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Qala e Ikhtiareddin, a  restored 14th-century citadel perched atop a manmade hill in the center of Herat, a large city in far western Afghanistan.
Qala e Ikhtiareddin, a restored 14th-century citadel perched atop a manmade hill in the center of Herat, a large city in far western Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Qala e Ikhtiareddin, a  restored 14th-century citadel perched atop a manmade hill in the center of Herat, a large city in far western Afghanistan.
Qala e Ikhtiareddin, a restored 14th-century citadel perched atop a manmade hill in the center of Herat, a large city in far western Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Qala e Ikhtiareddin, a  restored 14th-century citadel perched atop a manmade hill in the center of Herat, a regional capital in western Afghanistan.
Qala e Ikhtiareddin, a restored 14th-century citadel perched atop a manmade hill in the center of Herat, a regional capital in western Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Herat is a former Silk Road way station near Afghanistan's border with Iran that has grown into a regional capital with important business links to Iran and Turkmenistan. The city has been largely insulated from the violence of the past 12 years.
Herat is a former Silk Road way station near Afghanistan's border with Iran that has grown into a regional capital with important business links to Iran and Turkmenistan. The city has been largely insulated from the violence of the past 12 years. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Traffic in Herat, Afghanistan, where pedestrians dodge cars and speeding motorcyclists.
Traffic in Herat, Afghanistan, where pedestrians dodge cars and speeding motorcyclists. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A young boy rests in a seh charkh (three wheels), the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws that ply the streets of Herat, a regional capital in western Afghanistan.
A young boy rests in a seh charkh (three wheels), the ubiquitous auto-rickshaws that ply the streets of Herat, a regional capital in western Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A Soviet tank in Herat, which was a key battleground in Afghanistan's successful guerrilla war against the Red Army, which lasted 10 years, from 1979 to 1989.
A Soviet tank in Herat, which was a key battleground in Afghanistan's successful guerrilla war against the Red Army, which lasted 10 years, from 1979 to 1989. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
The Musalla complex in Herat, Afghanistan. The complex was built in the early 15th century and its five remaining minarets soar more than 150 feet over the city.
The Musalla complex in Herat, Afghanistan. The complex was built in the early 15th century and its five remaining minarets soar more than 150 feet over the city. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
The minarets of the Musalla complex in Herat, Afghanistan. Steel cables have been installed to stabilize the minaret in the foreground, which is in danger of collapse.
The minarets of the Musalla complex in Herat, Afghanistan. Steel cables have been installed to stabilize the minaret in the foreground, which is in danger of collapse. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
The Guzar Gah shrine in Herat, Afghanistan, which houses grave markers hundreds of years old, including the tomb of Khoja Abdullah Ansari, a renowned 11th-century poet.
The Guzar Gah shrine in Herat, Afghanistan, which houses grave markers hundreds of years old, including the tomb of Khoja Abdullah Ansari, a renowned 11th-century poet. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Historic bazaar in central Herat, Afghanistan.
Historic bazaar in central Herat, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A Soviet tank adorns a busy traffic circle in Herat, Afghanistan, as a tribute to the Mujehideen, the guerrilla fighters who pushed the Soviet Red Army out of Afghanistan after a bloody 10-year war.
A Soviet tank adorns a busy traffic circle in Herat, Afghanistan, as a tribute to the Mujehideen, the guerrilla fighters who pushed the Soviet Red Army out of Afghanistan after a bloody 10-year war. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
An auto-rickshaw taxi called a seh charkh (three wheels) in Herat, Afghansitan, adorned with a picture of a dutar, a traditional Afghan stringed instrument.
An auto-rickshaw taxi called a seh charkh (three wheels) in Herat, Afghansitan, adorned with a picture of a dutar, a traditional Afghan stringed instrument. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Market in central Herat, Afghanistan.
Market in central Herat, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Tile work at the Jami Mosque, a massive complex in central Herat, Afghanistan.
Tile work at the Jami Mosque, a massive complex in central Herat, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Entrance to the Jami Mosque, in Herat, a regional capital in the far west of Afghanistan.
Entrance to the Jami Mosque, in Herat, a regional capital in the far west of Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A woman begs in the entrance of the Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan.
A woman begs in the entrance of the Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A building in the inner courtyard of the Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan.
A building in the inner courtyard of the Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
The inner courtyard of the Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan.
The inner courtyard of the Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
A man sleeps in a corridor of the massive Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan.
A man sleeps in a corridor of the massive Jami Mosque in Herat, Afghanistan. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)
Men make tiles in a workshop at the Jami Mosque, in Herat, Afghanistan. The tiles are made by hand, as they have been for hundreds of years, and used to repair broken sections of the mosque walls.
Men make tiles in a workshop at the Jami Mosque, in Herat, Afghanistan. The tiles are made by hand, as they have been for hundreds of years, and used to repair broken sections of the mosque walls. (Heath Druzin/Stars and Stripes)

HERAT, Afghanistan — Dominating the skyline of this sprawling city in far western Afghanistan are the imposing brick turrets of the Qala e Ikhtiareddin, a beautifully restored 14th-century citadel perched atop a man-made hill in the center of town. It’s a fitting signature landmark for a place nicknamed simply “The Historic City.”

Established around 500 B.C. and alternately occupied and overrun by the likes of Alexander the Great, the Ghorids and Genghis Khan, the former Silk Road way station is awash in ancient buildings and under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Despite being a central battleground during the Soviet War in the 1980s and experiencing violence during the subsequent civil war and ouster of the Taliban by U.S. forces, Herat and its ancient structures — the citadel, five ancient minarets that tower more than 150 feet over the skyline and the elaborately tiled Jami Mosque, with soaring, bright blue minarets — have largely been spared from the past 34 years of conflict.

Ringed by brown mountains in the high desert of western Afghanistan, Herat is a city of contrasts, rich with history but more modern than much of the country; educated and prosperous but with a devastating drug problem. Intimately connected linguistically, culturally and economically to nearby Iran, Heratis are also deeply suspicious of their neighbor, who they accuse of meddling in their affairs and killing impoverished Afghans who cross the border illegally looking for work.

The city has been largely insulated from violence that has wracked much of Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded in 2001. The biggest danger most Heratis face each day is from the tens of thousands of half-mad motorcyclists who careen through the city streets. Stylishly dressed university students and bearded clerics alike haggle at bustling markets, colorfully adorned auto-rickshaws, called seh charkh (three wheels), ply the streets, and neon-lit cafes stay open late into the night.

While sitting on the deck of a hilltop restaurant on a moonlit night, overlooking the bright lights of an amusement park Ferris wheel with the laughs and shrieks of children emanating from the rides, I found it easy to forget Herat is part of a country still gripped by a war with no end in sight.

druzin.heath@stripes.com Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes

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