Best of Asia Award for Restoration of Babur’s Gardens in Kabul

Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2007

Best Historic Restoration

Some places are so beautiful that they haunt the viewer for all eternity. So it was for Emperor Muhammad Zahiruddin Babur, the 16th century monarch who whiled away his time in the pleasure gardens of Kabul before heading south to India in 1525 to found the Mughal Empire. Though Babur built a dynasty that was to last for 300 years, he never forgot his beloved Kabul, and exhausted vast riches to recreate its gardens throughout the subcontinent. Those Mughal gardens, as they are now known, grace ancient capitals from Delhi to Srinigar with their elegant vistas and strict architectural symmetry. But Babur never really felt at home in India, and asked that upon his death his body be returned to Kabul and laid to rest in his favorite garden, serenaded with birdsong, his grave uncovered so that “the rain and sun could beat upon it and, perchance, encourage a wild flower to grow.”

Of course, his wishes were ignored. While his body was eventually returned to Kabul, his descendants covered his tomb with a great marble pavilion that was destroyed along with the Bagh-e Babur, as the gardens are called, during Afghanistan’s civil war. When the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, in collaboration with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, began to restore the gardens in 2002, they decided to honor Babur’s original instructions. His grave now lies open to the sky, encircled by a delicate, carved marble screen and surrounded by fruit trees full of songbirds. The rest of the 4.5-hectare garden, which once served as a temporary refuge for civilians displaced by war, has been returned to its former glory. The complex system of water canals that channel rainfall from the surrounding hills has been rebuilt, turning the sere hillside into a verdant oasis. Graceful saplings have replaced the great chinar trees that were felled for firewood, and the fountains burble once again with clean water. There are even plans to turn the elegant European pavilion built by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in the late 1800s into a restaurant. On Fridays, the start of the Muslim weekend, the gardens are thronged with picnicking families who come to enjoy classical concerts much like the performances that enhanced the former Emperor’s idylls. Finally, one can see why Babur wanted this to be his last resting place.

by Aryn Baker


Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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