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2001-09-19

Robert Byron
B. 2.26.05 Wiltshire, England / D. 2.24.41 North Atlantic
Shipwreck

Afghanistan, 1934 On approaching Herat, the road from Persia keeps close under the mountains till it meets the road from Kushk, when it turns downhill towards the town. We arrived on a dark but starlit night. This kind of night is always mysterious; in an unknown country, after a sight of the wild frontier guards, it produced an excitement such as I have seldom felt. Suddenly the road entered a grove of giant chimneys, whose black outlines regrouped themselves against the stars as we passed. For a second, I was dumbfounded—expecting anything on earth, but not a factory; until, dwarfed by these vast trunks, appeared the silhouette of a broken dome, curiously ribbed, like a melon. There is only one dome in the world like that, I thought, that anyone knows of: the Tomb of Tamerlane at Samarcand. The chimneys therefore must be minarets. I went to bed like a child on Christmas Eve, scarcely able to wait for the morning. . .Morning comes. Stepping out on to a roof adjoining the hotel, I see seven sky-blue pillars rise out of the bare fields against the delicate, heather-coloured mountains. Down each the dawn casts a highlight of pale gold. In their midst shines a blue melon-dome with the top bitten off. Their beauty is more than scenic, depending on light or landscape. On closer view, every tile, every flower, every petal of mosaic contributes its genius to the whole. Even in ruin, such architecture tells of a golden age. Has history forgotten it?

Quotation from Journey to Oxiana (1937)

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