The Friday Mosque of Herat: photos of changes

For seven centuries the people of Herat have prayed in it. They still do so, and its history is their history. On the 25th of November 1933, after nearly two months into his journey in Iran and Afghanistan, Robert Byron finally visited his first Friday Mosque: the Masjid-i Jami’ of Herat. And it happened apparently…

Actual visit or narrative device: Byron at the Qal’a Ikhtiyar al-Din

It was interesting to discover, from personal experience, how spies find their vocation “Herat citadel has a long and stormy story”, Nancy Hatch Dupree wrote in 1977 in her Historical Guide to Afghanistan. And in fact, the story of the Qal’a Ikhtiyar al-Din is strictly connected with the turbulent history of Herat itself. Alexander the Great…

What remains of the Madrasa of Gawhar Shad

The origin of this baffles me. On the 23rd of November 1933, while visiting the Musalla Complex and its monuments, we can imagine Robert Byron lingering a while in front of a solitary minaret. In his own travelogue, he records that he was quite perplexed. He then wrote: “Next, on the east of the mausoleum, stands…

Arabia Felix: why everyone should read the story of a failure

“On a calm winter morning, on 4th January, 1761, a company of five men, clad for a journey, were rowed out from the Tollbooth into the shipping roads of Copenhagen. […] They were bound for “Happy Arabia”, but none of them seemed particularly happy at the thought”. This is how Thorkild Hansen starts his book ,…

Gawhar Shad Mausoleum and its missing tombstones

Few architectural devices can equal a ribbed dome for blind, monumental ostentation. During his visit to the Musalla Complex in Herat, on the 23rd of November 1933, Robert Byron carefully recorded what remained of the monuments that once were part of the magnificent project, commissioned by Gawhar Shad. The construction of her mausoleum was completed in…

Gawhar Shad Mosque in Herat: what remains

there was never such a mosque before or since Byron saw what remained of the Gawhar Shad Mosque on the 23rd of November 1933, together with the other monuments part of what is called Musalla Complex. During his visit, anyway, Byron seems not to give much attention to the mosque. He refers to it maybe when…

The sad story of the Musalla Complex: art crime and destruction

It is a miserable story It is difficult to define the Musalla Complex in Herat. The name ‘Musalla’ can refer both to the whole complex and to the Mosque of Gawhar Shad that is part of it. Even Robert Byron is apparently confused, and use the word to describe first one and then the other. Musalla…

Gunbad-i Haruniyya: before and after Byron’s visit

It alone survives of the splendours of Tus The ancient city of Tus has a long and important history. Long before Robert Byron recorded his visit in his travelogue, on the 18th of November 1933, Tus had been one of the most important and flourishing cities in Iran. It was known to the Greek, who…

How the Autumn auctions in London went

As always, also this year the Islamic Art Week took place in London. The Autumn series of auctions dedicated to Islamic and Middle Eastern art is now over and it’s time to draw some conclusions. No deep analysis, only a few thoughts. The main difference between this edition of the Islamic Art week and the…