Herat dates back to the Avestan times and was traditionally known for its wine. The city has a number of historic sites, including the Herat Citadel and the Musallah Complex. During the Middle Ages Herat became one of the important cities of Khorasan, as it was known as the Pearl of Khorasan. It has been governed by various Afghan rulers since the early 18th century. In 1717, the city was invaded by the Hotaki forces until they were expelled by the Afsharids in 1729. After Nader Shah's death and Ahmad Shah Durrani's rise to power in 1747, Herat became part of Afghanistan. It witnessed some political disturbances and military invasions during the early half of the 19th century but the 1857 Treaty of Paris ended hostilities of the Anglo-Persian War.
Herat lies on the ancient trade routes of the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and today is a regional hub in western Afghanistan. The roads from Herat to Iran, Turkmenistan, and other parts of Afghanistan are still strategically important. As the gateway to Iran, it collects high amount of customs revenue for Afghanistan. It also has an international airport. The city has high residential density clustered around the core of the city. However, vacant plots account for a higher percentage of the city (21%) than residential land use (18%) and agricultural is the largest percentage of total land use (36%). Today the city is considered to be relatively safe.
Herat dates back to ancient times (its exact age remains unknown). During the period of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BC), the surrounding district was known as Haraiva (in Old Persian), and in classical sources the region was correspondingly known as Aria (Areia). In the Zoroastrian Avesta, the district is mentioned as Haroiva. The name of the district and its main town is derived from that of the chief river of the region, the Herey River (Old Dari Hereyrud, "Silken Water"), which traverses the district and passes some 5 km (3.1 mi) south of modern Herāt. Herey is mentioned in Sanskrit as yellow or golden color equivalent to Persian "Zard" meaning Gold (yellow). The naming of a region and its principal town after the main river is a common feature in this part of the world—compare the adjoining districts/rivers/towns of Arachosia and Bactria.
The district Aria of the Achaemenid Empire is mentioned in the provincial lists that are included in various royal inscriptions, for instance, in the Behistun inscription of Darius I (ca. 520 BC). Representatives from the district are depicted in reliefs, e.g., at the royal Achaemenid tombs of Naqsh-e Rustam and Persepolis. They are wearing Scythian-style dress (with a tunic and trousers tucked into high boots) and a twisted Bashlyk that covers their head, chin and neck.
Hamdallah Mustawfi, composer of the 14th century work The Geographical Part of the Nuzhat-al-Qulub writes that: