In Afghanistan, Visiting Kabul's Old City : The Picture Show There is a small part of the city called Murad Khane, where centuries-old homes and courtyards were buried under trash. One foundation is working to conserve the historical richness. NPR's Jim Wildman and photographer David Gilkey visited the site.

In Afghanistan, Visiting Kabul's Old City

In Afghanistan, Visiting Kabul's Old City

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Venturing deep into the corners and warrens of Kabul's Old City, we stepped over gullies of exposed sewer pipes and tip-toed around an open swath of earth where men were laying the foundation for a new building.

Airborne sawdust coated my microphones. The sounds of hard work were everywhere: iron hammers, the roll of rusty wheelbarrows, the shouts of men, the trickle of a water pump, the pull of mud on boots and sandals.

Haidarab lives in Kabul's Old City, where he helps supervise a project to restore centuries-old homes and courtyards. Jim Wildman/NPR hide caption

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Jim Wildman/NPR

There in a small part of Kabul's Old City called Murad Khane, centuries-old homes and courtyards were being restored. Long ago, craftsmen had carved these structures out of wood. Years of war and poverty and neglect had left the place all-but-withered and full of trash.

New builders were there now, backed by the non-profit Turquoise Mountain Foundation. The effort is trying -- quickly -- to restore this portion of Kabul's dignity and history before it is lost forever.

We were in awe of their astonishingly well-crafted work.

Until we met Haidarab.

He supervises a portion of a renovation project -- and as soon as he told us his family had been living in Murad Khane for generations, the art of the old wood around us became a lot less interesting.

Haidarab's ancestors were the very ones who came to this city centuries before. They were the jewelers and tailors and others who'd been imported from Afghanistan's hinterlands to serve an early king. The Old City had been built for them so they'd be close to the king's beck and call.

Haidarab's forebears had been among those servants of the ancient court.

And -- yet again in Afghanistan -- I was learning about the country's ancient history from the face (and the smile) of a man standing before me.