Skip to comments.The Mysterious Minaret of Jam
Posted on 07/10/2011 6:48:16 PM PDT by Palter
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."
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:
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):
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:
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)
- 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)
Just a fascinating place, ping.
Beautiful pictures. I’ve heard they have the best pomegranates in the world...
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Can we fly a drone into it?
Thank you for sharing.
I grow my onw saffron.It’s really easy.
Minaret of Jam: a honey of an apricot tower!
“I grow my own saffron.Its really easy.”
There are many old mosques in Iran with similar intricate masonry and glazed tile work. The masonry work on this structure is a spectacular example of architectural art.
Richard Halibutron wrote of the mysterious architectural beauty of Isfahan. This minaret is near Harat and the road into Iran and the long gone mosque was certainly a spectacular architectural work.
About 3 years ago we built a raised bed and planted saffron crocuses.They grow most anywhere as long as you get cooler fall weather:
they are on sale right now.I planted 45 bulbs and got a good bit from them last year.This year I expect even more.:) When the flower blooms in Sept you pull the red strings out of them, lay them on a paper plate and let them dry for a few days then store in a cool dry dark place.I picked up a few little tea tins a few years back and use those to store it in.
Know collocquially as the Smucker’s Minaret of Jam. because it is so wll preserved.
The marmalade of minarets.
I would love to see Isfahan. Maybe, someday, Iran won’t be run by crazy people.
Thanks for a fascinating post.
Interesting that the almost 1000 year old text points to the Abrahamic approach to the 3 religions. The rigid exclusionist Islam of the Saudi Wahabbi desert tribes was a much later development. I have just finished reading The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, by Irshad Manji. She offers a lot of history about the highjacking of Islam and the severely anti woman agenda currently followed. Her website www.muslim-refusenik.com is currently active.
That’s nice, September crocuses, think I’ll try it. Also, looking at the river by the tower, it seems it might mark a ford, as you can see signs of rocks in the current.
I call shenanigans!
That thing aint made of jam.
It is interesting, though.
Great post. Afghanistan is today, one of the richest countries in the world, in terms of mineral wealth.
Oh they are very pretty flower and I always feel so bad when I pick them from thier stems but that is the best way to get the whole string.They also stay green all winter and don’t dies off until the hot weather begins to hit in May June.