Darul Aman Palace is a magnificent structure, even in its current decrepit state. It sits on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, one of the world’s fastest-growing cities. The neoclassical building is surrounded by unkempt Venetian-style gardens, and there are several large holes in the walls, left when more than 100 delicately cast windows were blown out over the years.
The palace has become the center of a debate over the extent to which symbols of Afghanistan’s turbulent history should be preserved. “I pass this palace every day on my way to work. It hurts me to look at it,” says Hikmat Noori, a young professional from Kabul. “It is time we move forward and away from our dark days. Why should we have to relive the actions of our aggressors?”
It was once referred to as the “Versailles of Afghanistan,” built in a period when all anyone could foresee for the country was decades of economic prosperity and regional supremacy. King Amanullah Khan commissioned the palace in 1920 during a modernization spree of the country. The name Darul Aman, which literally translates to “a place for peace,” in Dari, was meant to convey the direction Afghanistan was headed in.
Nearly a century later, the palace has become a quiet testimony to the decades of war and conflict that have ravaged Afghanistan. The crumbling ruins still reflect a little of the part-European, part-Persian architecture of the original structure. Its walls bear hundreds of bullet holes, telltale reminders of the many conflicts it has seen.
The roof of the palace was destroyed through consistent shelling in the civil war. Photo by: Ivan Flores
It isn’t just bombs and bullets that wrecked the palace. Time has taken a toll on the building, and opportunists have taken the rest. It has been stripped of all fixtures that held any resale value in a wartime economy. Many of the exposed beams and wires have been pulled out and sold in local markets. The electrical sockets are long gone.
In 1969, a massive fire gutted the building. It was restored and became home to the country’s defense ministry, until it was attacked once again by Soviet forces during the coup d’état of 1978. A little more than a decade later, the palace became a frontline in the civil war between various Afghan warlords fighting for control of Kabul. Later, in the 1990s, it continued to deteriorate during the Taliban regime, which may not have inflicted any damage to the palace, but did nothing to preserve what remained of it either. In 2005, after the fall of the Taliban, plans were announced to turn it into a house of Parliament, but those didn’t develop and in 2012 it became a target of a resurgent Taliban.
Politicians, Afghan and foreign, have made countless empty promises about restoring the structure. Then, about three years ago, the city of Kabul announced plans to turn the palace into a restaurant. The municipality finally started construction on the restaurant last year, but was forced to stop when President Ashraf Ghani intervened. Fixing up the palace was among his many campaign promises, but many objected to the plans for an eatery.