Herat (hĕrätˈ) [key], city (1984 est. pop. 161,000), capital of Herat prov., NW Afghanistan, on the Hari Rud. The fertile river valley is renowned for its fruits, especially grapes. Herat has textile weaving and carpet industries and is a market for wool, carpets, dried fruits, and nuts. The city walls are gone, but the citadel remains, has been restored, and houses a national museum. Other landmarks include the Great Mosque (first built 12th cent.) and several exquisite minarets. Herat, whose inhabitants are mainly Tajiks, is also noted for its bazaars and its highly decorated gharries (horse-drawn cabs). Paved roads lead to the Turkmenistan border.
Herat, an ancient city, is identified with the Haroyu of the Vendidad (Zoroastrian priestly code), the Haraiva of Achaemenian inscriptions, and the Aria of the Greeks. Its strategic location on the trade route from Persia to India and on the caravan road from China and central Asia to Europe has long made Herat an object of contention among the powers of the day. Although taken by various conquerors, it remained under the Persian empire for several centuries. The Mongols under Jenghiz Khan devastated Herat in 1221. Timur took the city in 1383; under his later successors, Shah Rukh and Husayn, it enjoyed prosperity, and its court was a center of art and learning. The Uzbeks took Herat in the early 16th cent.; later it was disputed between the Persians and the rulers of an emerging Afghanistan. In the mid-19th cent., British pressure checked Persian claims to Herat, which in 1881 was taken by Abd ar-Rahman Khan and finally confirmed as part of a united Afghanistan. During the 1979–89 Soviet occupation, it was a military command center for Soviet forces.