Built back in 1190s by the once great Ghorid empire, this enigmatic and intricately-ornamented ancient "skyscraper" stands like a missile pointing at the stars - a 65-meter high minaret, the second biggest religious monument of its kind in the world.
Originally it was topped by the lantern - making it a sort of the dry land lighthouse (!), surrounded by the 2400m high mountains:
(Note a white jeep crossing the river in photo above: there was a bridge before, but it was destroyed during wartime...)
Amazingly, this imposing structure was standing forgotten for centuries... until rediscovered in 1886 by Sir Thomas Holdich; then forgotten again and rediscovered in 1957. Then the Soviet invasion in 1979 again prohibited access to the area, and since then only a handful of people from outside of Afghanistan have seen the minaret, because of its middle-of-nowhere location (check its coordinates on Google Maps)
Perhaps the most intricate religious carvings on Earth
The minaret displays an incredibly intricate baked-brick work, stucco and glazed tile ornamentation (containing Kufic and Naskhi calligraphy and verses from the Qur'an, relating to Mary, the mother of Jesus):
Dan Cruickshank, who visited the place, writes about the carvings: "This chapter, called Maryam, tells of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, both venerated in Islam, and of prophets such as Abraham and Isaac. It's a text that emphasises what Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common, rather than their differences. It seems the Ghorids placed the text here to appeal for harmony and tolerance in the land, a message that is more relevant now than ever."
The stupedous structure of the minaret of Jam is actually only a part of The City of the Turquoise Mountain, which is the lost Afghan capital of the Middle Ages - Firuzkuh (Firuz Koh). The city was once a prospering, multicultural center - before it was destroyed by a son of Genghis Khan in the early 1220s. The site even includes a Jewish cemetery, complete with carvings in Hebrew! This seems to prove a sizeable Judeo-Persian trading community, that was thriving there and had connections to other such Jewish centers in Medieval Afghanistan.
The mysterious ruins of Qasr Zarafshan are just across the river, looming over the Minaret - note their location on a hill upper right, in the right image below:
Outstanding travel photographer Jane Sweeney has many galleries dedicated to such mysterious and ancient sites in Afghanistan. Below you see another fragment of the Qasr Zarafshan, and on the top right - Caravanserai, Daulitiar, between Yakawlang and Chakhcharan:
It's a wonder how this ancient tower still stands at all, considering constant floods and powerful earthquakes frequent in the area! Today, some effort is underway to strengthen the tower's foundation, but there is also another problem: many pillagers dig for gold in the area and sell the findings on the local markets...
View from minaret (note the trucks below to get a sense of scale):
Old Kabul has some very imposing and ancient fortresses, haunted by history of some preposterous massacres and almost constant warfare. This is the Upper Bala Hissar viewed from West Kabul around 1879:
Afghanistan was often synonymous with political and religious strife throughout our day and age, but it was not always so: here is a very lovely photograph of girls in Kabul in the 1960s, and the smiling stewardesses of the 1960s Ariana Afghan Airlines:
Afghanistan is also the source for Lapis Lazuli stone - a favorite of pharaohs in Ancient Egypt:
Some other things Afghanistan is famous for: - green tea (hundred varieties) - pomegranates - exotic markets (see Afghan women buying Naan bread in the photo below) - opium poppies - safron spices - fabulous Afghan Rugs
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