Pia Torelli’s photographs document the changing face of a city she first encountered as a young backpacker.

More than 35 years ago, backpacker and self-confessed hippie Pia Torelli arrived in Afghanistan and was enraptured by what she found. From the bustling, cosmopolitan city of Kabul – which Pia recalls as being ‘like a little Paris’ – to the majestic Buddhas of Bamiyan in Hazarajat, the trip sparked an affinity for the country and its people that endures to this day.

Returning in 2002, by now a successful photojournalist, Pia found a very different Afghanistan to the one she remembered. Following years of Taliban rule and the outbreak of war, Kabul was rife with poverty. The 6th Century Buddhas she had climbed as a 22-year-old had been blown up with dynamite. ‘I cried,’ says Pia. ‘It was really devastating. But still I liked the country, and the people.’

Now in her 50s, the Italian photographer has just returned from a third stint in Kabul documenting the city and the people who call it home.

‘Eyes Wide Open – An Afghan Journey’, which opens at the Alliance Francaise on November 27, will feature Pia’s photographs of the Afghan capital from 2002 and from 2013. ‘It is a cross-section of Kabul,’ she says. ‘It was difficult this latest time because my heart was still back in the past. On my previous visit [in 2002], it was sad, but I still felt hope – that was missing this year. But I want people to see the photographs because it’s too easy to forget about this beautiful country and it’s wonderful people. I want people to see that there is life there, that the city needs to raise itself back up to what it once was.’

Eyes Wide Open – An Afghan Journey, Aliiance Francaise, 18th Street, Oud Metha, Dubai. From November 27. Free. Tel: (04) 3414666. piatorelli.com.