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"QUANTUM SHOT" #709
Link - article by Avi Abrams


      The 12-Century Wonder and Mystery of Afghanistan

      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)

      
      (image credit:
        Keith Mellnick)

      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."

      
      (image
        via)

      The Lost City of the Turquoise Mountain

      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:

      
      (images
        via)

      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:

      
      
      (top images, right image below credit:
        Jane Sweeney)

      The "Leaning Tower", threatened by erosion

      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):

      
      (image credit:
        Keith Mellnick,
        via)

      Hindu Kush Mountains provide an awesome background to the monument

      Here is the Hindu Kush Mountains aerial panorama - read more about this
      region
      here

      
      (image credit: J P C van Heijst,
        Flying Dutchman)

      Gilgit, a beautiful village on the Karakoram Highway (Gilgit-Baltistan
      area), has a kind of background that asks to be put in an epic fantasy movie:

      
      (image credit: Basil Pao,
        Palin's Travels)

      Very colorful scene: Burusho women sorting apricots grown in the Hunza
      valley close to the Karakoram Highway (which spans Pakistan, Afghanistan
      and China):

      
      (image
        via)

      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:

      
      (image
        via)

      Scotland-based
      Turquoise Mountain foundation
      leads a charitable effort to bring old glory back to Kabul - see photo
      coverage on
      National Geographic. 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

      
      
      (images via
        1,
        2)

      As in every travel and in every land, the people's faces tell the story:

      
      (images credit:
        Keith Mellnick)

      CONTINUE TO "LEBANON: SWITZERLAND OF THE MIDDLE EAST" ->




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YOUR COMMENTS::

12 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

I would definitely recommend reading 'The Places in Between' by Rory Stewart. It's his brilliant account of his journey walking from Herat to Kabul.

It's such a fantastic book, and I mention it here because Stewart encounters the minaret at some point along his route.

___  
Blogger Gaidig said...

Beautiful! On the other hand, I doubt the tower was truly lost, just unknown to Europeans and Americans. I am fairly certain that the local Afghan people knew it was there. I feel like it's disingenuous to act as though Westerners' knowledge is the only one that counts.

___  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gaidig, the phrase that the tower was forgotten meant that it was forgotten to westerners, given the context of the rest of the text. I feel that it is a rush to judgement to feel that a phrase like that implies western arrogance.

___  
Blogger Jenny Woolf said...

My great grandfather was in Afghanistan in Victorian times bringing telegraph cables. I wish he had kept a diary or taken photos.

___  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really wish I could see something like that in the area of Afghanistan I am in. It is truly beautiful. Here... not so much. As I side note, we could all learn something from the message of tolerance on that tower.

___  
Blogger Vagabond1066 said...

Is it a sign of tolerance, or a symbol of defiance built by those who had been conqured and forced to submit to islam? A leaning minaret covered in references to their native faiths built to show the contempt they felt for their new masters.

___  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice, but those aren't opium poppies. They are flanders poppies

___  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post.

___  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a wonderful tower. I'm surprised that those ambassadors of cultural tolerance and religious freedom, the taliban, haven't blown it up by now.

___  
Blogger ABC said...

Great post

___  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Careful now Anonymous, we could easily replace 'Taliban' by USA, Britain, Spain or any other number of Western governments over the years that have treated countless other countries around the world to exactly the same regime.

I rarely quote the Bible, but the proverb about taking the plank out of your eye before removing the speck from another's seems appropriate.

___  
Anonymous BesteSaffraan said...

The Saffron flower triggered my enthusiasm to share with you the superb quality Saffron that Herat produces. For those wanting to purchase Afghan Saffron online, visit https://bestesaffraan.nl for certified Afghan and Iranian Saffron for very affordable price.

For those wanting to know more about Saffron, visit the Saffron Page.

___  

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