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Restoring a Symbol of National Unity

The historic Darulaman Palace is being rebuilt at last, but some local architects object to the way it is being done.
By Mohammad Jawad

Darulaman Palace, a symbol of national unity and independence since 1929, is being rebuilt after being left a shell of a building by years of civil war.


Designed by German and French architects and constructed mostly by hand between 1919 and 1929, Darulaman was commissioned by the then king, Amanullah Khan, who is still revered for ending British influence on the country.


Darulaman was used by the Afghan defence ministry from the Soviet occupation of 1979 onwards. It was severely damaged in 1991 and 1992 during the factional fighting that brought an end to communist rule.


"Darulaman palace represents the link between the old and new Afghanistan,” said Nasrullah Stanekzai, deputy minister of information, culture and tourism.


When completed, the new palace will be used by Afghanistan's legislature for offices and meetings, although the body does not plan to convene there for its regular sessions.


The three-phase, 70 million US dollar reconstruction project is being undertaken by the Darulaman Reconstruction Foundation with financial assistance from German donors as well as expatriate Afghans living in Germany.


Rebuilding is expected to take three years. The project will employ an estimated 1,500 workers, said Abdul Hamid Farooqi, a foundation member.


The project has stirred some controversy between traditionalists and modernists.


The exterior of the building will be restored to its original architectural style while the interior will be more modern.


But some Afghan archaeologists object to the three-year timetable, the new interior and the use of modern construction equipment. Reconstruction should be done by hand to preserve the original look of the building, said archaeologist Zafar Paiman.


“If they want to reconstruct the palace as it was before, they will need a big enough budget, enough workers and engineers, and ten years,” he said.


Stanekzai said, “If we see anything harmful to the historical value of the palace during the reconstruction work, our ministry will have the authority to halt it.”


The Darulaman foundation, established last year and based in Rudesheim, Germany, consists of six German and six Afghan engineers. Honorary members include Afghan president Hamed Karzai, former West German president Walter Scheel and Mohammad Amin Farhang, Afghanistan's economy minister.


The foundation is soliciting donations from foreign and domestic firms.


“Those Afghans who donate more than 5,000 dollars will have their names engraved on a memorial stone in the hall of Darulaman palace forever,” said Farooqi.


While supporting the reconstruction project, Farhang explained that the Afghan government itself lacks the financial resources to undertake the work.


“There are a lot of needs in Afghanistan besides the palace reconstruction, such as poverty, security problems, counter-narcotics and the development of agriculture,” he said. “These are among the first priorities."


Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


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