Afghanistan / Places We Go

Visiting The Afghan National Museum (Kabul Museum)

The National Museum bears testimony to the traumas of the last two decades. Until 1992 it contained one of the finest collections of art and cultural artifacts in Asia: 100,000 pieces from two milleniums of Afghan history. During the fight for Kabul, mujahedeen armies occupied and looted the museum; the structure was shelled in 1993 and fire destroyed the roof and second floor. By the time the Taliban seized power, only a few thousand pieces remained; the museum’s staff had hidden away the best works. Then, in 2001, Taliban leaders ordered all art objects depicting the human form destroyed, and cadres set upon the remaining exhibits with axes and sledgehammers, ruining 2,500 more works. Also at this time the famous Buddhas were destroyed in Bamiyan (you can see Bamiyan and the remains of the Buddhas here).

But the museum, like much of Kabul, is struggling back to life. The two-story, gray concrete villa was rebuilt with Greek, Italian and American money in 2004. And, interestingly, the baksheesh brigade is nowhere in evidence in this area.

The entrance to the newly restored National Museum…


The friendly guards in front. They politely search you on the way in (to make sure you’re not a suicide bomber) and search you on the way out to make sure you’re not stealing some of the few remaining pieces…


In the foyer is a magnificent huge black marble basin dating from the 15th Century. Back then the basin would be filled with juice for the pilgrims to the Sultan Mir Wais Baba shrine in Kandahar to drink from. The basin is surrounded in Islamic text.


I pushed through a half-open door and came upon a magnificent collection of 18th- and 19th-century wood-carved deities and monarchs from Nuristan, a mountainous province northeast of Jalalabad. These surreal treasures, reminiscent of West African fertility gods and Picassos’s cubist works, were recently patched back together after being hacked into fragments by Taliban zealots:


After admiring the several dozen works – hatchet marks and gouges still visible in the wood, I pressed on to…


These massive rifles… It’s hard to tell in this picture, but it would take three or four people to simply hold these up.


At the time we were there, an exhibition was on featuring photographs and artifacts salvaged from the covered bazaar in Tashqurghan, a unique mud-walled complex of mosques, shops and homes, bombed into rubble by the Soviets in 1982. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam donated glass cases for the exhibition.


A cluster of teapots recovered from Tashqurghan…


This room used to be filled with art and other cultural treasures, but as one can see, was completely looted. Committing cultural suicide…


Somehow, this ornate doorway escaped destruction…


These cars belonged to the last monarch of Afghanistan and are on the grounds of the museum. They are armored and as such, the Taliban enjoyed using them for target practice…


The devastation in this area is fairly ubiquitous… I thought the juxtaposition between the gardens being replanted and the bombed out buildings crumbling in the background was interesting…



The Afghan government wants to restore the war-damaged former royal palace of Darulaman so it can be used as the seat of parliament. The Darulaman Palace was built in the 1920s by former King Amanullah Khan as part of his plan for social and political modernization. It originally was intended to house Afghanistan’s first elected parliament. But before that legislature could be created, Amanullah Khan was forced into exile by conservative Pashtun tribesmen who opposed his reforms.

Darulaman Palace was destroyed when rival mujahedin factions fought for control of Kabul during the early 1990s.


A closeup of the destruction…



4 thoughts on “Visiting The Afghan National Museum (Kabul Museum)

  1. Pingback: Bamiyan - Part 2 « The Velvet Rocket

  2. Thanks for the view. It certainly looks empty. When I was there in the sixties, it was dusty, but rather full of interesting exhibits. In the mid-sixties, there was a renewal of the museum with refreshed exhibits and new items on display. Gone. A real shame.

    • Thank you, Dan. It would have been great to see it in the 60s (which was something of a golden age for Afghanistan).

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