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The Minaret of Jam is a large minaret in Afghanistan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been since 2002. It has been considered endangered since its inception into the World Heritage system.
Minarets are spires that are often associated with Muslim mosques. It is from the top of a minaret that the muezzin calls the faithful to pray, and it is for this reason that they are so high. Some mosques have minarets that reach nearly 700 feet (215m), but there are few extremely tall freestanding minarets in the world.
The Minaret of Jam is nearly 215 feet (65m) high. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the entire thing is made of baked bricks. The Minaret of Jam most likely served as the inspiration for the Qutub Minar, which is found in Delhi, in India. The Qutub Minar is nearly 240 feet (73m) tall, just barely beating the Minaret of Jam as the tallest brick minaret in the world.
The Minaret of Jam is most well-known for the intricate decoration that covers it. Stucco and tiles adorn its structure, with incredible examples of calligraphy and beautiful Islamic geometric patterning. Quranic verses also adorn the Minaret of Jam, including the Sura al-Saff and the Sura Maryam. There are twisting staircases on the inside, leading up to two balconies and passing by six large chambers.
The Minaret of Jam, like many minarets built throughout Afghanistan and Iran at the time, was likely built as an enduring symbol of the conquest of Islam in the region. It is likely that the Minaret of Jam was built in the late-12th century by the Ghurid Sultanate, in celebration of their victory over the Turks or Ghaznevids. Originally the Minaret of Jam was probably connected to the historical Mosque of Firuzkuh, which was washed away not long after its construction.
In the early-13th century the region was conquered by the Mongols, and many of the structures were destroyed. The Minaret of Jam remained standing, but was more or less completely forgotten by the outside world following the region’s fall. The minaret remained forgotten for centuries, until it was rediscovered in the late-19th century by the British. In the mid-20th century the site was further surveyed, and more was learned about it before the Soviet’s effectively shut off Afghanistan to the outside world in the late-1970s.
The Minaret of Jam is endangered due to a number of environmental issues. Earthquakes are a constant threat to the structural integrity of the minaret, and both the Jam and Hari rivers regularly flood, slowly working away at the clay. People have on occasion looted sections of the minaret, as well as artifacts from the surrounding region, further leading to the structure’s disintegration. Efforts are underway to help restore and stabilize the Minaret of Jam, but the current situation in Afghanistan has slowed things somewhat.
The Minaret of Jam is quite out of the way, and given the difficulties in reaching Afghanistan and the dangers in traveling through the countryside, it is not recommended for most tourists. Nonetheless, the site provides an excellent example of a clay minaret, and the intricate reliefs make it a truly valuable piece of Islamic religious art.