been called Paropamisus for want of any well-recognized general name. To the north of the Korokh valley it exhibits something of the formation of the Hindu Kush (of which it is apparently a geological extension), but as it passes westwards it becomes broken into fragments by processes of denudation, until it is hardly recognizable as a distinct range at all. The direct passes across it from Herat (the Baba and the Ardewán) wind amongst masses of disintegrating sandstone for some miles on each side of the dividing watershed, but farther west the rounded knolls of the rain-washed downs may be crossed almost at any point without difficulty. The names applied to this débris of a once formidable mountain system are essentially local and hardly distinctive. Beyond this range the sand and clay loess formation spreads downwards like a tumbled sea, hiding within the folds of its many-crested hills the twisting course of the Kushk and its tributaries.

History.—The origin of Herat is lost in antiquity. The name first appears in the list of primitive Zoroastrian settlements contained in the Vendidād Sadē, where, however, like most of the names in the same list,—such as Sughudu (Sogdiana), Mourū (Merv or Margus), Haraquiti (Arachotus or Arghand-ab), Haetumant (Etymander or Helmund), and Ragha (or Argha-stan),—it seems to apply to the river or river-basin, which was the special centre of population. This name of Haroyu, as it is written in the Vendidād, or Hariwa, as it appears in the inscriptions of Darius, is a cognate form with the Sanskrit Sarayu, which signifies “a river,” and its resemblance to the ethnic title of Aryan (Sans. Arya) is purely fortuitous; though from the circumstance of the city being named “Aria Metropolis” by the Greeks, and being also recognized as the capital of Ariana, “the country of the Arians,” the two forms have been frequently confounded. Of the foundation of Herat (or Heri, as it is still often called) nothing is known. We can only infer from the colossal character of the earth-works which surround the modern town, that, like the similar remains at Bost on the Helmund and at Ulan Robat of Arachosia, they belong to that period of Central-Asian history which preceded the rise of Achaemenian power, and which in Grecian romance is illustrated by the names of Bacchus, of Hercules and of Semiramis. To trace in any detail the fortunes of Herat would be to write the modern history of the East, for there has hardly been a dynastic revolution, or a foreign invasion, or a great civil war in Central Asia since the time of the prophet, in which Herat has not played a conspicuous part and suffered accordingly. Under the Tahirids of Khorasan, the Saffarids of Seistan and the Samanids of Bokhara, it flourished for some centuries in peace and progressive prosperity; but during the succeeding rule of the Ghaznevid kings its metropolitan character was for a time obscured by the celebrity of the neighbouring capital of Ghazni, until finally in the reign of Sultan Sanjar of Merv about 1157 the city was entirely destroyed by an irruption of the Ghuzz, the predecessors, in race as well as in habitat, of the modern Turkomans. Herat gradually recovered under the enlightened Ghorid kings, who were indeed natives of the province, though they preferred to hold their court amid their ancestral fortresses in the mountains of Ghor, so that at the time of Jenghiz Khan’s invasion it equalled or even exceeded in populousness and wealth its sister capitals Of Balkh, Merv and Nishapur, the united strength of the four cities being estimated at three millions of inhabitants. But this Mogul visitation was most calamitous; forty persons, indeed, are stated to have alone survived the general massacre of 1232, and as a similar catastrophe overtook the city at the hands of Timur in 1398, when the local dynasty of Kurt, which had succeeded the Ghorides in eastern Khorasan, was put an end to, it is astonishing to find that early in the 15th century Herat was again flourishing and populous, and the favoured seat of the art and literature of the East. It was indeed under the princes of the house of Timur that most of the noble buildings were erected, of which the remains still excite our admiration at Herat, while all the great historical works relative to Asia, such as the Rozetes-Sefā, the Habīb–es-seir, Hafiz Abrū’s Tarīkh, the Matlā’ a-es-Sa’adin, &c., date from the same place and the same age. Four times was Herat sacked by Turkomans and Usbegs during the centuries which intervened between the Timuride princes and the rise of the Afghan power, and it has never in modern times attained to anything like its old importance. Afghan tribes, who had originally dwelt far to the east, were first settled at Herat by Nadir Shah, and from that time they have monopolized the government and formed the dominant element in the population. It will be needless to trace the revolutions and counter-revolutions which have followed each other in quick succession at Herat since Ahmad Shah Durani founded the Afghan monarchy about the middle of the 18th century. Let it suffice to say that Herat has been throughout the seat of an Afghan government, sometimes in subordination to Kabul and sometimes independent. Persia indeed for many years showed a strong disposition to reassert the supremacy over Herat which was exercised by the Safawid kings, but great Britain, disapproving of the advance of Persia towards the Indian frontier, steadily resisted the encroachment; and, indeed, after helping the Heratis to beat off the attack of the Persian army in 1838, the British at length compelled the shah in 1857 at the close of his war with them to sign a treaty recognizing the further independence of the place, and pledging Persia against any further interference with the Afghans. In 1863 Herat, which for fifty years previously had been independent of Kabul, was incorporated by Dost Mahomed Khan in the Afghan monarchy, and the Amir, Habibullah of Afghanistan, like his father Abdur Rahman before him, remained Amir of Herat and Kandahar, as well as Kabul.

See Holdich, Indian Borderland (1901); C. E. Yate, Northern Afghanistan (1888).  (T. H. H.*)