Afghan city takes action to save ancient minarets

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HERAT, Afghanistan, Oct 19 (Reuters) A group of mediaeval minarets in the Afghan city of Herat could be saved thanks to the closure of a busy road threatening their foundations.

The minarets, standing at more than 100 feet (30 metres), are all that remain of what was once a brilliantly decorated complex for Islamic learning and devotion on the Silk Road on the outskirts of the western Afghan city.

Just over a century ago, more than a dozen minarets stood in Herat, part of a madrasa-mosque complex built in the 15th century.

Most of the camel-coloured mud-brick towers, which were once sheathed in sparkling blue, green, white and black mosaic tiles, have toppled during decades of war and neglect.

Experts had hoped the end of Taliban rule in 2001 and the advent of a new government would save the remaining towers.

However, the city's new-found wealth in the post-Taliban era has served only to heighten concerns about the towers' stability.

Heavy trucks and cars rumble along a road that runs through the middle of the remaining minarets, shaking the ground and threatening their foundations.

Recently authorities banned trucks from using the road, and yesterday the head of Herat's information and culture department said the next step was to build a new road.

''Herat was due to have been included in the list of World's Cultural Heritage by UNESCO,'' Nimatullah Sarwari told Reuters.

''They (UNESCO) had a set of preconditions; preserving the old city and the closure of the road that runs through the minarets. We have prevented big vehicles from using the road and soon we will close the road totally by building a new one.'' Once a bastion of culture and literature, Herat has prospered compared to other parts of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, due largely to trade links with Turkmenistan and Iran.

New buildings of glass and concrete are sprouting up, overlooking the old city and challenging the minarets' command of the skyline for the first time in six centuries.

The old city of Herat is already on the tentative list for inclusion on UNESCO's register of World Heritage sites.

REUTERS RKM BST0450

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