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Province and city in western Afghanistan.

Herat is both a province in northwestern Afghanistan and the name of the provincial capital of that province. In 2003 the population of the city of Herat was generally held to number about 180,000, although some estimates have the population much higher. Even using the lower figure, Herat is the third largest city in Afghanistan and the major city in the country's western region. Close to the Iranian border, the people in the province are largely Persian speakers, although some Turkomans live in the northern area.

Because of its strategic location, Herat has been a fortified town for several thousand years. Mention of it first appears in the Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians (1500 b.c.e.), and scholars have conjectured that the name Herat may be a derivative of Aria, a province in the ancient Persian empire. Alexander the Great built Alexandria Ariorum on the site (330 b.c.e.). During the Afghan war of resistance (19781992), the city of Herat saw considerable fighting and suffered significant destruction. When the Najibullah government fell in 1992, Ismaʿil Khan, a commander in the Jamiʿat-e Islami, took control of the area.

The Taliban captured Herat in 1995, and Is-mail Khan and his fighters fled to Iran. The Taliban installed an administration imposing strict Islamic rule. When the Taliban fell in 2001, Ismaʿil Khan returned to Herat and was appointed governor of the province by the Hamid Karzai government. Herat now serves as a major smuggling route for foreign goods coming into Afghanistan, and for the export of Afghan opium.

See also afghanistan.


Adamec, Ludwig. Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Ewans, Martin. Afghanistan: A Short History of Its People and Politics. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

grant farr

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HERAT , city in N.W. Afghanistan. Jewish settlement there goes back to early Islamic times. The recent discovery in Firuzkuh, near Herat, of 20 Judeo-Persian tombstone inscriptions covering the years 1115–1215 indicates the existence of a Jewish settlement with a cemetery. Firuzkuh was destroyed by the *Mongol invasion (1221), and the Jewish survivors may have fled further east, perhaps to China. From 1839 the community in Herat absorbed many refugees from *Meshed across the Persian border, victims of a forced conversion decree. The outbreak of Anglo-Persian hostilities in the second part of the 19th century caused many of these Meshed Conversos to be expelled from Herat, forcing them to settle in the vicinity of Baba Qudrat. Ephraim *Neumark found in Herat in 1884 about 300 Jewish families, engaged in commerce, handicrafts, and trade with India and Central Asia. In 1898 E.N. *Adler discovered in the city some Hebrew manuscripts written in 1773. Many Jews from Herat emigrated to Palestine in the early decades of the 20th century, among them R. Garji and his family, and the Shauloff family. They brought with them manuscripts of Judeo-Persian literature which they printed in Jerusalem. In the late 1960s the Jewish community in Herat had dwindled to only a few families.


W.J. Fischel, in: JAOS, 85 (1965), 148–53; I. Ben Zvi, Mehkarim u-Mekorot (1966), 325, 331–3. add. bibliography: R.N. Frye, "Harāt," in: EIS2, 3 (1971), 177–78.

[Walter Joseph Fischel]

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Herat (hĕrät´), city (1984 est. pop. 161,000), capital of Herat prov., NW Afghanistan, on the Hari Rud. The fertile river valley is renowned for its fruits, especially grapes. Herat has textile weaving and carpet industries and is a market for wool, carpets, dried fruits, and nuts. The city walls are gone, but the citadel remains, has been restored, and houses a national museum. Other landmarks include the Great Mosque (first built 12th cent.) and several exquisite minarets. Herat, whose inhabitants are mainly Tajiks, is also noted for its bazaars and its highly decorated gharries (horse-drawn cabs). Paved roads lead to the Turkmenistan border.

Herat, an ancient city, is identified with the Haroyu of the Vendidad (Zoroastrian priestly code), the Haraiva of Achaemenian inscriptions, and the Aria of the Greeks. Its strategic location on the trade route from Persia to India and on the caravan road from China and central Asia to Europe has long made Herat an object of contention among the powers of the day. Although taken by various conquerors, it remained under the Persian empire for several centuries. The Mongols under Jenghiz Khan devastated Herat in 1221. Timur took the city in 1383; under his later successors, Shah Rukh and Husayn, it enjoyed prosperity, and its court was a center of art and learning. The Uzbeks took Herat in the early 16th cent.; later it was disputed between the Persians and the rulers of an emerging Afghanistan. In the mid-19th cent., British pressure checked Persian claims to Herat, which in 1881 was taken by Abd ar-Rahman Khan and finally confirmed as part of a united Afghanistan. During the 1979–89 Soviet occupation, it was a military command center for Soviet forces.