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Shah Bubo Jan Palace: Giving face to a forgotten place

Abdul Zuhoor Qayomi-Shah Bubo Jan Palace is in the list of most prominent historical buildings constructed in the rule of the late king of Afghanistan, Ameer Abdul Rahman Khan.

The palace which was built in 19th century is said to be named after Ameer Abdul Rahman Khan’s wife Halima. The palace is located in Shahr-e-Naw area in the capital city, Kabul.

The palace has been built in European style by the national and international experienced architectures. Fine wood, bricks and mud had been used in construction of the palace. It has been decorated with curved wood—giving the palace contemporary style and common architecture.

Queen Halima was Ameer’s cousin and had graceful personality. She was pious. The queen built a mosque near the palace.

According to an Afghan writer and researcher, Habibullah Rafi, the king named the palace after his wife as she was an education lover.

In an interview with Afghanistan Times, Rafi said that the palace was built in British style in the end of 19th century when Nasrullah Khan brought English architectures from India.

Painting and decoration of pillars and ceiling of the palace is more similar to architecture adopted in Renaissance period (Europe) which adds to its beauty further.

The palace is a two storey building including forty rooms, galleries and halls.

Palaces built by the King Abdul Rahman Khan in the capital city have more much in common.

As the archaeologists narrated, design of the palace was prepared by the Austrian engineers and experienced architectures of Kabul. The palace witnessed heart-breaking destruction during the civil war. It was reconstructed and turned into ethnography museum of Afghanistan Academy of Science (ASA) after the former president Hamid Karzai issued a decree.

The palace-turned-museum contains valuable ethnographic pieces based on their historical importance, indicating the culture of different tribes and ethnic groups living in Afghanistan.

Collection of these pieces was made possible due to hard work of ethnographic experts working in the ASA and with support of local people.

Head of the ethnography museum Toba Abawi Sadiq told Afghanistan Times that there are more than 1,000 of ethnographic pieces from tribes living in different provinces.

Dresses, decoration pieces, copper, stone, mud and wood-made utensils are the exquisites of a number of provinces including Nuristan, Kunar, and Nangarhar. These valuable items date back to Gandahara civilization which stretched from Indus River to Oxus River, said Ms Abawi.

Turkmen and Kazak makeshift-houses and different types of female embroidery dresses which are representing women of northern Afghanistan had been kept in the same ethnography museum, she said.

Ornaments, decorative items and dresses representing different ethnic groups including Baloch, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen and Nuristanis are kept in the same museum. Besides that tens of other items representing the way of life of different ethnic groups have been kept in the museum. The ethnography museum could be seen as the first research center in the country which helps the researchers.

Abdul Saber Junbesh, a member of the Academy of Science of Afghanistan (ASA), believes that there were two persons with the name of Shah Bubo Jan in the king’s family.

The first Shah Bubo Jan was Ameer Abdul Rahman Khan’s spouse and daughter of Meer Waiz Kabuli, an influential figure. The second was said to be the daughter of Muhammad Afzal Khan and Ameer’s sister who established the king’s ties with British Empire, when he used to live in Bukhara. Abdul Rahman Khan came to power due to the struggle of his sister and with support of the British Empire, said Junbesh.

Therefore, Ameer Abdul Rahman Khan built a palace for his sister and named it after her, because of his sister’s services when he came to power in the 19th century, as Pameer Paikar, an Afghan writer, has said in his book.

The palace was built in European style as its plan was brought from Germany in the 18th century. It was not much different from the Presidential Palace, having strong pillars. It was built on 12 acres land, he said, adding that the palace has three gates and fountains inside the lounges.

A beautiful long dressing table was brought by an elephant from India. Later the mirror was broken during the civil wars (1992-1996). Ex-President Hamid Karzai ordered renovation of the palace, he said.

He said the project was not as good as expected as low quality wood was used in renovation of the palace.

Junbesh said the ethnography museum still needs more cultural pieces to represent the different ethnic groups in better manner, however, to purchase the pieces that are in possession of people need sufficient budget to buy.

“There are stone pots used some 90 years ago in Shutul district of Panjshir province, guns taken from British troops, horse saddle, kandos [mud-made large pot used for storing wheat] and wooden sandals that the government should purchase from people and put on display in the museum for visitors,” he said.

He is of the opinion that still many people don’t know about the ethnography museum and its importance. He urged the government to tell public about the museum through media. Junbesh added that it would generate revenue for the government as well.

“It will also help the university and school students to benefit from the museum in their research and general study, because there are many things that they read in the books but have not seen,” said Saber Junbesh.

Razeqi Nalaiwal, a writer, told Radio Azadi that Shah Bubo Jan was Ameer’s sister and has built the palace in 1880-1901, as she was educated and had graceful personality.

Shah Bubo Jan was a literate woman and had learned ordinary knowledge from her father and teachers. She was interested in poetry and sometimes used to sing poems.

However, he provided different information about architecture of the palace. He said that Shah Bubo Jan Palace was built in Italian style by Italian engineers. The palace has two gates: one at its north and second at the south.

He said the walls of the palace were decorated with pictures of birds.

Sakhi Rad, a writer, has said that Shah Bubo Jan used to live in the palace. Later, her relatives lived there to take care of the palace.

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