Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan - Historical Columns and towers
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10-05-2018    948 times
Minaret Jam Afghanistan

Located in a remote and nearly inaccessible region of the Shahrak District in Ghor Province of Afghanistan, the 203 feet (62m) tall Minaret of Jam is a graceful, soaring structure, dates back to the 12th century. It was constructed and used for the purpose to provide a vantage point for the call to prayer.

Far from the madding crowd of any important locality and at 1,900 m above the sea level, the Minaret rises within a rugged valley, at the confluence of the Jam and the Hari River, around 215 km east of Herat. The magnificent Minar is the only surviving monument from a group of around 60 minarets and towers built between the 11th and the 13th centuries in the Ghurid Empire that once ruled Central Asia, Afghanistan, parts of eastern Iran, and parts of Pakistan and northern India. The minarets are thought to have been built as symbols of Islam's victory, while the towers were simply an exhibition of power and grandeur. The Minaret of Jam is probably located at the site of the ancient city of Firuzkuh, where the summer residence of the Ghurid emperors was located.

It is considered by many that the Minar was built in 1194, to commemorate the victory of the Ghurid sultan Ghiyas ud-Din over the Ghaznevids in 1186 in Lahore. However, according to Dr. Ralph Pinder-Wilson, the Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies, the minaret was built to celebrate the victory of Mu'izz ad-Din, the brother of Ghiyas ud-Din, over the famous Hindu King Prithviraj Chauhan, a victory which paved the way of Islam to spread into the northern Indian subcontinent.

Minaret of Jam
Minaret of Jam - aerial view
Minaret of Jam
Top of the Minaret of Jam

The Minaret of Jam, a grand example of Islamic architecture, is the second tallest ancient minaret in the world, coming behind only the Qutub Minar in Delhi. Rising from an octagonal base, its four superimposed, tapering cylindrical shafts stacked on top of each other, are built entirely of baked bricks bonded with lime mortar, with a blue tile inscription at the top. It is decorated with elaborate designs and geometric patterns, stucco and beautiful glazed tiles, which are arranged in a systematic way of alternative bands of different types of calligraphy and verses from the Holy Quran. The dramatic location of the Minar, set in a deep and desolate river valley between rough towering mountains in the heart of a rugged valley, enormously heightened its dignified impact.

The majestically graceful Minaret of Jam is one among the very few ancient monuments, which proudly evidences the extraordinary artistic skill and creativity along with profound knowledge in structural engineering of the particular period. From the point of view of the history of art, it is an outstanding example of the architecture and ornamentation of the Islamic period in Central Asia. It is said that the Minar has direct architectural influence over the Qutub Minar, located in the city of Delhi in India. Its formal presentation has also a striking similarity to the minaret built by Masud III, in Ghazni.

Minaret of Jam
Intricate decorations and inscriptions
Minaret of Jam
Minaret of Jam
Caligraphic decorations.

The Minaret of Jam is surrounded by a group of ruined structures, which include fortifications, a pottery kiln, a Jewish cemetery and stones with Hebrew inscriptions from the 11th to 12th centuries on the Kushkak hill. It also includes 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.

It is suggested that, the minaret was once connected to a great mosque along the riverbank. It has also been reported that, evidence of the building and a massive courtyard has been found near the site. It is also suggested by many that the minaret is the only remaining structure of the lost city of the Turquoise Mountain, one of the greatest urban civilizations of its time, and a bastion of tolerance, where all religions were accepted. The rest of the lost city perished during Mongol invasions in the 1220s possibly leaving behind only the minaret.

Surprisingly, the world outside of Afghanistan was not very much aware of the Minaret till 1886, when Sir Thomas Holdich reported about it, while working for the Afghan Boundary Commission. Ridiculously, despite the report, the long neglected Minar succeeded to draw world attention only in 1957, through the work of the French archaeologists Andre Maricq and Gaston Wiet. Major study of the site was completed in the 1970s before the Soviet invasion of 1979, when once again the place was cut off from the world outside. As late as 2002, the minaret was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the one of the only two in Afghanistan.

Minaret of Jam
Minaret of Jam
Flooding of the Hari Rud River has damaged the base of the Minar

Unfortunately, the Minaret of Jam is also on the list of World Heritage in Danger. In fact, centuries of negligence and frequent flash of floods along with regular earthquakes are threatening the 800-year-old structure in the remote Ghor province. It was reported by the BBC in 2014 that, the tower was in imminent danger of collapse. According to the local officials, a good portion of the decorative bricks of the tower has already collapsed and the tower is leaning steadily. Apart from regular erosion due to the harsh and rough weather of Afghanistan, it is threatened by water infiltration and frequent floods of the neighbouring rivers. In the meantime the floods have already caused major damage to the base of the monument. In addition to that, earthquakes can pose to be the biggest threat to the desolate monument. The Minaret of Jam is located very near to the Hari Rud fault, which is an earthquake prone area and the frequent earthquakes in the region is a constant threat to Minaret of Jam, which could topple the only legacy of the city of Turquoise Mountain.

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    Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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