Bamyan, which is famous for its historical sites and the world’s largest statues of Buddha, was a leading tourist attraction before the Afghan civil war.
Now, after years of neglect, one archeologist is trying to revive the ancient sites.
Ghayor Waziri has more.
Fifty-year-old Mujtaba Merzayee returned to Afghanistan from Germany 8 years ago.
At the time he also visited Bamyan province, and made a decision, on the spot, to help restore the ancient sites of Bamyan province.
“Eight years ago when I visited Bamyan I thought if I could revive the ancient architecture and rebuild the ancient places of Bamyan province, it would save Bamyan from being excluded from the world heritage list,” he says, “At that time no one was thinking about this fact. So then I started training 40 people to restore the ancient places and revive the ancient architect. So far we have completed the reconstruction of the Gholghola and Zohak ancient villages.”
The centuries old designs being restored were first built in the year 1118, when Afghanistan was ruled by an emperor named Ghoryan.
The designs are intricate and influenced by Islamic art.
All the materials used in the reconstruction, says Mujtaba, are all from Afghanistan and are all organic, just like how they were built.
“All construction materials are domestic and we haven’t used any chemicals, for example instead of chemical paints we used dairy products to make the paint,” he says, “Also, the architecture is mostly designs from the Ghoryan period. There are fifty kinds of soil in Bamyan province that we can use for the decoration of buildings and for paint.”
Last month UNESCO added Bamyan province to its Creative Cities Network list.
The recognition, says Mujtaba, will help increase the number of tourists to Bamyan.
“Bamyan is one of poorest provinces of Afghanistan. I think if ancient and traditional architecture is improved, it will have several benefits,” he explains, “First it will attract more tourists to Bamyan and also it will improve the economic situation of Bamyan residents, for example they will be able to sell things to tourists and they can work as guides…”
Chief of the Bamyan cultural department Kabeer Dadras says the province has welcomed the work of Mujtaba and his team.
In the past three years dozens of ancient sites have been restored in keeping with the original design, and in accordance with the government’s request.
“According to the Bamyan city master plan all buildings should be constructed in their antique style and be the same color as the Bamyan territory color,” he says, “Fortunately, all the restoration has followed this. We truly appreciate Mr. Mujtaba Merzayee’s work in this regard.”
Mujtaba Merzayee says he wishes to revive not only the architectural glory of Bamyan, but also other traditions, such as food.
Traditional dishes like Kocha, rice mixed lamb.
“I don’t want to revive only the ancient architecture, I am also trying to revive their food traditions so when tourists visit they see not only the ancient architecture but can taste the traditional foods from that time as well. I think my work will push other local people to follow my track,” he says.
Bamyan is one of coldest provinces of Afghanistan, a hub for skiing, where each year the sites and the surrounding mountains are laden with snow.
Mujtaba recently left Afghanistan to spend the winter with his family in Germany, but before he left he had just completed a house, based on a centuries old design, that is set to become a hotel.
Bamyan cultural activist Khayrullah Hameedi says Mujtaba’s work has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
“When Mr. Mujtaba started his work in Bamyan, I visited his works sometime, but today when I saw that his works finished, I really enjoyed seeing everything in this ancient building,” he says, “I felt as though I was centuries back from now, actually we can see the beauty and magnificence here, proof of how much old-time architecture was interesting…”
The restoration of Bamyan’s ancient sites, and its natural beauty, have historians and cultural experts excited not only about Bamyan’s vibrant past but also its bright future.
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