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Museum of Islamic Art
16 October 2011
On 16 October 2011, the National Museum in Herat will celebrate its reopening as the first of the four provincial museums in Afghanistan to reopen to the public. Since 2008, the team from the Museum of Islamic Art (National Museums in Berlin) have been working there together with the Berlin department of the German Archaeological Institute in documenting and restoring the collections, as well as preparing for their display in the new rooms. The project has been funded by the German Foreign Office's cultural preservation programme.
Restoration of the archaeological objects has nearly been completed in the workshop that has been up and running for two years. The conservation of selected manuscripts and material science research work, conducted since 2010 in cooperation with the HTW, University of Applied Sciences, Berlin, are still under way. As part of the project, a training scheme has been set up for museum staff from the National Museum in Kabul and trainees from Herat. The training in Herat is being supplemented by additional studies at the HTW and the National Museums in Berlin, financed by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.
The collection of the museum, founded in 1920, now comprises some 1100 objects from the Herat region. Some 2000 objects have been lost during the political turbulences of the last decades. Over the last two years the collection has started growing again, thanks to the addition of confiscated manuscripts and donations. Some of the archaeological objects date from the late 3rd millennium BCE, their provenance now proven for the first time, marking the earliest traces of cultural activity in the region. The collection thus covers five millennia and stretches all the way up to the modern day. Its core focus however is on the 10th to the 13th century, when Herat was an important centre for politics and handicrafts, known around the world through texts and objects available on the art market. Alongside a large collection of modelled and painted vessels are magnificent examples of damascened metal work. The highlights of the collection are a cenotaph, dating from 1378 and adorned with tiles, and the tombstone of the painter Behzad. The fact that relatively few objects of outstanding quality and virtually no objects from the Timurid era survive in Herat itself can be put down to their 'migration' as gifts or loot presented to the courts of the Ottoman and Western empires and the devastation of more recent times. Much may still lie buried under the rubble of the modern city.
The manuscript archive holds 263 manuscripts and books and offers a representative cross-section of various genres, languages and personalities. Only very few of these artefacts originate from the famous Herat library, whose exquisite manuscripts are now admired by visitors to virtually all major museums around the world. Old book bindings, binding techniques, materials and repairs explored at the archive offer us new insights into the technical aspects of book production centuries ago.
The new museum is situated in the historical citadel of Qala - Ikhtyaruddin, which from 2005 to 2009 lay at the heart of the archaeological research activities undertaken by the team from the German Archaeological Institute and the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, Kabul. Their work led to the discovery of a settlement dating from the 7th century BCE and the unearthing and restoration of a Timurid gate complex. These finds and other projects are now to be presented in their own department in the museum, which will include displays relating to the project to map monuments and archaeological sites in the Herat province (conducted from 2004 to 2006) and the projects carried out in Herat by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (from 2005 to 2011), which received the Asia Pacific Heritage Award of Excellence from UNESCO in 2008.
The citadel in Herat closed in 2008 to allow for renovations undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture with funds from the United States of America. On 16 October its reopening and the inauguration ceremony of the museum will be take place, attended by many guests.