History of Herat, the pearl of Khorasan

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Herat is one of the most important cities ever in Afghanistan and the Persian world, so much so that it has earned the nickname of “Pearl of Khorasan”

The words of Ibn Battuta

“Finally we reached Herat, the largest still inhabited city in Khorasan. There are four large cities in the province: two still thriving, Herat and Nishapur, and two in ruins, Balkh and Merv. Herat is very large, very populous and free from disorder because the inhabitants, who follow the school of Abu Hanifa, are good, pious and virtuous. “

The origins of Herat

Although the city of Herat is mentioned since ancient times, its exact foundation is still unknown today, still shrouded in mystery; what is certain is that it takes its name from the river Hari that flows near it and that since the dawn of time for its wealth and beauty. It is no coincidence that it is mentioned over and over again in the Achaemenid lists of the provinces and sometimes its inhabitants were even represented, dressed according to the Scythian costume. With the fall of the Persians at the hands of Alexander the Great, the city, then called Aratacoana, was completely rebuilt and renamed Alexandria Ariana, the region on which Herat stands. With the death of the great leader, his fate will first pass into the hands of the Seleucids, then the Parthians and finally the Sassanids; during this period it seems that the predominant faith was Zoroastrianism, but from 430 there was also a Nestorian bishopric.

The great mosque of Herat

In the 7th century the Arabs arrived here but initially they had no particular problems with this region, which seems to have submitted of its own free will to the new invaders, thus avoiding tensions. With the passage of time, however, Khorasan became more and more the scene of revolts and, with the expulsion of the Umayyads and the arrival of the Abbasids, a long period characterized by continuous changes of power began. Herat passed first to the Tahrids, then to the Saffarids, the Samanids, the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks and finally to the Ghurids, the dynasty that most of all made it great. Under their rule, in fact, Herat could boast 350 schools, 12’000 shops, 6’000 public baths, countless caravanserais, a Sufi convent and even a fire temple; in addition, the Great Mosque of Herat was built right below them.

The pearl of Khorasan

In 1221 Genghis Khan arrived here and almost completely razed the whole city to the ground, but it was able to be recovered in an excellent way, so much so that it was defined by the greatest Sufis and poets such as the “Pearl of Khorasan”. It will be under the descendants of Tamerlane, specifically, that it will enjoy its maximum beauty, thanks to the patronage of the many princes who succeeded the great conqueror and to the figure of the great Ali Shir Nava’i, an incredible poet, mystic and man of Turkish culture who gave enormous impetus to the world local culture, raising it to levels never seen before. With the collapse of the Timurids, it passed first to the Uzbeks and then to Safavids, who, starting with Shah Tahmasp I, transformed it into one of the flagships of the Empire, so much so that Shah Abbas the Great was born here and in general his government was entrusted to the heirs to the throne. In the mid-18th century it passed into the hands of the Durrani, becoming an autonomous state from 1793 to 1863, the year in which it passed to the Emirate of Afghanistan.


Starting from 1979, Herat was one of the places that suffered the most from the clash with the Communist and Soviet world, so much so that it was the scene of several revolts, reprisals and bombings, which began to give the inhabitants respite only from 1992. However, afterwards it had to face the first Taliban offensive that, although conquering it with great ease, he had many difficulties in maintaining it over time, as its cultured population took a bad eye on the new conquering barbarians; not surprisingly, in 2001 it was the site of the Battle of Herat in which the forces of Iran, the USA, Pashtun and Hazara managed to drive out the Talibans, who, however, will regain it in August 2021.

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