The Minaret of Jam soars into the sky in a steep-sided valley in central Afghanistan - at 63 m high, it is hard to believe that such a magnificently decorated structure could have been ‘forgotten’ about by the outside world after the Mongol campaigns ca. 1221-2. Then again, having endured the tortuous 4WD journey required to reach Jam even today, perhaps it is not so surprising that the Minaret remained virtually unknown until Sir Thomas Holdich, of the Russo-Anglo Afghan Boundary Commission, ‘re-discovered’ it in 1886. Only handful of scholars and intrepid tourists ventured to the site before the Soviet invasion in 1979; the subsequent decades of turmoil had until recently effectively placed Jam out of bounds for outsiders. But Jam is ‘back on the map’, as independent travellers and organised tours take advantage of the ameliorating political and security situation to include it on their itineraries.
The principal study of the Minaret was carried out by French scholars in the late 1950s. With the exception of Herberg’s brief surveys in the 1970s, however, little fieldwork has been conducted on the surrounding archaeological site. This lamentable situation started to change in 2003, with the inception of the Minaret of Jam Archaeological Project. We have recently completed a second season of fieldwork at Jam and are planning to return in August 2006.
Jam is located at the confluence of the Hari Rud and Jam Rud, about 215 km to the east of Herat, in Ghur province of central Afghanistan. The site is 1900 m above sea-level, with nearby mountain peaks reaching to 3500 m. The harsh winters are often followed by devastating floods as the snows melt; the summers are hot and dry. With little flat land available along the scree-covered valleys, local people struggle to survive in a subsistence economy.
The inhospitable climate and terrain make it all the more remarkable that Jam was once the centre of a huge empire. Scholars generally agree that Jam is ancient Firuzkuh, the summer capital of the Ghurids. At the peak of their florescence, the Ghurid dynasty (ca. 1150-1216) controlled a swathe of territory from Nishapur in eastern Iran to the Bay of Bengal in India. They had the good fortune to rise to prominence as the Ghaznavid dynasty crumbled, and the misfortune to be squeezed between the Khorezmshah and the nascent Mongols, whose, commanded by Ögedei, son of Chingiz Khan, besieged Jam twice, finally capturing the city in ca. 1222.
© DCT 2007: This website was last updated on 02/06/07. Any problems, e-mail me: D.C. Thomas.