One of the wretched effects of over thirty-five years of war in Afghanistan, quite aside from the human suffering it has caused, is that the world has forgotten the country’s historical place as a heartland of Persian and Islamic high culture.
The foremost of Afghanistan’s cultural centres was, without question, Herat. C P W Gammell’s history of the city, from its conquest by Genghis Khan in 1222 to the present day, amply justifies the Persian proverb, quoted in the book’s title, that the city was the ‘Pearl of Khorasan’ (Khorasan comprising roughly the lands of eastern Iran and northern Afghanistan). Especially in its heyday during the 15th century as part of the Timurid empire, it was host to so many poets, princes, musicians, mystics, artists and craftsmen that it easily rivalled other, better-known Islamic cultural centres, such as Samarkand and Baghdad.
Gammell’s use of little-known and untranslated Persian-language sources brings to light a wealth of detail about the cultural past of Herat. Even after being laid waste by the Mongols in the 13th century, the city soon recovered sufficiently to support a grand ecosystem of poets. Foremost among them