Ultra-rare colour images of Afghanistan in 1928

Ultra-rare colour images of Afghanistan in 1928 reveal a land of manicured gardens, elegant palaces and serene tree-lined avenues

  • Late French photographer Frédéric Gadmer spent several months exploring Afghanistan in 1928
  • He had been recruited as part of a global photography project initiated by French philanthropist, Albert Kahn
  • Gadmer’s colour photos show various landmarks in the region that have since been laid to waste 

Looking idyllic with manicured gardens, grand historical buildings and stunning mountain ranges, this is Afghanistan in the late 1920s. 

This series of ultra-rare colour photographs shows a country that stands in stark contrast to the war-blighted nation that we’re more familiar with today. 

They were taken as part of The Archives of the Planet photography project, which was initiated by the late French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn and resulted in an archive of 72,000 pictures from around the world. These are now housed at the Albert Kahn museum in Paris. 

Between 1909 and 1931, Kahn sent photographers out to more than 50 countries to document what they saw. This set of photographs was taken by Frédéric Gadmer, who explored the region for several months in 1928. Gadmer’s sun-drenched snapshots of a peaceful Afghanistan were recently unearthed by RFE/RL photographer Amos Chapple and kindly shared with MailOnline Travel. 

The collection includes an image of the Darul Aman Palace, as it looked in 1928 – a tribute to the optimism of the age. Its grandiose exteriors were to be a foretaste of a new capital city, Darulaman, which was to be built around it, about 16 miles southwest of Kabul. However, a change in leadership thwarted its completion and any aspirations of becoming the capital.

Another shot shows the stunning gardens in the town of Paghman. They used to be a picture of paradise with colourful flowers and classical fountains but now the area has been completely bulldozed and even the trees have been wiped out. Scroll down to see a time when Afghanistan buzzed with beauty, instead of bullet fire…  

Looking idyllic with manicured gardens, grand historical buildings and stunning mountain ranges, this is Afghanistan in the late 1920s. This series of ultra-rare colour photographs shows a country that stands in stark contrast to the war-blighted nation that we know today. Above, a view over the landscaped gardens in Paghman, which were commissioned and built in the early 1900s by Amanullah Khan, the sovereign of Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929

A fountain in the Paghman gardens in 1928 – a more charming and genteel period in Afghanistan. Waves of fighting in the 1980s and 1990s obliterated the gardens, reducing it to unrecognisable rubble

Though these visitors to Kabul’s Paghman gardens are captured in 1928, nine years after Afghanistan gained independence from the British, their pith-helmeted getup and the architectural backdrop hark back to a more colonial era  

The images were taken by photographer Frédéric Gadmer over several months while he explored the region in 1928. Gadmer was one of the photographers recruited by the late French banker and philanthropist, Albert Kahn, for his incredible Archives of the Planet photography project. Left is a European woman posing for a portrait in the capital city, Kabul, while a classically-designed clock tower in the town stands at a slight angle on the right

Mr and Mrs Girard, who were the directors of Kabul’s school of agriculture, strike a pose for the camera (left), while elegant sculptures can be seen in Paghman gardens (right). In 1992, a former resident who had lost his family and home after eight years of war returned to the town of Paghman and told a New York Times reporter: ‘It was once so beautiful and now it is all gone’

The Tomb of Ahmad Shah Durrani, located in the city of Kandahar, pictured in September 1928 (left) and in 2014 (right). It is the resting place of Ahmad Shah Durrani, who is seen as the founder of the state of Afghanistan

Gadmer’s sun-drenched snapshots of a peaceful Afghanistan were recently unearthed by RFE/RL photographer Amos Chapple and kindly shared with MailOnline Travel. Above, a manicured garden on the outskirts of Kabul, complete with a pond and fountain 

A triumphal arch in the Paghman gardens near Kabul, seen in 1928 (left), commemorates the victims of the 1919 war against the British, which is known in Afghanistan as the War of Independence. The top of the structure was blasted off during fighting in the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s but is shown restored to its former glory in 2007 (right)

The Darul Aman Palace on the outskirts of Kabul as it looked in 1928 (left). It was to be a foretaste of what would be the new capital. The palace was another project of Amanullah Khan but, after Islamic hard-liners forced him from power in 1929, its construction was stalled and Darulaman’s aspirations of becoming the capital were thwarted. The palace has suffered considerable damage over the years as an image from 2011 shows (right)

The Darul Aman Palace, as depicted from the back in 1928 (left), was to herald an age of grandeur in a new capital city – a dream that was never realised. The beacon of 1920s optimism fell into disrepair during the conflicts of the 1980s and 1990s, so its bullet-pocked appearance – shown here in another modern-day shot, this time in 2002 (right) – became more symbolic of Afghanistan’s lawlessness. Plans are afoot to restore the palace to its former glory in time for the centenary of Afghan independence in August 2019

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A goldsmith at work in a mud-walled courtyard in Kabul in 1928 (above) embodies Afghanistan’s prosperity in the Roaring Twenties. He is one of the subjects immortalised by photographer Frédéric Gadmer during the Archives of the Planet project

The pastel-painted exterior of a Kabul corner house in 1928 (above), set amid foliage, conveys an innocence that is to be lost

The blue and white neo-classical portico adorning the facade of a Kabul house in 1928 (above) is reminiscent of Wedgwood 

After gaining independence from the British in 1919, Afghans were keen to stamp their own identity on their country while still borrowing from European style. Flowers, trees and statuary in a Kabul garden in 1928 (above) are testament to the inspiration

With a backdrop not unlike a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, explorers take in the Farah Citadel, in western Afghanistan, in 1928. The 2,500-year-old structure – which has housed Alexander the Great and a Mujahadeen arms depot in its time – has miraculously managed to escape harm during various feuds and heavy bombardment

A woman wearing an elegant outfit is spotted going for a stroll along a tree-lined avenue in Kabul during the summer of 1928

A group of camel herders take a break while journeying through a desert in southern Afghanistan in 1928

In a more serene 1928, a European woman strolls through the Paghman gardens, which these days host dog-fighting contests


August 1919:  A peace treaty recognising the independence of Afghanistan from British influence is signed at Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) on August 8, with the region under the sovereign rule of Amanullah Khan.

November 1933: After Amanullah Khan flees due to social unrest, Zahir Shah is crowned king and Afghanistan remains a monarchy for the following four decades.  

December 1979: The Soviets invade Afghanistan on December 27.  They want to make Afghanistan a modern socialist state and support the Marxist-Leninist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

April 1988: Afghanistan, the USSR, the US and Pakistan sign a set of peace accords after years of negotiation. The Soviet Union begins pulling out troops. 

February 1989: The Soviets leave Afghanistan, largely defeated.

1992: Civil war breaks out as the Mujahedeen groups throw out the Communist government and turn their guns on each other.

1996: The Taliban seizes control of Kabul prohibiting women from work, and introducing Islamic punishments such as stoning to death and amputations.

1997: The Taliban is recognised as the legitimate ruler by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It now controls about two-thirds of country.

Oct 7, 2001: President George W. Bush announces that US and British troops have begun striking Afghanistan for harbouring the al-Qaeda terrorists blamed for the September 11 attacks. 

May 2011: Bin Laden is found hiding in neighbouring Pakistan and is killed in a US special operations raid. There are still about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

June 2011: Saying the US is meeting its goals in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama announces his withdrawal plan: Bring home 10,000 troops by the end of 2011.

May 2014: Obama announces his plan to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, when his second term in office will be drawing to a close.

October 2015: In a reversal, Obama says the situation is too fragile for the American military to leave. He announces plans to keep the force of about 9,800 in place through most of next year to continue counter-terrorism missions and advise Afghans battling a resurgent Taliban. The plan is for the number to decrease to about 5,500 troops in 2017.

September 2016: Afghanistan’s government signs a draft peace deal with the militant group Hezb-e Islami and grants immunity to its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

August 2017: President Donald Trump commits more US troops to Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban.

December 2018: The Taliban welcomes news of the US plan to withdraw half its troops from Afghanistan by the summer, as Afghan generals warn it would be a blow to the morale of the country’s beleaguered security forces.

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