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Kandahar: Built to Last
Many of Afghan City's Arched Buildings Defy Two Decades of War

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photo gallery View a photo gallery of Kandahar's enduring arches.

Ruins in downtown Kandahar

The facade of this building in downtown Kandahar was destroyed -- but interior arches still stand.
Photo: Steve Inskeep, NPR

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Jan. 14, 2002 -- Residents of Kandahar, Afghanistan, built their city to last. NPR's Steve Inskeep reports for All Things Considered that a common and ancient architectural feature may be responsible.

Kandahar's finest buildings, he says, "are made with hundreds of arches -- arched windows and doors, vaulted ceilings, arched passageways from room to room. And in the ruins of Kandahar's buildings, the arches still stand -- even after house-to-house fighting destroyed the roofs, smashed the doors, burned the floors, and killed the occupants."

When the world's donor nations meet next week, they are expected to commit billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan. So for the first time in two decades, Afghanistan's leaders are thinking seriously about reconstruction.

Much of the aid will focus on emergency needs like de-mining and medical care. But those immediate problems are only the beginning for a country where fighting has devastated whole cities, Inskeep reports.

Boy and ruins in Kandahar

Families find shelter in Kandahar's arched ruins.
Photo: Steve Inskeep, NPR

In Kandahar, a sign outside a downtown building reads, in English, "Kandahar Plan Department." The new chief planner, Mohammed Rahim Rahimy, approaches the daunting task of reconstruction without even a street map of Kandahar. But, he says, he doesn’t need it: "I know every street, and every home on every street."

When he thinks of Kandahar's future, Rahim dreams of Kandahar's past, of the old city fixed in his head. "We just want to build back all the buildings as they were," he says. He recalls a Kandahar that has all but disappeared -- classical buildings lining broad avenues and graceful traffic circles, destroyed one after the other beginning in 1979.

Just last fall, American bombs devastated another building -- the massive one the Taliban used as the headquarters of the religious police. But as with many once-splendid Kandahar landmarks, a remnant remains: the arches and columns of the classical facade.

Browse more NPR stories on Kandahar.

In Depth

photo gallery Inskeep's photos of war-ravaged Afghanistan from Dec. 10, 2001.

photo gallery Pictures and audio from Afghanistan by NPR correspondent Eric Weiner.

Other Resources

Lonely Planet Guide: Afghanistan