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Afghanistan’s Ancient and Beautiful Minaret of Jam

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The Minaret of Jam, located in Afghanistan’s Ghur province, provided a vantage point for the call to prayer. It remained hidden and forgotten until 1886.

Afghanistan’s Ancient and Beautiful Minaret of Jam

At 1,900 m above sea level and far from any town, the Minaret of Jam rises within a rugged valley along the Hari-rud River at its junction with the river Jam around 215km-east of Herat. Rising to 65m from a 9m diameter octagonal base, its four superimposed, tapering cylindrical shafts are constructed from fired bricks. The Minaret is completely covered with geometric decoration in relief enhanced with a Kufic inscription in turquoise tiles. Built in 1194 by the great Ghurid Sultan Ghiyas-od-din (1153-1203), its emplacement probably marks the site of the ancient city of Firuzkuh, believed to have been the summer capital of the Ghurid dynasty. Surrounding remains include a group of stones with Hebrew inscriptions from the 11th to 12th centuries on the Kushkak hill, and vestiges of castles and towers of the Ghurid settlements on the banks of the Hari River as well as to the east of the Minaret.

The first shape of the Minar cup and the city of Kokark in Ghor, 1163 AD

The Minaret of Jam is one of the few well-preserved monuments representing the exceptional artistic creativity and mastery of structural engineering of the time. Its architecture and ornamentation are outstanding from the point of view of art history, fusing together elements from earlier developments in the region in an exceptional way and exerting a strong influence on later architecture in the region. This graceful soaring structure is an outstanding example of the architecture and ornamentation of the Islamic period in Central Asia and played a significant role in their further dissemination as far as India as demonstrated by the Qutb Minar, Delhi, begun in 1202 and completed in the early 14th century.

Afghanistan’s Ancient and Beautiful Minaret of Jam

Criterion (iv): The Minaret of Jam is an outstanding example of Islamic architecture and ornamentation in the region and played a significant role for further dissemination.

Integrity

Since the building of the Minaret around eight hundred years ago, no reconstruction or extensive restoration work has ever taken place in the area. The archaeological vestiges were surveyed and recorded in 1957 when the remains were first discovered by archaeologists. Subsequent surveys and studies have led only to simple precautionary stabilization measures to the base of the Minaret. Thus, the attributes that express the Outstanding Universal Value of the site, not least the Minaret itself, other architectural forms and their setting in the landscape, remain intact within the boundaries of the property and beyond.

Minar Jam head

Authenticity

The authenticity of the ensemble of the Minaret of Jam and the vestiges that surround it has never been questioned. The Minaret has always been recognised as a genuine architectural and decorative masterpiece by the experts and an artistic chef-d’oeuvre by the aesthetes. Its monumental Kufic inscriptions testify to the remote and glorious origin of its builders as well as giving evidence to its early dating (1194). No reconstruction or extensive restoration work has ever taken place in the area.

Minar Jam, inside

Protection and management requirements

The legal and institutional framework for the effective management of the Minaret and archaeological remains (70ha with a 600ha buffer zone), is regulated by the Department of Historic Monuments on behalf of the Ministry of Information and Culture of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The specific law under which the monument and its landscape are protected is the Law on the Protection of Historical and Cultural Properties (Ministry of Justice, 21 May 2004) which is in force and provides the basis for financial and technical resources.

Minar Jam

The property will be removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger when its desired state of conservation is achieved in accordance with Decision 31 COM 7A.20. This must include the increased capacity of the staff of the Afghan Ministry of Culture and Information who are in charge of the preservation of the property; precise identification of the World Heritage property and clearly marked boundaries and buffer zones; assurance of the long-term stability and conservation of the Minaret; assurance of site security, and a comprehensive management system including the development and implementation of a long-term conservation policy.

Proposals for the protection of the Minaret and its environs are under scientific discussion. They would seek to monitor erosion of the riverbanks adjacent to the Minaret, any further movement in the level of inclination of the monument along with any degradation in the historic fabric in general, and mitigate any adverse observations with appropriate programs of stabilization and conservation measures where necessary. Measures for the protection and monitoring of the wider archaeological site are currently under review and an approved program of research and public awareness raising is likely to be instigated in the long term.

Some scholars hypothesize that Ghengis Khan spared the Minaret of Jam due to its value as a watchtower.

Food alone reveals little about the lives of Firuzkuh’s citizens, but the remains of nearby structures provide a slightly more complete picture. In addition to a bazaar area and a hilltop fortress overlooking Jam, researchers also found Hebrew inscriptions on large stones near the minaret. The stones are thought to have been grave markers for a Jewish cemetery, suggesting Muslims and Jewish people lived together at least somewhat peacefully. But the peace was short-lived, and the Ghurid Empire fell shortly after rising to power.

From the plains of Mongolia came the Mongols, led by Ghengis Khan, who destroyed everything in their path. Some scholars hypothesize that the Minaret of Jam was spared, perhaps due to its value as a watchtower. Whatever the reason for its reprieve, it seems clear that the residents of Firuzkuh were killed or forced to abandon their city. What’s still unknown is whether this exile occurred gradually or in a sudden period of catastrophe.

For hundreds of years, Jam remained hidden and forgotten until it was rediscovered by members of the Afghan Boundary Commission in 1886. But nature provided little assistance in preserving the site. In addition being located near the Hari Rud fault—which makes the area prone to earthquakes—the nearby rivers occasionally flood the valley. According to the historian Juzjani, the area was inundated by a flash flood that covered the abandoned houses. Geological evidence uncovered by archaeologists also suggests this was the case, though there is some uncertainty about the number of times the ancient city was flooded. Fortunately, the minaret withstood all the geologic activity in the region, and still stands today, able to be studied and admired. It reminds us that beneath the surface of every nation lie the stories of thousands of people who lived and died before.

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