All rights reserved.




Palace of dreams

by Kari Eloranta

In the beginning it was the king who had a dream. Sometime around 1920's King Amanullah of Afghanistan decided that his new capital should be at Darulaman. A beautiful valley some seven kilometers away from the dirt and noise of central Kabul. There, on a low hill at the center of the valley was to be the most spectacular of the new buildings, the Palace.

In time such it became, and was, for quite a while. Designed by a French architect M. Godard, the Darulaman Palace was a splendid sight. Sitting at a commanding position it had regal quality few palaces anywhere have. Next to it the National Museum - itself housed in a fine building - shrunk into a common government compound. A poplar lined avenue, Jade Darulaman, ruler straight for all its three kilometers, lead to the Palace gates. It is said to have given the subjects enough time to prepare for homage as the king's Rolls Royce was seen leaving the hill.

Years went by and the Palace saw its inhabitants come and go. The king, various ministers, generals and inbetween idle periods when just its crown like presence was felt in the valley. It bothered some, among them the communists and the Taliban. But the real wrath fell on it only in the 1990s, ironically from former staunch monarchists, the holy warriors of the mujahideen.

Now the Palace is just a wreck in a melancholic sea of utterly destroyed Darulaman district. Towards the end of the Afghan war the frontline between the various mujahideen factions and the Taliban rolled over it countless times. The building, being on high ground offered a fine observation point for the artillery. And in spite of increasing destruction it still was the singular prize item in the commanders' eyes. It was shelled at abandon, fought over at close range and repeatedly booby trapped when its loss was at sight.

The never ending shelling filled the Palace with unexploded ordinance but this did little to deter the fighters. They inhabited the building throughout the 90s. While there they of course looted it. The furniture, the chandeliers, the marble, the plumbing,... anything removable was hauled away. They left seemingly very little. So it appears at first sight.

Today the Palace is a strange place to walk through. It has not been demined. You thread very light indeed. You stop frequently. To judge the rubble ahead - whats underneath? Sometimes you can see at one glance several rooms though a shell hole penetrating them all. On the walls and ceilings you observe the jagged markings of the ripped off wires. They look like wounds. But chances are that gradually your attention is captured by the drawings on the walls.

The graffiti from the soldiers hand. Him yearning after his long lost family, his impressions of the fellow soldiers of god, fragments of the daily horror he faced. A half finished picture. Perhaps he wasn't there anymore to complete it or the picture was too hard for him to bear. A shaken soul.

Sometimes the sketch looks like a faint dream. A simple house with a tree in leaf next to it. In this palatial place, a hut. An intact hut. In a ruined city on the wrecked walls of former king's dream Palace there are traces of an Afghani still dreaming.

No changes without the author's permission. The pictures are to be in the main role. The author visited Afghanistan during the summer 2003.

Copyright, photos and text, by Kari Eloranta. Contact, email:, phone: (+358-) 0443775470