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Restoring Babur's Moghul Gardens

The gardens of Babur, the first Moghul emperor, are today surrounded by urban sprawl.

Published on 1 October 2002

Author(s): The New Courier #1 October 2002

Type:  News

Baburís tomb is a modest structure in comparison to the elaborate edifices built by his descendents in India. It was once surrounded by the beautifully landscaped gardens know as Bagh-e-Babur.

But decades of neglect, 23 years of war and four years of drought have seen the gardens perish and left their historical buildings decayed. At walking distance from the city centre, they are now surrounded by urban sprawl climbing up the hillside into which they are set. Babur, who claimed direct descent from both Genghis Khan and Timur, seized the throne of Kabul after being ousted from his own in the Ferghana Valley. From Kabul, in 1525, he launched his invasion of India and became the first of the Moghul emperors with his court at Agra.

Babur, however, never forgot Kabul, and when he died, in 1539, he was buried there, according to his wishes, in Bagh-e-Babur. A century later Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, constructed a small marble mosque in Baburís Garden, close to the simple tomb of his forefather. In the late 19th century Amir Abdur Rahman built a elegant pillared pavilion whose veranda looked out over terraced gardens dotted with fountains, magnificent stands of chinar (plane) trees, and a profusion of sweet smelling wild rose and jasmine to the city beyond.

According to researchers, the Bagh-e-Babur gardens were laid out between 1504 and 1528. They were damaged by an earthquake in 1842 which ruined many parts of Kabul. The gardens were restored by the Afghan ruler Amir Abdur Rahman in the late 18th century and again by King Nadir Shah in the 1930s. But both men were influenced by European gardens and the Islamic tradition of the garden was ignored. Later the gardens became a public playground with the construction, during Communist rule, of a swimming pool.

A multi-year renovation project will restore the shrine and mosque according to their original design, and if feasible the pavilion, which was severely damaged, then partially restored. Neighbourhood residential dwellings will be rehabilitated, and the gardens replanted with trees, flowers and other ornamentation appropriate to Moghul tradition. Walkways and benches will be constructed for public use so that residents of Kabul may enjoy the gardens again.

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