The Minaret of Jam

The Minaret of Jam is the second highest minaret in the world.  Standing proudly at 65 meters, it is surpassed only by the Qutb Minaret in Delhi, India.  Its 9 meter wide octagonal base transitions to a beautiful cylindrical tower that narrows toward the top.  Built as a victory monument in AD 1194, it is one of the most important examples of early Islamic architecture.  The minaret of Jam was built by Sultan Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad (AD 1163-1203) of the Ghurid Sultanate  upon his defeat of the Ghaznavid Empire.  He had the minaret inscribed with Sura Maryam, the 19th Sura of the Qur?an, which chronicles the work of the prophets.  All 976 words of the Sura are recorded using baked terracotta brick.  Further above, the kufic brickwork is covered with turquoise glaze, announcing "The king of kings" and giving the date of construction.

Two spiral staircases twirl around each other, leading to a loft just over halfway up.  From where the two staircases meet, a second, much tighter staircase continues upward, taking the adventurous explorer ever higher above the narrow valley floor.  At the end of this narrow staircase, a window opens up, revealing glorious mountainsides, and blue skies.  Down below, people and animals seem like specks as viewed from this high perch.  In ancient times, a third, wooden staircase led up even further, but this has long ago rotten away, revealing only blue sky, and the occasional falcon.

Most curiously of all, though, is the minaret's remote location.  In the heart of the Central Highlands of Afghanistan, the Minaret of Jam is a three day drive from Kabul, along some of the most rugged and difficult roads in the country.  For nine months of the year the roads across this part of the country are impassable, either because of the snow blocking the high mountain passes, or because of the swollen rivers during the springtime snow-melt.

Near the Minaret are ruins of the 11th century Jewish cemetery of Jam.  It is still possible to find tombstones written in Hebrew, which indicate the presence of a sizable Jewish community prior to the destruction of the area by Genghis Khan.