The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) has breathed new life and purpose into the Chihilsitoon Garden, a historic cultural destination in Kabul, Afghanistan that was in ruins for nearly three decades. Founded in the 19th century, the Chihilsitoon Garden had once housed visiting dignitaries such as U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, but suffered looting and damage during the internecine conflict of the early 1990s. Now restored to its former glory, the Chihilsitoon Garden marks the largest rehabilitation project carried out to date by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which has completed over 140 restoration and landscaping projects across Afghanistan since 2002.
Spanning an area of nearly 31 acres, the Chihilsitoon Garden is laid out along a longitudinal spine centered on a historic formal axial garden, which is surrounded by informal landscapes ranging from open lawns to densely planted areas. The restoration project reinforced the axial relationship with the restoration of existing open-air spaces, such as family picnic areas, an outdoor amphitheater and a historic formal promenade that includes the original marble fountains. A new recreational zone includes cricket batting areas, volleyball fields and two mini-football pitches as well as an indoor facility with changing rooms and showers.
New buildings totaling over 100,000 square feet were also added to the grounds. The contemporary buildings take inspiration from traditional designs and typologies, including the use of rammed earth as an earthquake-resistant structural material.
“Found to have been used in parts of Afghanistan as far back as the 2nd century A.D., rammed earth structures are highly suitable to the climatic and ecological environment in the region,” the agency explained an a project statement. “Due to the workability of rammed earth, a range of architectural designs was explored for the various facilities. Reinforced with bamboo trees, steel re-bar and concrete frame structures, buildings constructed with rammed earth were designed to withstand moderate earthquakes.”
The 15.1 million-euro restoration project began in early 2015 and was completed in the middle of 2018. The newly formed independent “Kabul Historic Gardens Trust” will manage the garden.
Images by Simon Norfolk via AKTC