Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam
Since 2002 • Cultural • In danger
The 65m-tall Minaret of Jam is a graceful, soaring structure, dating back to the 12th century. Covered in elaborate brickwork with a blue tile inscription at the top, it is noteworthy for the quality of its architecture and decoration, which represent the culmination of an architectural and artistic tradition in this region. Its impact is heightened by its dramatic setting, a deep river valley between towering mountains in the heart of the Ghur province.
The architecture and ornamentation of the minaret are outstanding from the point of view of art history, fusing together elements from earlier developments in the region in an exceptional way and exerting a strong influence on later architecture in the region. It is an outstanding example of Islamic architecture and ornamentation in this region and played a significant role in their further dissemination.
At 1,900 m above sea level and far from any town, the minaret rises within a rugged valley in the heart of Ghur Province. It is a graceful, soaring structure, dating back to the 12th century, believed to have been built to commemorate a major victory of the sultans of the Ghurid dynasty. Jam is believed to have been the summer residence of the Ghurid emperors and probably marks the site of the ancient city of Firuzkuh, the capital of the Ghurid dynasty. An inscription gives the date of construction as 1194.
The minaret is one of the few well-preserved monuments representing the exceptional artistic creativity and mastery of structural engineering of the time. It was built on the south bank of the Hari River at the intersection of two canyon-like river valleys. Rising to 65 m from a 9 m diameter octagonal base, its four tapering cylindrical shafts are constructed of fired brick bonded with lime mortar. The exterior of the minaret is completely covered with geometric decoration in relief laid over the plain structural bricks. The first cylinder is the most decorated: it is divided into eight vertical segments, matching those of the base. Each vertical zone has a narrow band of inscriptions running in an unbroken line around each panel.
A group of stones with Hebrew inscriptions on the Kushkak hill between the minaret and the village of Jam, believed to date from the 11th to 12th centuries, probably came from a nearby Jewish cemetery. The remains of castles and towers of the Ghurid settlement are to be found on the opposite bank of the Hari River, north of the minaret and high on the cliff. There are also the remains of fortifications visible to the east of the minaret, giving the impression that the minaret was surrounded not by a settlement but by a military camp.
Since the minaret was built no major reconstruction or restoration work has taken place, apart from consolidation around its base. The archaeological remains have been surveyed and recorded in the 20th century but without any attempt at restoration or reconstruction, while the only excavation has been clandestine and uncontrolled.
The Minaret of Jam probably marks the site of the ancient city of Firuzkuh, the capital of the Ghurid dynasty that ruled Afghanistan and parts of northern India, from Kashgar to the Persian Gulf, in the 12th and 13th centuries. An inscription gives the date of construction as 1194, and another gives the name of the powerful reigning Ghurid emperor, Sultan Ghiyas ud-Din (1157-1202). It is likely that the Minaret was constructed to commemorate his victory at Delhi in 1192 over the Ghaznavid Empire, hence the name sometimes given to it, the Victory Tower.
The site of Jam is believed to have been the summer residence of the Ghurid Emperors. There are indications that the mosque to which the minaret was attached was of modest size, and disproportionate to the dimensions of the minaret, contrary to the basic principles of Islamic architecture.
After the death of Ghiyas ud-Din his brother Muiz ud-Din succeeded him. The Ghurid Empire came under intense pressure from its neighbours, the Kharizm, from south of the Aral Sea, and gradually yielded up its territories. Only at the mountainous retreat of Bamiyan did the dynasty survive, until its last ruler was captured and put to death in 1215. The town of Firuzkuh was destroyed by the Mongol Ogodaï in 1222.
Justification for being a World Heritage Site
Criterion (ii): The innovative architecture and decoration of the Minaret of Jam played a significant role in the development of the arts and architecture of the Indian sub-continent and beyond.
Criterion (iii): The Minaret of Jam and its associated archaeological remains constitute exceptional testimony to the power and quality of the Ghurid civilization that dominated its region in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Criterion (iv): The Minaret of Jam is an outstanding example of Islamic architecture and ornamentation in this region and played a significant role in their further dissemination.