Minaret of Jam - Afghanistan`s Hidden Jewel & a World Heritage
Afghanistan is ancient country located at cross road of Asia, and for ages caravans of merchants and armies of the invaders have passed through the lands of Afghanistan. The minaret of jam, which rises 65 meters above the floor of a narrow valley in west
About 215 kilometers to the east of heart, Lies one of the architectural wonders of the world, a real jewel, hidden in a secret valley, it rises up to the sky, reminding us of man`s quest for the truth and perfection, his eternal longing, in unity with God in havens, this magnificent monument with its magical beauty remains mysterious to the eyes of yielded to reveal its untold secrets so far. Minaret of jam is located at the confluence of the Harirud and Jamrud rivers, in the remote Ghur Province, roughly two thirds of the way from Kabul heart. This graceful soaring structure dates back to 12th century. It was a mystery to architects, how such a structure stood for so long in one of the world`s most active earthquake zones. And historians wondered why it was the only monument left standing by Genghis khan`s Mongol hordes, which devastated the region in 1221. This minaret is one of over 60 towers, dating from between the early 11th and mid 13th centuries, still standing in Afghanistan, Iran and the central Asian republics. The special taste for towers in this period is ascribed to the widespread recognition of the from as an appropriate symbol of the triumph of Islam in the region. Only the Qutb Minar in Delhi` directly inspired by the jam minaret, stands higher, at 238 feet. The minaret of jam is among the earliest surviving examples of the tapering minaret. There are earlier examples in Iran (Sangbast, Damgan Isfahan) and in Afghanistan (Ghazni, Masud), but none of these represents the combination of large dimensions, elegant decoration, and dramatic sitting that characterize the minaret of jam.Geographical And History:
The site is 1900 m about sea level, with nearby mountain peaks reaching nearly 3500m. The harsh winters are often followed by severe flooding as the snows melt. The summers are hot and dry. With little flat land available along the scree covered valleys, local people struggle to survive in a subsistence economy.
The site of jam is believed to have been the summer residence of the Ghurid emperors which means that the minaret probably marks the site of the ancient city of Firuzkuh, the capital of the Ghurid dynasty that ruled Afghanistan and parts of northern India, from Kashgar to the Persian gulf, in the 12th and 13th centuries. An inscription gives the date of construction as 1194, and another gives the name of the powerful reigning Ghurid emperor, sultan Ghiyas ud din (1157-12032).The Ghurids (c.AD1148-1222). First rose to prominence through their struggles with the Ghaznavid and seljuq empires. The Ghaznavid launched expeditions into Ghur in the early eleventh century, and in doing so, introduced Islam to the previously pagan local inhabitants. Although not pacified, Ghor became a strategically significant buffer zone as the Seljuq Empire to the west expanded. In c.1150 the Ghurids responded to Seljuq`s advance with their 7 days sack of ghazna, this battle earned the ghurid commander cAla` ad din husayn the title of jahan suz or `Incendiary of the world`. The ghurid empire expanded greatly under the brothers ghiyas ud Din and Muizz ud Din (the former`s inscription is found on the Minaret of jam). Their armies occupied heart in
The Ghurid Empire expanded greatly under the brothers Ghiyas us-Din and Muizz ud-Din (the former`s inscription is found on the Minaret of jam).
1175 and by 1200 had taken Nishapur (in present day Iran) and the former seljnq capital of Merv (now in Turkmenistan). In the east, Muizz ud-Din led incursions into India, conquering Sindh in 1182 and occupying Delhi in 1192. ` Ghurid banners were even carried into Bengal. It is likely that the Minaret was constructed to commemorate his victory at Delhi in 1192 over the Ghazanvid Empire, hence the name sometimes given to it, the Victory tower. After the death of Ghiyas ud-Din his brother Muizz ud-Din succeeded him. The ghurid Empire came under intense pressure from its neighbors, the Kharizm, from south of the Aralsea, and gradually yielded up its territories. Only at the mountainous retreat, of Parmiyan did the dynasty survive, unlit its last ruler was captured and put to death in 1215.the town of Firuzkuh was destroyed by the Mongol Ogodai in 1222. Given the remoteness of Jam, perhaps it is not surprising that the Minaret remained virtually unknown until the Russo- Afghan Boundary Commission”er-discovered”it in 1986. Eyen then, only a handful of scholars and daring tourists ventured to the site before the Soviet invasion in 1979, and the subsequent decades of turmoil, effectively placed jam out of bounds. News of the existence of this most spectacular monument was first announced in 1943 by the Government of heart, Abdullah Malikyar, but it was not until 1957 when Ahmad Ali kohzad, president of the Afghan historical society, and Andre Maricq of DAFA, visited the site that the full significance of this astounding discovery was appreciated. The minaret`s beauty is not its only attraction it is also a very important key to understanding the history of the ghurid dynasty and medieval Islam, an d, in this regard much of its mystery has yet to be unveiled. Historians and archaeologists have wondered for decades about its initial purpose. Was it part of a mosque, even though there is no sign of one? Or some kind of “victory tower “glorify the Ghurids, who had built an empire and conquered Delhi? Was it, indeed, the site of Firuzkoh, the Ghurid capital destroyed by the Mongols and which has never been found?
Symbol of Islamic Tolerance:
The slender, tapering tower rises from an octagonal base 47feet in diameter. Built in three cylindrical tiers marked by projecting corbelled balconies, it is topped by six-arched circular arcade. It is constructed of fired brick and the first tier of 120 feet is elaborately ornamented in molded buff-colored brick relief. The ornamentation, contained in eight vertical panels corresponding to the octagonal base, consists of a wide variety of geometric and floral design. In design and execution the minaret of jam recalls the minaret built by Mas`ud lll (1099-1114) at Ghazni which served as its model. Winding around the designs of the first tier, passing from one panel to another, there is an epigraphic band containing the entire text of the 19th Sura of the glorious Quran, along Sura entitled Maryam which speaks of mary and the virgin birth, of prophets Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, moses. Aaron, Ismail and of Adam and Noah. It relates how they were guided by the revelations of the merciful, warns unbelievers of the punishments of hell and praises these who embrace the faith the glories of the Garden of Eden. Evan today the minaret with its ancient beauty stands witness as a reminder to the common beliefs that the heavenly inspired religions share, a call for understanding and tolerance, all 976 words are In Kufic script and made of small carved terra-cotta bricks.
The areas below the Quranic inscription are covered with geometric openwork patterns in high relief. Just below the corbels on the first platform there are four floral bands in unglazed brick. There are further Kufic inscription between the first and second balconies and above the latter. Just below the first balcony, a monumental Kufic inscription rises in brilliant tones of Persian –blue above the buff background. This, the only color on the surface, proclaims the name of the ruler responsible for its creation: “Ghiyasuddin Mohammad lbn sam, sultan magnificent! Kind of kings!” within this bands the architect, “Ali, son of……”included his name in smaller letters. His name also appears on the second drum which, like the third, is less elaborately ornamented with Kufic inscriptions and on the bottom of the octagonal base. Inside the “minaret” there is a double-spiral staircase. This interesting architectural creation consists of two distinctly separate staircases which rise, one above the other, to the level of the first balcony. Narrow windows, cunningly placed, so as not to interfere with the exterior design, filter in light and offer breathtaking views of the valley.
A steep double spiral staircase runs through the base and the first cylindrical tier, leading to the summit, There are windows at regular intervals along the staircase. Above the staircases and between the two balconies spanning the interior are six square vaulted brick platforms some six paces apart, connected by steep, narrow steps projecting from the curving wall of the minaret. These platforms are anchored at each corner into the ribs, which run the length of the minaret, starting above the top of the spiral staircase,. Two sided of each platform are open. The first platform has a small circular hole in the center and those above square holes. Six arches, which once supported a small cupola, now disappeared, remain at the top of the structure. The exterior of the shaft of the minaret is completely covered with geometric decoration in relief, laid over the plain structural bricks. The inscription recording the date of the building around the top of the first level consists of a plain raised band with raised circles; the Kufic script is covered with turquoise colored glaze set against plain buff bricks and with a band containing 16 rosettes beneath it.
A group of stones with Hebrew inscriptions was discovered in 1962 on the kushkak hill between the minaret and the village of jam. Believed to date from the 11th -12th century they probably came a nearbyJewish cemetery. Subsequently, eight further, inscriptions have come to light, the oldest from 1012 and the latest form 1202. The remains of castles and towers of the ghurid settlement are to be found on the opposite bank of the Harirud River, north of the minaret and high on the cliff. There are also remains of fortifications, visible to the east of the minaret. These give the impression that the minaret was surrounded not by a settlement but by a military camp (with a small Jewish trading settlement close at hand). The fort was built of thick clay bricks on stone foundations. Also to be seen are the remains of a brick built reservoir 400m above the Harirud River, with outlet pipes, which presumably led originally to the fort. The remains of an early bazaar were destroyed by the local governor in 1964 to permit the construction of a hotel.
Conservation and Authenticity:
The minaret of jam has been the focus of conservation and research for over 45 years. The first official record of the minaret dates from 1944, in the journal anis of the society for afghan history. It was rediscovered in 1957 by André` maricq (CNRS` France). A topographical survey was carried out in 1959 by j Fischer and co-workers from the University of Cambridge and in 1961-62 Andrea Bruno (Istituto ltaliano per IL medioed Extreme orient) conducted an architectural survey (measured drawings and proposal for restoration). Reinforcement of the base of the minaret took place in 1963-64, when a temporary stone and timber dam was built with the assistance of local villagers.
Further surveys were carried out in 1971, 1973, 1974, and 1975 to determine the degree of leaning of the minaret. This was discovered to be moderate and not to compromise the stability of the monument. Basic precautionary stabilization measures were financed by UNESCO in 1978. These consisted of prevention the river from undermining the base of the monument by means of large stone-filled metal gabions. A number of priority tasks were identified, including, regular inspection and maintenance of the gabions, sampling at the base of the minaret to determine the dimensions and structural characteristics of the foundations, archeological survey of an area of 40m radius around the monument, monitoring of the amount of water flowing round the monument, consolidation and repair of the base, possible insertion of a reinforced concrete ring (dependent upon the results of the survey of the foundations), and consolidation and counter-balancing of the structure by means of a balancing basin, provision of equipment and buildings. This work came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the civil war. In mid 1995 Dr. A.W Majimi visited the site and recommended that a gabion wall should be built to protect the minaret from flooding and erosion by the rivers. It was not until 1999 that it was possible to build a wall of stone, reinforced with wood, along the jam river, which only partially solved the problem of erosion. Later that year, following a further mission by Professor Bruno, a similar wall was built to mitigate undercutting of the base. A group of experts that visited jam in august 2001 recorded the fact that erosion was continuing, threatening the foundations of the monument. It was decided to remove the earlier wall, which was contributing to the accelerated erosion , and to create a new 45m long wall of stone-filled gabions 10m upstream, along the bank of the Harirud river., another shorter wall was build along the jam river. At the same time dry stone masonry walls were built along parts of the rivers with the same intention. The most recent technical mission was carried out by Professor Bruno and Professor Giorgio Macchi of Italy in March 2002. Professor Giorgio macchi of Pavia University helped to stabilize the famous leaning tower of Pisa. In his report he drew attention to the serious problem of illicit excavation in the neighborhood of the monument. The protection works carried out in 2000 and 2001had proved effective and so it was now appropriate to proceed with the complete diagnostic examination of the foundations
World Heritage in Danger:
The numerous threats, have led UNESCO, s world heritage committee to add the site to the list of World heritage in Danger, being on both lists (the world heritage list and the list of endangered Sites) is to serve to mobilize the international community so that emergency steps to protect the site can be taken. Afghanistan`s historic monuments and sites have suffered severe dim-
The most recent technical mission was carried out by Professor Bruno and professor macchi of Italy in March 2002.professor Giorgio macchi helped to stabilize the famous leaning tower of Pisa.
Ages in the past Decades. To safeguard those still surviving prompt measures must be planned and implemented by the national authorities with international assistance. UMESCO`s aim with the list of world heritage in Danger is to persuade the international community of the need to boost the protection these sites threatened by mining, industrial pollution, looting war, badly managed tourism, poaching and the like. It is hoped that once they are on the list. They get more effective attention at national level and more international funding.
By: Faheem Hunarwar
Tasvir Afghanistan Magazine