Herāt (Persian هرات) is a city in western Afghanistan, in the valley of the Hari Rud river in the province also known as Herat, and was traditionally known for wine. The inhabitants are mainly Tajiks and Pashtun (Persian) and native Persian and pashto language-speakers.
It is an ancient city with many historic buildings, although these have suffered damage in various military conflicts during the last few decades. The buildings are generally constructed of mud brick. The city is dominated by the remains of a citadel, constructed under the rule of Alexander of Macedon.
The city had a
favorable position on the trade routes between Persia, India, China and Europe. The roads from Herat to Turkmenistan and Iran are still strategically important.
Herat is probably a descendant of the ancient Persian town of Artacoana, established before 500 BC. It may also have been known as Aria. It was captured by Alexander in 330 BC during his war against the Persian Achaemenid Empire. The town was rebuilt and the citadel was constructed. It was part of the Seleucid Empire but was captured by others on various occasions and became part of the Parthian Empire in 167 BC.
Around 300 it became a seat of Christianity, with a Nestorian bishop. Around 484 it became part of the Hephthalite Empire. Around 786-809 it was part of the Abbasid caliphate. Later, it was ruled by the Tahirid dynasty. After 867-869 the Saffarid dynasty took control.
Before 1040 it was ruled by the Ghaznavids. In 1040 it was captured by the Seljuk Empire. In 1175 it was captured by the Ghorids and then came under the Khawarazm Empire. In this period Herat became an important center for the production of metal goods, especially in bronze, often decorated with elaborate inlays in precious metals.
In 1221 it was captured by the Mongols and later destroyed by Genghis Khan. In 1245 it was given to the Kart Maliks.
Around 1381 it was destroyed again by Timur. Under his son Shah Rukh it was rebuilt and became an important center under the Timurid Empire. In the late 1400s the Musallah complex (with many minarets) was built under the rule of Queen Gawharshad. Her tomb complex is considered one of the great monuments of Timurid architectural carving.
In 1506 it was captured by the Uzbeks and a few years later by Shah Ismail Safavi, to become part of a new Persian Empire.
From 1718 until 1880 there were various battles until the city became part of a united Afghanistan. During the Qajar period of Persia, Britain supported the Afghans in order to protect their East India Company. Nasereddin Shah was unable to defeat The British at Herat in 1857.
Most of the Musallah complex in Herat was destroyed in 1885 by the British army for a clear line of sight for their artillery against Russian invaders (who never came).
During the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan Herat was used by the Soviets. Even before the Soviet invasion at the end of 1979, there was a substantial presence of Soviet advisors in the city with their families. From 10 to 20 March 1979 the army in Herat under the control of Ismail Khan mutinied and 350 Soviet citizens were killed. The Soviets bombed the city, causing massive destruction and thousands of deaths and it was recaptured with tanks and paratroopers.
Ismail Khan became a Mujahedin commander and after the departure of the Soviets he became governor of Herat. In 1995 the city was captured by the Taliban. On 12 November 2001 it was captured by the Afghan Northern Alliance and Ismail Khan returned to power in the region