Built back in 1190s by the once great Ghorid empire, this enigmatic and intricately-ornamented ancient “skyscraper” architecture 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.
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)
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 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.