Background – Location and History
Note: A detailed documentation on the Minaret’s history can be found in the document for its nomination into UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.
The Minaret of Jam is located in Shahrak District of the Ghur Province in Afghanistan. It is situated on the intersection of the Jam River and Hari River. Standing in a very isolated valley, the Minaret is surrounded by barren mountains.
Built in 1194 A.D., the Minaret is the only surviving monument of the 12th century Ghurid Empire. It stands 64 meters (213 feet) high, the second tallest ancient minaret in the world. The Minaret of Jam is believed to have marked the city of Firuzkuh, an ancient capital. Some ruins of the city still exist, such as walls, tunnels, and rocks with Hebrew inscriptions. This town, also know as The Turquoise Mountain, is believed to have been a very prominent center for commerce.
The Minaret is covered in geometric decorations and, in parts, with beautiful turquoise tiles. Running through the tower is a double spiral staircase. The amazing architecture is the main reason for the Minaret’s existence on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. It is an outstanding example of Islamic architecture and ornamentation in the region and played a significant role for further dissemination (UNESCO 2016). This is exemplified by the only taller ancient minaret in the world, Qutb Minar in Delhi, which was directly based on the Minaret of Jam.
Threats to the Minaret
In 2002, the Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam joined the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger. (UNESCO 2016) At that time, an advisory body evaluation was done documenting the past attempts at preservation.
Erosion is one of the greatest threats to the Minaret of Jam. The Hari River comes right up to the base of the Minaret. Yearly flooding over time has weakened the base and the tower now has a significant lean. Many fear the entire minaret may collapse and be washed away.
The Minaret was first documented in 1944, and later rediscovered by archaeologists in 1957. Throughout the 1960’s and ’70’s, small measures were taken to protect the Minaret from floods and erosion. The base was reinforced with a timber and stone dam. UNESCO funded some basic maintenance of the gabions in 1978. In 1999 stone walls were built upstream to help protect the Minaret’s base from flood water. (ICOMOS 2002: 2-3)
In 2001 the amount of erosion was found to be getting more serious. After UNESCO recognized the Minaret as a threatened site in 2002, groups of scientists and archaeologists came together to try and determine a solution to the problem. In 2012 a UNESCO document was made outlining monitoring plans using 3D scans, hydraulic measures, and other techniques. These plans also included a desire to strengthen support beams and walls. (UNESCO 2012: 4-6) However, because of political strain, lack of funds, and the difficult terrain that surrounds the area, it seems little progress has been made. (WENA 2016) And, though UNESCO continues to affirm the Minaret’s existence on its list of sites in danger and committees continue to meet, there are no current articles with further plans for protection.
Not as much of an issue as erosion, it is still important to note that Afghanistan does have earthquakes, which pose a threat to the precarious position the Minaret is in.
Unlawful taking of artifacts seems to have plagued every archaeological site, and the archaeological remains of the Minaret of Jam are no exception. The extensive taking of artifacts from the surrounding area, as well as bricks from the Minaret itself, is a further reason for its existence on UNESCO’s list of sites in danger and in 2002 was considered one of the greatest threats to the site. (UNESCO 2002: 15)
Some of the bricks from the ancient walls on the site have been used to make new buildings in nearby villages of Jam. Antique trade is big business. As always, repercussions of looting include permanent loss of information, and serious damage to property. Archaeologists vs. Looters is a never ending battle. Unfortunately, political unrest is hindering improvements to security, and the threat of the Taliban makes progress very difficult. (WENA 2016)
This video is a great summary of the Minaret of Jam: Discover Afghanistan-The Minaret of Jam
Insight For the Future – How Archaeologists Can Help
There is a lot that can be done to help the site of Jam. Engineers worked together to save the Leaning Tower of Pesa. New steps in security management have protected other ancient sites. Archaeologists have recreated entire cities and damage to the Minaret could be restored.
But archaeologists are not gods. For sites in Afghanistan, like Jam and like the Bamiyan Valley, war, political strain, and terrorists, pose a threat that archaeologists simply cannot fix. With these constant distractions, places like the Minaret of Jam are not of the highest priority.
There is hope though. The Afghani people are proud of their tower. Replications have been made in cities. The Minaret still inspires architecture today. They are pushing UNESCO to do more. (WENA 2016) If somehow the archaeologists, both Afghani and of foreign nationality, can come together and convince the landowners, politicians, and warlords, to let them in and protect these amazing places, then the biggest hurdle will be gone. This is the Afghani’s culture and heritage. These places are their successes. Hopefully they are willing to see them protected; so the Minaret of Jam may watch over the river valley… for hundreds of years to come.
2002 Minaret of Jam (Afghanistan) No211rev. Electronic document,
http://whc.unesco.org/document/152988,, accessed December 4, 2016
2002 Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (World Heritage Scanned Nomination). Electronic document,
http://whc.unesco.org/uploads/nominations/211rev.pdf, accessed December 4, 2016.
2012 Final Recommendations. Electronic document, https://goo.gl/ZU5Tuy , accessed December 4, 2016.
2016 Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam. Electronic document,
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/211 , accessed December 4, 2016.
2016 Minaret of Jam. Electronic document, http://www.wena24.com/minaret-of-jam , accessed
December 4, 2016.