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Transformation Analysis of Traditional Mosques: The Case of Quzzat Quarter of Herat Old City, Afghanistan

Faculty of Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering and Science, University of the Ryukyus, 1 Aza-Senbaru, Nishihara-cho, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa, Nishihara 903-0213, Japan
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Heritage 2022, 5(3), 1819-1835;
Submission received: 25 May 2022 / Revised: 1 July 2022 / Accepted: 13 July 2022 / Published: 25 July 2022
(This article belongs to the Section Architectural Heritage)


This study examines the traditional mosques in the Quzzat quarter of Herat Old City, Afghanistan, after WWII. The study discovered urban developments, typology of mosques, as well as destructions, changes, and transformations of the traditional mosques. It involved compiling data, conducting a field survey, examining historical maps, reviewing published works to explain constructions, and finding out how transformations took place. Twenty-nine mosques are constructed in the study area. Twenty-five of them were originally constructed before WWII with traditional local material, and four were constructed after WWII; of these four, three are modern (concrete) and one is made of traditional material. Twelve out of the twenty-five traditional mosques still exist in traditional form, while twelve have been transformed, and one has been damaged. Modern mosques are found to the northwest of the quarter, where the city wall was razed, flattened, and transformed into residential area. Transformations started after WWII and have occurred mainly in the southern parts of the quarter. The majority of the mosques in the northern areas are preserved, while in the southern regions they are transformed, and modern constructions were carried out in the newly urbanized areas.

1. Introduction

1.1. General Introduction

An Islamic Masjid is a place of prayer, a symbol of Islam, and the first institution of Islam. In addition to being the parliament, the university, and the Renaissance castle of Islamic civilization, it is the center of social and political life and the basis and one of the great pillars of Islam [1,2]. Allah (God) has ordered Muslims: Set your faces toward him at every place of worship [3]. The prophet encouraged his umma (nation) to pray regularly in the mosque [4]. In the words of Prophet Mohammad, PBUH, “Whoever builds a mosque for Allah, Allah will build him a house like it in Paradise” [5,6]. Two types of mosques exist: Masjid Jami or collective mosque (Friday Mosque, Friday gathering) and the five-times-a-day prayer mosque (congregational mosque, hereafter referred to as mosque). The former is known as Jami (Persian: جامع), whereas the latter is known as Masjid, although both are Masjid [2,7]. Additionally, there is another type of mosque in Herat that is based on its function; Eid-Gah (Persian) or Musallah (Arabic word) is a prominent spot where two Eid prayers are performed once a year, as well as the Friday prayers. Mosques in Islamic cities serve many social and cultural functions. Mosques were prayer centers, educational institutions, pre-elementary schools, councils, centers of ceremonies, political stages, governmental loudspeakers, etc.
Mosques are not only religiously but also architecturally and historically significant. In Herat Old City, Afghanistan, many Islamic monuments, including mosques and shrines, have been largely preserved over time [8,9,10]. Throughout the ages, Herat built a number of notable monuments within its city limits (cisterns, mosques, shrines, etc.) that met the climatic and social demands of its residents [8,11]. UNESCO has noted that this type of fabric is common in the large urban centers of the region; however, it has vanished in most other places. Without any controls, unfair “development” may possibly lead to the destruction of the remaining residential quarters of the old city [10].
UNESCO approved Afghanistan’s membership in 1948 [12], and the organization contributed to preserving several monuments until 1979 [13]. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, a number of national and international organizations began to pay attention to the cultural importance of Herat Old City [14,15]. UNESCO pledged to protect the tangible cultural heritage of Herat in April 2005 [14]. As part of the Herat conservation program, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (hereafter, AKTC) started its program in May 2005 [8,14]. Italy hosted the third meeting of the Old City Expert Working Group in 2012 at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. According to the meeting’s recommendations, the Afghanistan government must take adequate measures to protect the Old City’s monuments, its traditional urban fabric, and its historic sites [14,16]. In the immediate aftermath of the current study’s survey, the Taliban overthrew the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (Aug 2021), and UNESCO announced that Afghanistan was replete with cultural heritage, which should be safeguarded, including Herat Old City, where UNESCO has worked for decades. These landmarks should be protected, conserved, and preserved for the future of the country [17].
Monuments and urban planning in Herat Old City have been continuously studied and debated. In Najimi’s comprehensive book, “Herat the Islamic city”, Herat is emphasized as an Islamic city, but the mosques and their transformation are not expounded [9]. Rajayee 1984 and Heravi 2005 have written about different aspects of mosques, such as the historical and artistic aspects, without mentioning their transformations or construction materials [18,19]. In the 1970s and 2000s, UNESCO supported some projects in Herat, while the AKTC conducted restoration projects between 2005 and 2010, but their reports avoided discussing the origins, types, and transformations of the mosque [8,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28]. Although the mosques are an essential social facility and a symbol of Islamic and local architecture, no researcher has conducted studies on the transformation of the mosques in Herat, and there has been no study of the distribution, typology, and transformation analysis. This study was conducted to assess the existing situation of the mosques and to analyze the details of the mosque transformation, which are necessary for the studies and practices focusing on preservation, conservation measures and for further consideration in future studies.

1.2. Purpose

The study aims to achieve the following objectives: (1) to map the location of the mosques on a map of the Old City; (2) to identify recent urbanization and urban developments through mosque construction and reconstructions; (3) to explain the typology of the mosques based on material analyses which include the modern constructions, transformations, destructions, and preservations or restorations that occurred in the decades following WWII in the Old City; and (4) to explain the destructions, changes, and subsequent transformations of the traditional mosques in the Old City. (Herat’s traditional mosques are constructed of bricks, wooden works, etc., without concrete.)

1.3. Methodology

An initial step was to compile data from the lab study and library research in Herat, as well as the GPS (Global Positioning System) points from the field survey, and to create a mosque distribution map of the old city. The collected data before the field survey included references, a literature review, and a spatial analysis through GIS. The library research included references from local researchers. Thus, a map of the Old City was plotted after survey data were collected, measurements were performed, and the mosques were identified.
The second step involved examining the inscriptions of each mosque, checking local references, such as Heravi, Rajayee, etc., and reviewing the government records belonging to the ministry of culture and information of Afghanistan. In doing so, we were able to find the names, origins, construction, and restorations and the changes that the mosques have undergone over time. Through this process, we were able to distinguish the recently built modern (with concrete) mosques from the historical, traditional mosques in the Old City.
In the third step, we conducted a field survey from May–July 2021 to collect data for this study, which included reading and recording inscriptions of each mosque, taking the measurements of some of the case studies, and taking pictures from different parts of the mosques so that our lab could analyze and observe the data. The mosques are classified based on the material they are constructed from. The study also analyses how traditional mosques have evolved into modern ones and provides a typology of mosques based on their materials.
Finally, we examined the historical maps and reviewed the published works to explain the constructions and to find out how transformations took place. In this study, we analyzed and compared maps from Niedermeyer 1924, Najimi 1988, and Rajayee 1984, as well as the results of this study [9,18,29].

2. Historical Background

2.1. Historical Background on Study Area

Historically, Herat (Figure 1a) has long been a strategic, commercial, and cultural hub in the broader region. It is called Horaiwa in the Avesta (7th–6th century B.C.), Saraya (Arya) in Sanskrit, and Artacoana in Greek texts and was regarded as ‘important’ during the Achaemenid era of BC 500. [9,30,31,32].
The early 10th century hugged Herat with four quarters and a square layout (Figure 1b,c) enclosed by a citadel. There was a moat, a fortress, towers, fire temples, churches, etc., within the Old City [9,31,33]. At the end of the 15th century, Asfazari reported that Shahrband (the walls surrounding the city) was prosperous. Despite the Herat citadel being connected to northern Bara (earthen city wall), Herat’s square shape layout remains unchanged (i.e., the Old City’s square shape is not attached to the Herat citadel).
Following Genghis Khan’s attack on Herat in 1217, Kurt Kings restored and reconstructed Herat after the residents had evacuated it for nearly half a century. Later, Shah Rukh rebuilt the city after his father, Timur, ruined it in AC 1376. Queen Gauharshad Begum built the Musalla Complex, and the Timurid kings, Shah Rukh and Husayn Bayqara, restored the city in the 16th century. A Renaissance occurred during the Timurid era (1370–1507) due to many developments [9,10,19,34]. In comparison, the Safavids had a robust infrastructure, whereas the Durranids had limited facilities [35]. In Herat, the destruction period began after the relatively calm era of the Durranids. During the time of Abdul Rahman Khan, the Amir (leader) of Afghanistan, Mosallah was razed in 1885. Heravi 2005 reports that Hayat Khan destroyed Bara, the earthen city wall, as well as the citadel [19]. Seljuki 1989 noted that Hayat Khan destroyed the citadel [19,36]. During Mohammad Dawud Khan’s rule (1973–78), the government established a conservation program with UNESCO and with Prof. Brune’s assistance to complete the restoration of the citadel [19,36].
The Old City is a rare place where the Herat citadel, the Grand Mosque of Herat, the cisterns, and the mosques have survived, and the city walls existed until 1950 [9,19,35,36]. Von Oskar Niedermeyer (his trip to Afghanistan, 1915–17) produced a map of the Old City in 1924, in which he outlined the infrastructures, such as the administrative buildings, a Governor’s office, a wall surrounding the Old City, the Jewish settlements, the fields or vacant spaces (Maidan-e Sorina; a playground), government services, and twenty cisterns [29,35].
Barah (earthen city wall) surrounded the Herat Old City, protecting the shops and residential quarters. The city had five gates connecting to four roads that intersected at the city center, Chaharsu (four directions), and divided the city into four residential and business quarters (Figure 1b) referred to as 1, 2, 3, and 4, which represent the Quzzat (Bardurani), Qibchaq (Qutb Chaq), Khakistar (Momenha, Mohmnda), and Abdullah-e Mesri quarters [9,34,36]. This was the extent of the town until the middle of the 20th century, when the administrative buildings were moved outside the city wall. Many residents remained in the historic quarters until unrest broke out in 1979 (Afghanistan-Soviet Union war), resulting in the depopulation of the western quarters (Figure 1b). After the turmoil in 1992, the residents returned to their homes and began rebuilding [8,9].
In his research on Herat in 1915–16, Niedermeyer plotted some of the public vacant spaces (fields), as in Figure 1 [29], which were later urbanized after WWII in the mid-20th century [9]. Two modern (with concrete) mosques were later constructed in the place of the destroyed fields (Meidan, playground), indicating that the latest developments of the residential areas in the Old City occurred after the 1950s.
Despite heavy damage due to wars (1980s and early 1990s), and extensive urban development (2001-21), the Old City still retains much of its historical and architectural significance, including many mosques and other monuments [9,10,14,15,37,38]. The city still has 830 historical sites, is rich in culture and history [9,10,39].

2.2. Historical Background on Periods

Herat had been controlled by the Achaemenids, the Seleucids, the Kushans, the Ashkanids, the Sasanids, etc., before the Arab Muslims took over Herat in AC 642. Then, the Islamic caliphates and some regional powers such as the Tahirids, Safarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Kurts, Timurids, Safavids, Afsharids, Duranids, and finally, the Afghans controlled Herat until approaching WWII. A huge urban change occurred after WWII in the Old City, including the transformation of the traditional mosques, which is the subject of our study. Therefore, an overview of the periods after WWII is summarized in Table 1, explained below, and is also shown in Figure 1.
[Kingdom of Afghanistan (KA): Constitutional Monarchy, 1933–73].
In 1933, Mohammed Zahir Shah, a 19-year-old teenager, inherited the government after his father was assassinated (hereditary rule, with no elections). He ruled until he was deposed in a bloodless coup in 1973 and fled to Italy. Despite the relative calm, the country did not develop until 1953, when Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan (hereafter referred to as Daoud Khan) was appointed prime minister. After WWII, some large-scale construction and infrastructure projects were conducted, financed by foreign aid, affecting even the mosques.
[Republic state of Afghanistan (RA): The first republic, 1973–78]
In 1973, Daoud Khan seized power from king Mohammad Zaher Shah and declared himself President of the Republic of Afghanistan (via a coup, without elections). The communist party supported and subsequently killed him in a coup, bringing a communist government to power from 1978–92. In Herat, a series of construction activities were carried out during this period, and UNESCO started the restoration of the citadel and the Grand Mosque.
[Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA): The second republic, Afghanistan–Soviet Union war 1978–92]
In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (a Marxist party with close ties to the Soviet Union) seized power in a coup that killed president Daoud Khan, and Nur Mohammad Taraki became president. The Afghanistan-Soviet Union war began in 1979 when the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan. During this era, Hafizullah Amin, Babrak Karmal, and Najibullah Ahmadzai came to power (via party decisions, without elections).
[Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA): The third republic, Internal War, (1992–2001)]
As a result of the Afghanistan–Soviet war supported by the West, the Russian troops were ousted, and the Mujahidin came to power in 1992. The Islamic State of Afghanistan was founded in 1992 by Burhanuddin Rabbani (the president was chosen by a group of leaders). During this period, the country went into internal conflict, while Herat had a more peaceful situation than other provinces and Kabul. After the Herat governor secured Herat from internal war hazards, the Old City was able to resume its halted activities. In the aftermath of the Afghanistan–Soviet war, the residents settled and rushed to the city, and started construction, maintenance, and restorations.
[Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA): The fourth republic, Period of Democracy, (2001–21)]
In 2001, Burhanuddin Rabbani, president of the ISA government, peacefully transferred power to Hamid Karzai, after the USA, NATO, and ISA forces overthrew the Taliban regime (Taliban: Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan), following the September 11th Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center. The IRA (the elections were supported by NATO and the USA and were full of fraud, resulting in unity governments) government received billions of dollars to build Afghanistan, However, the government could not even build a standard hospital due to destructive corruption.

3. Distribution of the Mosques

3.1. Distribution of Mosques Based on Literature Review

Several researchers, such as J. Philips, Lisa Golumberg, etc., have conducted studies on Herat mosques, mainly focusing on the Grand Mosque of Herat and a few other mosques that have special features and ornaments. Najimi 1988 and Rajayee 1984 plotted mosques on maps and explained the general urban planning of the Old City, with no details of the transformation analysis [9,18]. Other researchers have published articles, books, or chapters, mainly focusing on the mosques’ social, artistic, and historical aspects.
As observed in Figure 2, an extensive study of the Old City by Najimi conducted in 1976 and published as a book in 1988, marked twenty-four mosques in the Quzzat quarter of the Old City. Madrasas (preliminary mosque education) in the Old City are also marked on his maps with descriptions of their functions, and the urban morphology is explained in detail [9]. Rajayee provided a map of the Old City in 1984 and explained eight of the mosques’ historical backgrounds and features; published in Herat-e Bastan Magazine in 1984. He found twenty-three mosques in the Quzzat quarter of the Old City, and several cisterns (water supply ponds) were studied [18]. In a comprehensive research book published by the AKTC and edited by Jodido, all the restored buildings are plotted as public buildings, making it impossible for the reader to distinguish between a cistern and a mosque. The restoration process of four mosques, a Jewish temple (synagogue), some urban analysis, and many public buildings are fully demonstrated and described in detail, for more [8,40]. Because there is no distribution analysis and typological classification on the transformation of the mosques, we decided to focus on the issue and write this article.

3.2. Distribution of Mosques Based on Current Study

In this study, the locations of 29 mosques were found in the Old City (Figure 2 and Figure 3, Table 2). As mentioned earlier, Najimi marked 24 and Rajayee marked 23 mosques in Quzzat quarter of the Old City.
An image of a GIS-processed map illustrating the locations of the mosques in the study area is shown in Figure 2. This study is based on the inscriptions on each building, the examinations of earlier published documents, interviews, archive of Ministry of culture and Information, and the field observations. In Table 2 and the text, the mosques are assigned with IDs, where letters [A–L] within brackets represent the preserved traditional mosques, and numbers [1–17] within brackets represent the reconstructed, damaged, or modern mosques.
The traditionally built mosques were constructed in ancient times and continued to be built until just before WWII, and some of the buildings existed before Islam as Zoroastrian temples [18,19,36,41,42,43]. As the construction of the traditional mosques stopped before WWII, and the demolition of the old city wall began after the war, WWII is regarded as a turning point (inflation) in the history of the quarter. The study includes 29 mosques, 3 of which are modern and 25 are originally traditional. Twelve traditional and one modern mosque constructed from traditional materials are preserved, and 13 traditional mosques have been changed (detailed explanation in Section 3.1). 10 out of 13 preserved mosques are located in the northern half of the quarter, where the AKTC had conducted a lot of preservation projects, including the conservation of the Herat citadel, and 3 out of the 10 preserved mosques are in the southern parts of the study area.
The construction of the traditional mosques ended just before WWII, and the last mosque constructed before WWII was the Sadiyeh mosque [16]; after WWII, the city wall was destroyed in 1950, and the transformation process began in the 1970s.
The study area had an ancient church until around 70 years ago (possibly built before Islam emerged in Herat) and a Jewish temple until the 1990s (built around 250–300 years ago), both of which were transformed into mosques. Among the preserved mosques, 13 are located in the southern half of the quarter, while the majority of the transformations have occurred in the southwestern corner (3 mosques) and southeastern parts (3 mosques) of the quarter.

4. Typologies of Mosques in the Old City

4.1. Terms of the Study Applied

According to this study (Figure 3 and Table 2), the mosques are classified as traditional or modern, based on their origins.
A traditional mosque is one whose building materials come from traditional sources and whose materials are made of bricks (fired or sun-dried). The origin of this type of mosque dates back over 70 years, pre-WWII. This type of mosque is made from sun-dried bricks or fired bricks, as well as other traditional materials, with ornaments, domed roofs, etc. They were traditional for their first generations but also embraced material and architectural changes in their later generations. The traditional features of mosque sites include Masjid-e Zamistoni (winter building) and Masjid-e Tabistoni (summer building), wooden doors, domes, muqarnas, and traditionally designated room/s for Imam (leader of praying) and students. We classified traditional mosques into three main types (preserved, transformed, and damaged), which were further divided into seven sub types (A, B, C1, C2, and D), which differed slightly from one another.
Type I, (A) refers to those originally traditional mosques that have maintained sun-dried or fired bricks and have been preserved in the traditional way until today. Their features include domical vault roofs, domed roofs, barrel vault roofs, and decorations such as muqarnas, gypsum, tile works, etc. Traditional mosques are primarily made of brick.
Type II, (B) refers to those originally traditional mosques that encountered damage and lost their ceilings during the wars or because of no maintenance, and new, modern (concrete) ceilings were added to the older remaining buildings.
Type II, (C1) refers to those originally traditional mosques that were changed (ruined, damaged, demolished, or expanded) and were reconstructed as modern mosques with a traditional façade. In this case, the mosque structure is modern, but only the façade or front view is built with local traditional stones called Marmar as the government regulations approved by president of Afghanistan in 2005 orders the reconstructions to be in traditional way using bricks, traditional tiles, etc. Due to the use of glasses instead of traditional wooden windows on facade of the mosque, it appears like modern though its exterior façade is decorated with local Marmar stone.
Type II, (C2) refers to mosques that were originally traditional but were demolished or destroyed and were transformed into modern ones. Their original materials were traditional, and their current materials are modern (concrete). These mosques were built with traditional materials before WWI, with the last one, Saadia, constructed in 1936. Though they no longer have traditional features, they hold their historical background.
Type III, (D) refers to those mosques that were originally traditional and have been heavily damaged or ruined.
Type IV, (Modern) refers to the modern (new) mosque, whose building materials are made of concrete. The origin of this type of mosque dates back to after WWII. Modern mosques fall into one of two types: Type IV, (E1) refers to the original new mosque but with traditional materials, while Type IV, (E2) refers to the original new mosque but with modern materials. Modern mosques appeared in the 1990s and 2000s. Th regulations [44,45] approved in 2003 and 2005, leading to E1, were aimed at preventing further modern constructions (E2), destruction, etc., but were never fully implemented. Buluka (precast concrete blocks) was used in building the earlier mosques of this type, which were connected by terraces. The mosques of the later generation of the E2 are constructed from bricks, reinforced cement concrete, concrete columns, and concrete foundations. Modern mirror-glass facades are used. Some of their features include flat roofs, modern mirror glass, open windows facing the streets or alleys and construction in vacant lots or spaces.

4.2. Typology and Distribution of the Mosques (Based on Construction Material)

There were 29 mosques found in the field survey and plotted on the maps of the Old City in this paper. Among the 29 mosques, 26 (89.6%) were originally traditional mosques (A, B, C1, C2, D, and E1), 25 were constructed before WWII, 1 was constructed after WWII, and 3 (10.34%) are originally modern mosques, all of which were constructed after WWII.
As observed in Table 3, 12 out of 25 traditional mosques (48%) were classified as Type I: A (traditional mosques preserved). There are 11 preserved traditional mosques in the study area [A][B][C][D][E][F][G][H][I][J][L], plus one synagogue transformed into a mosque, [K], with no architectural features of a mosque, such as those with built-in mihrabs (originally a synagogue transformed into a mosque). Nine mosques [A][B][C][D][E][F][G][H][L] are located in the northern half of the quarter, and three mosques [I][J][K] are situated in the northeastern corner of the quarter. Due to some technical support provided by UNESCO for the Herat Old City and the Herat Minarets [13,14,15,36,46,47,48] and the restorations undertaken by the AKTC [8,23,28], the study area has preserved 8 majority of its mosques. A lack of preservation by the AKTC could have resulted in higher chances of destruction.
Twelve originally traditional mosques (48%) out of twenty-five are classified as Type II, transformed (B, C1, and C2). The mosques that have been transformed are nearly distributed across the quarter, with the highest proportion (seven mosques) occurring in the southern half of the quarter and the lowest (five mosques) occurring in the northern half.
One (4%) out of the twenty-five originally traditional mosques is classified as Type III, D1 (originally traditional damaged mosque). Mosque [12] is believed to have been a Zoroastrian temple, transformed into a Christian church, and then converted into a mosque after Islam arrived in Herat. The structure is severely damaged, and no written documents were found.
Only one out of the four modern mosques [4], is classified as Type IV, E1 (modern mosque constructed using traditional materials, but after WWII). According to the law on the <Preservation of Historical Monuments and Culture>, approved in 2003 (signed by both parliament and president H. Karzai), as well as the agreement on the <Protection of Cultural and Tangible Heritage of Herat>, signed in 2005 (signed by president H. Karzai), the further construction and transformation of buildings is strictly prohibited. The traditional method of building mosques has become increasingly difficult in the city due to a lack of budgets for mosque construction, limited financial support from residents, and lack of good governance and management of the corrupt government, one of the top corrupt states [49,50]. Only one mosque appeared to be constructed in a traditional manner, while the rest were modern constructions. As of 2003, all modern mosques could have been built in the traditional manner by strictly following the rules. Of the four originally modern mosques, three (75%) are classified as Type IV, E2 (constructed with cement concrete and not changed since the first construction). The construction of E2 building after 2003 is in violation of the regulations [44,45], the rules which protect monuments, heritage assets from further destruction in the country.
Based on the data from Table 3 and Figure 3, transformation has occurred primarily in the southern part of the quarter, with the lowest percentage occurring in the core zone areas in front of the historical citadel of the city, where the AKTC implemented an extensive preservation effort.
In order to provide further insight into the traditional mosques of Type I, A, Figure 4, with more details than the other types, is added.

4.3. Factors Affecting Distribution

According to this study, the following factors influenced the distribution pattern and density of the mosques in the Old City (Figure 2 and Figure 3). The Old City underwent several changes, and the reasons behind each change are described below.
  • The existence of a large mosque: the Khirqua mosque [L] is located in front of the citadel, nearly in the middle of the second quarter of the Old City. The Khirqa mosque (Khirqa is the initiatory cloak of the Sufi tradition) has plenty of space for surrounding residents. Therefore, no new construction is carried out. Khirqa has malfunctioning mosques [5][17] in the area, as the residents mostly pray in [L].
  • The destruction of Bara, the earthen city wall (Figure 1b). After the city wall started to be demolished in 1950s, the residents urbanized its space, leading to the construction of the mosque [6] in the west of the quarter.
  • The population growth: according to Najimi, after the Afghan-Russian war in 1990s, a significant number of people resettled in the Old City, thus creating a surge in population [9]. The dramatic increase in population inside the Old City led to the construction of modern mosques. In order to accommodate many neighborhoods, as too many residents could not share one mosque, a new mosque [9] had to be constructed.
  • The enlarging of the mosques: according to the surrounding residents and local historians interviewed during our field survey, four temporary mosques existed around the traditional mosques [15],[16] (Figure 2 and Figure 3, Table 3). These two mosques were then expanded after being transformed into modern ones. Now that these mosques are large, there is no need for the construction of more/new mosques.
  • The Jewish settlements (Figure 2, circled area); Jews lived in a region that included portions of the southern part of the quarter and some areas from the other opposite quarter (Figure 1b and Figure 2, purple semicircle). In the aftermath of the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan and Israel emerging as a new country in Palestine, Jews relocated to that land. [19,51]. Therefore, no mosque was built in this area since there were synagogues [S1] in the study area, [S2][S3][S4] in the opposite quarter, Khakistar. Recently, one of the synagogues [S1] was transformed into a mosque [K].

5. Periodical Analysis of Changes (Constructions, Transformations, Preservations)

During the early Islamic period, many temples in Herat were converted into mosques. Then, the construction and maintenance of the mosques were carried on using traditional materials until WWII. After WWII, there was a huge urban transformation in the Old City, including the destruction of the city wall and the transformation of traditional mosques, which is the subject of our study.
Along with checking the inscriptions of each mosque, we reviewed local library resources and interviewed historians and experts (their names are in the acknowledgement). After the destruction of the city wall in 1950, just after WWII, the site was urbanized, resulting in the construction of modern mosques, starting in the 1970s. The transformation and preservation (by the government and UNESCO) occurred in the 1970s after UNESCO carried out restorations in all four quarters of the Old City.
[Kingdom of Afghanistan (KA): Constitutional Monarchy]
In this period, the city walls, earthen walls called Bara, were destroyed, the citadel materials (bricks) were removed, and the environment became prepared for modern constructions in later periods. During this era, the city wall was demolished, and the city was further urbanized. The last traditional mosque, the Sadiyeh mosque [16], was built in 1936. No modern construction, renovation, or preservation has been carried out in this quarter.
[Republic state of Afghanistan (RA): The first republic, 1973–78]
This era was the beginning of the modern mosque construction and preservation activities in this quarter. Economic conditions improved due to overseas economic support, leading to improvements in different sectors, including the preservation and renovation of public buildings in the Old City, particularly one mosque (and many other monuments such as the Herat citadel, the Grand Mosque, and the minarets) were restored. Two modern mosques were constructed at this time.
[The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA): The second republic, Afghanistan-Soviet Union war 1978–92]
Due to this era’s war and possibly the anti-Islamic attitude of communist states toward mosques, the construction and preservation activities were halted in the Old City. In addition, the buildings were deteriorating due to bullets hitting the edifices and a lack of maintenance. Furthermore, no reports of modern mosque constructions were found, nor were there any reports of mosque transformations.
[The Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA): The third republic, Internal War, (1992–2001)]
According to Table 4 and Table 5, one modern mosque was constructed in this era, and three of the originally traditional mosques were restored (preserved for conservation of the heritage); two of them were transformed, and one was damaged. There were two traditional mosques that were transformed during the ISA. Moreover, three mosques were restored. There was an emphasis on maintaining and restoring mosques during this time. Compared to previous periods, a greater emphasis was placed on the maintenance and preservation of heritage sites, monuments, and traditional buildings due to the low economy and lack of foreign support. Preservation in the Old City was carried out by the local government during this time. M. Ismail Khan, the Herat governor in the early 1990s, launched a campaign to restore the damaged buildings after the Jihad (holy war against the Soviet Army in the 1980s) brought heavy damages. The restoration campaign resulted in the restoration of dozens of public buildings throughout the province and inside the Old City.
[Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA): The fourth republic, Period of Democracy, (2001–21)]
As shown in Table 3 and Table 4, one modern mosque was constructed, ten traditional mosques were transformed, and eight traditional mosques were restored to their original condition (the AKTC restorations have played a significant role in the existing preserved monuments). Since 2001, the residents have built one mosque, and significant change has taken place as economic activities have expanded dramatically. The drive to transform felt so strong that, in the case of the mosque [16], the mosque leaders destroyed it during Eid holidays [22], when Muslims are not working. As a result of pressure from the AKTC and the government, the leaders of the mosque used traditional tiles on the façade with modern windows to maintain the traditional shape of the mosque, which was later more modernized with glass windows. Ten mosques were transformed, which is the highest number among all the eras; the historians and experts admitted in our interviews that they did not expect so much transformation to happen in this short period of time, and preservation regulations should have been strictly carried out earlier, at the beginning of democratic period after 2001. The transformations indicate the economic activity and the economic power of this period, showing the economic growth of the residents due to international support, though the government was so weak and corrupt. Even though the corrupt government of Afghanistan as one of the top corrupt countries [49,50] stole national wealth, the residents still had economic power, and the economy flourished. Hence, the residents carried out such heavy construction until this survey was carried out in May-Jul 2021. The government’s control over illegal construction was very weak, which has caused damage to the landscape and the traditional architecture. The number of modern mosques during this period was equal to that of the earlier ISA (one mosque), as well as being higher than it was during the RA and KA period with no construction in this quarter. The IRA was primarily a period of transformation and moderately a period of preservation or restoration and fairly modern construction. In Herat, the rehabilitation of the mosques was performed by the AKTC and the residents, not by the government. The government had only a supervisory role at the time.
Among all the periods, the modern mosques of the IRA period are the most developed/improved buildings. They include fired bricks, reinforced columns, reinforced concrete ceilings, and modern equipment. The modern mosques of this period feature modern elements, such as electric fans, air conditioners, coolers, toilets, electrical supplies, and furniture.

6. Conclusions

Through the examination of mosques, which are the main monuments in the urban pattern of the Herat Old City, this study illustrated the distribution of mosques, explored the latest developments, classified the typology, and discussed the preservation and transformation of the mosques within the old city.
Traditional mosques are built with bricks (fired or sun-dried) while modern mosques are made of concrete. A preserved mosque is one that has maintained sun-dried or fired bricks and has been preserved until today. A changed mosque was originally built with bricks and was later transformed to concrete (and sometimes reinforcements).
During a field survey from May–July of 2021, 29 mosques were located in the Quzzat quarter of the Old City. There are four modern mosques (three of them with modern material and one of them with traditional material) and 25 traditional mosques. Twelve of the twenty-five originally traditional mosques, with one originally modern mosque (built with traditional materials), have been preserved and are in good condition today; one mosque is partially damaged, and 12 (48%) out of 25 have been transformed. There is a need for the preservation and restoration of the traditional landscape of damaged and transformed mosques, which requires further research.
This study confirms that the newest developments have been concentrated mainly in the northern half of the quarter. Similarly, there are some traces of the latest developments in the place of the demolished Bara or the earthen city wall.
The study examined the changes that occurred after WWII and found the distribution patterns of modern and traditional mosques. Four modern mosques have emerged because of (1) the conversion of open fields to residential houses, including a mosque, (2) the transformation of the city wall into residential areas, and (3) the growth in population. In some areas in the Old City, no modern construction was possible due to (1) the enlarging of the mosques, (2) the existence of large traditional mosques, and (3) the existence of Jewish settlements.
The destruction of the city wall after WWII provided the environment for the modern mosque construction later in the 1970s. Nonetheless, the transformation and preservation have been ongoing since the 1970s. The residents have plans for the transformation of the traditional mosques into modern ones in the case of no restoration by the government, the AKTC, UNESCO, or any other donor. Governments in Afghanistan were weak when it came to controlling the construction and keeping the monuments and landscapes protected and satisfactorily drafting preservation guidelines. The AKTC contributed significantly to preserving the landscape, especially the mosques, whereas UNESCO enhanced it intellectually. The results of this study provide a better analysis and understanding of the situation of the mosques in the study area for the purposes of preservation and conservation.
More research needs to be performed on the preservation of the buildings, the importance and value of the mosques for traditional landscapes, the physical features, and the typology of the mosques and on converting the facades of modern mosques into a traditional and detailed architectural analysis of mosques.

Author Contributions

G.M.A. and H.S. authors have contributed equally to the paper. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received partial funding from Heritage Journal.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.


We would like to extend our gratitude to Eng. Taha Aawar, Eng. Abdullah Ashkani, Khalil Ahmad Ahrari, Eng. Ali Ahmad Salik, Eng. Abdul Saboor Haidari, Eng. Firooz Jami, Eng. Mahboobshah Karimi, Eng. Jalil Ahmad Mohammadi, S. Sharifi, and Mohammad Shafi Wafa (GIS specialist) for supporting this research during a field survey in Afghanistan. Special thanks go to the experts, Eng Ajmal, Eng. Seraj, Mohandis Jalaluddin, Mohandis Azim Khan, Mohandis Faqir Ahmad, Mohandis Jamaluddin, and a few professors from Herat University who supported us by giving interviews during the field survey, and we thank four reviewers and Journal editors for their insights which greatly developed the paper. Special thanks to Eng. Murtaza Ahmadi from the Ministry of Culture and Information for providing access to documents of monumental archives of the ministry made this study possible for the first time. Asim is delighted to extend warm thanks to the Japanese government, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), (for providing a scholarship for master’s degree studies.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors report there are no competing interests to declare.


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Figure 1. Study area, emerging modern mosques, and urban changes. Base map: Niedermeyer 1924, reproduced by the authors (2021) [29].
Figure 1. Study area, emerging modern mosques, and urban changes. Base map: Niedermeyer 1924, reproduced by the authors (2021) [29].
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Figure 2. Distribution of mosques; base maps: GIS 2016, and Asim, Ando 2020, reproduced with permission. By: authors, 2021 [9,18,35].
Figure 2. Distribution of mosques; base maps: GIS 2016, and Asim, Ando 2020, reproduced with permission. By: authors, 2021 [9,18,35].
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Figure 3. Transformation of mosques, map and image samples; base map: GIS 2016 with permission, the authors 2021. (a) Transformation of mosques; base map: GIS 2016 with permission, the authors 2021. (b) Type II, B. (c) Type II, C1. (d) Type II, C2. (e) Type IV, E1. Note: E2 and C2 have the same material, constructed with concrete and reinforcement. So, only C2 photo is added.
Figure 3. Transformation of mosques, map and image samples; base map: GIS 2016 with permission, the authors 2021. (a) Transformation of mosques; base map: GIS 2016 with permission, the authors 2021. (b) Type II, B. (c) Type II, C1. (d) Type II, C2. (e) Type IV, E1. Note: E2 and C2 have the same material, constructed with concrete and reinforcement. So, only C2 photo is added.
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Figure 4. Preserved mosque Type I, A. Mosque [E]: Maulana, Mullah Rasoul Mosque, 2021. (a) Plan of the mosque showing its components (bf). such that: (b) Masjid-e Tabistoni (summer mosque). (c) Takht (meaning throne), open prayer area, open mosque. (d) Masjid-e Zamistoni, winter mosque. (e) Bagh-cha (green space as small garden). (f) Dewar (wall), southern side. 2021.
Figure 4. Preserved mosque Type I, A. Mosque [E]: Maulana, Mullah Rasoul Mosque, 2021. (a) Plan of the mosque showing its components (bf). such that: (b) Masjid-e Tabistoni (summer mosque). (c) Takht (meaning throne), open prayer area, open mosque. (d) Masjid-e Zamistoni, winter mosque. (e) Bagh-cha (green space as small garden). (f) Dewar (wall), southern side. 2021.
Heritage 05 00094 g004aHeritage 05 00094 g004b
Table 1. Historical periods during and after WWII.
Table 1. Historical periods during and after WWII.
Period of Changes Year
Kingdom of Afghanistan (KA)1933–73
The Republic of Afghanistan (RA)1973–78
Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA)1978–92
Islamic State of Afghanistan (ISA)1992–2001
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRA)2001–21
Table 2. Historical background, Observations (construction materials, and types of mosques).
Table 2. Historical background, Observations (construction materials, and types of mosques).
IDName (Inscriptions or Residents)Construction DateRestoration (Modification)MaterialType of Mosque *
[A]Arg, Kh. NaqshbandiBI1942, 1982, 2006ttI, A
[B]Nawab, MalikBI1491, 2005-8ttI, A
[C]Allama Faizani-1970sttI, A
[D]Haji Sharif-1993, 2006ttI, A
[E]Maulana, Mullah Rasool-2009ttI, A
[F]Mufti Haqdad- ttI, A
[G]Hazrat Ali-1994, 2005ttI, A
[H]Sarwar (Karampour)-2000sttI, A
[I]Rokhband-2010ttI, A
[J]Mohammad Azi, SSS-2003ttI, A
[K]Bilal (Yu-Aw Syng.)S1970SttI, A
[L]Khirqa Sharif-1920s, 1970sttI, A
[1]Gulab Khan mIV, E2
[2]Khaja Kalla tmII, C2
[3]Sayedna Hazrat Ali tmII, C2
[4]Shomal-e Arg, Owais Qarani ttIV, E1
[5]Ali baba tmII, C2
[6]Peer Parenda mIV, E2
[7]Moulna. Sayed Mohammad Cheshti- tmII, C2
[8]Sayedna Hazrat Omar farooq tmII, C2
[9]Khajaha, Osman Ghani. mIV, E2
[10]Saad I.A.W, Kasalisan tmII, C2
[11]Shah Husain, H Ali tmII, C2
[12]Charkhbafa, Owais. Qarani ttIII, D1
[13]H. Omar Farooq tmII, C2
[13]Razawi Abdul Razaq tmII, C2
[15]Hazrat Nabi tmII, C2
[16]Ghudal, Sadiyeh19362005tMII, C1
[17]Tir Andazan tMII, B
BI: Before Islam, S: Safavids, t: traditional, m: modern, modern mosques are not Traditional and their origin is after WWII, M: mixed; traditional + modern, letters [A–L] indicate traditional mosques, and numbers [1–17] indicate transformed. *: Type refers to classification of mosques identified in this study and is later explained with details in Section 3.
Table 3. Typology, and Existing physical-typological condition of the Mosques.
Table 3. Typology, and Existing physical-typological condition of the Mosques.
Origin of MosquesTypologyExplanations on the Material Condition or Changes of a MosqueNumber of MosquesPercentage of OriginPercentage of Total
Main TypeSub-Type
Traditional (Historical, before WWII)I: PreservedATraditional, preserved in original condition124841.38
BTraditional, mixed partially with modern ceiling143.45
C1*Traditional, changed to modern with traditional looking façade & view143.45
C2Traditional, changed to modern material104034.48
DPartially damaged143.45
(After WWII)
IVE1constructed with traditional material1253.45
E2(concrete), not changed37510.34
Total29 100
*: Façade is built with local Marmar stones, but glass windows though it ought to be wooden.
Table 4. Period of the latest restoration, preservation, damage, and construction.
Table 4. Period of the latest restoration, preservation, damage, and construction.
LocationPeriod of ChangesTraditional ChangesModernTotal
Quzzat quarterKingdom of Afghanistan, 1933–73 (KA) 0
The Republic of Afghanistan, 1973–78 (RA)1 23
Democratic republic of Afghanistan, 1978–92 (DRA) 0
Islamic state of Afghanistan, 1992–2001 (ISA)31 11 17
Islamic republic of Afghanistan, 2001–21 (IRA)8 19 1 19
Table 5. Period of the restoration, preservation, damage, and construction.
Table 5. Period of the restoration, preservation, damage, and construction.
Kingdom of Afghanistan, 1933–73 (KA) 0
The Republic of Afghanistan, 1973–78 (RA)1 23
Democratic republic of Afghanistan, 1978–92 (DRA) 0
Islamic state of Afghanistan, 1992–2001 (ISA)32117
Islamic republic of Afghanistan, 2001–21 (IRA)810 119
In IRA, AKTC restored, residents participated, and UNESCO supported intellectually the preservation of mosques.
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Asim, G.M.; Shimizu, H. Transformation Analysis of Traditional Mosques: The Case of Quzzat Quarter of Herat Old City, Afghanistan. Heritage 2022, 5, 1819-1835.

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Asim GM, Shimizu H. Transformation Analysis of Traditional Mosques: The Case of Quzzat Quarter of Herat Old City, Afghanistan. Heritage. 2022; 5(3):1819-1835.

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Asim, Ghulam Mohammad, and Hajime Shimizu. 2022. "Transformation Analysis of Traditional Mosques: The Case of Quzzat Quarter of Herat Old City, Afghanistan" Heritage 5, no. 3: 1819-1835.

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