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|Gardens of Babur|
|Founder||Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur|
The Gardens of Babur, locally called Bagh-e Babur (Pashto: باغ بابر/Persian: باغ بابر), is a historic park in Kabul, Afghanistan, and also the last resting-place of the first Mughal emperor Babur. The gardens are thought to have been developed around 1528 AD (935 AH) when Babur gave orders for the construction of an ‘avenue garden’ in Kabul, described in some detail in his memoirs, the Baburnama.
It was the tradition of Moghul princes to develop sites for recreation and pleasure during their lifetime, and choose one of these as a last resting-place. The site continued to be of significance to Babur’s successors, Jehangir and his step-mother, Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum (Babur's granddaughter) made a pilgrimage to the site in 1607 AD (1016 AH) when he ordered that all gardens in Kabul be surrounded by walls, that a prayer platform be laid in front of Babur’s grave, and an inscribed headstone placed at its head. During the visit of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1638 (1047 AH) a marble screen was erected around tomb of his foster-mother, Ruqaiya Sultan Begum, and a mosque built on the terrace below. There are accounts from the time of the visit to the site of Shah Jahan in 1638 (1047AH) of a stone water-channel that ran between an avenue of trees from the terrace below the mosque, with pools at certain intervals.
The original construction date of the gardens is unknown. When Babur captured Kabul in 1504 from the Arguns he re-developed the site and used it as a guest house for special occasions, especially during the summer seasons. Since Babur had such a high rank, he would have been buried in a site that befitted him. The garden where it is believed Babur requested to be buried in is known as Bagh-e Babur. Mughul rulers saw this site as significant and aided in further development of the site and other tombs in Kabul. In an article written by the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, describes the marble screen built around tombs by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1638 with the following inscription:
"only this mosque of beauty, this temple of nobility, constructed for the prayer of saints and the epiphany of cherubs, was fit to stand in so venerable a sanctuary as this highway of archangels, this theatre of heaven, the light garden of the godforgiven angel king whose rest is in the garden of heaven, Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur the Conqueror."
Although the additions of the screens by Shah Jahan contained references to Babur, Salome Zajadacz-Hastenrath, in her article "A Note on Babur's Lost Funerary and Enclosure at Kabul" suggests that Shah Jahan's work transformed Bagh-e Babur into a graveyard. She states that a "mosque was built on the thirteenth terrace, the terrace nearest to Mecca; the next, the fourteenth terrace, was to contain the funerary enclosure of Babur's tomb and the tombs of some of his male relatives." This transformation towards a proper graveyard, with an enclosure around Babur's tomb, points towards the importance of Babur. By enclosing Babur's tomb, Shah Jahan separates the tomb of the Emperor from others.
The only hint of the design lies in an 1832 sketch and short description by Charles Masson, a British soldier, which was published in 1842, the year the tomb was destroyed by an earthquake. One description of the tomb praised it, "although obviously-in a poor state of preservation, reveals fine workmanship in stone carving: high walls with lavish jali-work and relief decoration." Mason described the tomb as being "accompanied by many monuments of similar nature, commemorative of his relatives, and they are surrounded by an enclosure of white marble, curiously and elegantly carved... No person superintends them, and great liberty has been taken with the stones employed in the enclosing walls." Mason's sketch and Mason's description gives us the only modern view of how extravagant the tomb was.
Bagh-e Babur has changed drastically from the Mughul impression of the space to the present. Throughout the years outside influences have shaped the use of the site. For example, the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme describes how by 1880, Amir Abdur Rahman Khan constructed a pavilion and a residence for his wife, Bibi Halima. In 1933, the space was converted into a public recreation space with pools and fountains becoming the central focal point. A modern greenhouse and swimming pool were added in the late 1970s. Although the enclosure of the Babur's tomb is no longer present, Bagh-e Babur still remains a major historically important site in Kabul.
Over the past few years, attempts at rebuilding and reconstructing the city of Kabul and Babur's tomb have been undertaken. Zahra Breshna, an architect with the Department for Preservation & Rehabilitation of Afghanistan's Urban Heritage, argues that, “emphasis should be on developing and strengthening the partially forgotten local and traditional aspects, whilst placing them in a contemporary global context. The goal is to preserve the tradition without hindering the development of a modern social, ecological and economical institution.” Planners also discuss the importance of ‘a revival of cultural identity’ in the development of Kabul. These ideas seem to fall in line with the plan of Aga Khan.
The plan put forth by Aga Khan calls for the reconstruction of the Bagh-e Babur and includes several key components. The rebuilding of the perimeter walls, the rehabilitation of the Shahjahani mosque, and the restoration of Babur's grave enclosure are all important parts of the rehabilitation of the garden and aid in the ‘revival of cultural identity.’ The perimeter walls, common throughout many Islamic cities, would provide for closure of the area. This enclosure of orchards is traditional in the area. Also, the restoration of the Shahjahani mosque, a place for prayer and meditation for visitors to the gardens would be restored.
The biggest idea proposed is the restoration of Babur's tomb. The reconstruction of Babur's garden would bring about a unity fixed around the ruler responsible for the importance of Kabul and the restoration of the historic quarters would restore the pride of the citizens of the city. Architect Abdul Wasay Najimi writes that, "Restoration of confidence, pride and hope would be the main outcome in reintegrating the historic quarters in the mainstream rehabilitation and development of Kabul. This would have a direct impact on the revival of identity."
A detailed survey of the perimeter walls of the garden, parts of which are thought to date from the late 19th century, was undertaken. These are built of a mix of traditional hand-laid earth (pakhsa) and sun-dried bricks on stone foundations — techniques still widely used in rural construction in Afghanistan. After careful documentation, damaged sections of the walls were repaired or re-built between during 2002 and 2004, during which nearly 100,000 work-days were generated for skilled and unskilled labour.
As part of efforts to ensure an appropriate degree of accuracy in the conservation and rehabilitation works, a range of documentation was identified and reviewed. In addition to specific references to Baghe Babur itself, contemporary accounts of types of trees and arrangements for the distribution of water were reviewed and advice sought from those who have studied and undertaken rehabilitation work on other Moghul gardens in the region.
Since 2003, the focus of conservation has been on the white marble mosque built by Shahjahan in 1675 to mark his conquest of Balkh; restoration of the Babur’s grave enclosure; repairs to the garden pavilion dating from the early 20th century; and reconstruction of the haremserai complex, or Queen’s Palace. In addition, a new caravanserai was built on the footprint of an earlier building at the base of the garden (where the base of a gateway built by Shah Jahan has been preserved) and a new swimming-pool outside of the garden precinct.
Significant investments have been made in the natural environment of the garden, taking account the historic nature of the landscape and the needs of contemporary visitors. A system of partially piped irrigation was installed, and several thousand indigenous trees planted, including planes, cypresses, hawthorn, wild cherry (alubalu — allegedly introduced by Babur from the north of Kabul) and other fruit and shade trees. Based on the results of archaeological excavations, the relationships between the 13 terraces and the network of paths and stairs have been re-established.
Since early 2008, the garden has been managed by the independent Baghe Babur Trust and has seen a significant increase in visitor numbers. Nearly 300,000 people visited the site in 2008.
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