The Minaret of Jam is believed to have been built to commemorate a major victory of the sultans of the Ghurid Dynasty from western Afghanistan, which overthrew the Ghaznavid Empire, extensively conquering parts of northern India in 1192. Under their patronage (1000-1220), the eastern Islamic world’s arts experienced a flowering before being extinguished by Mongol invasion.
During the Ghurid dynasty, the highly sophisticated craftsmanship of elaborate, exquisite lace-like brick decoration was utilized, as on the surface of the Minaret of Jam. It is one of the very few well preserved monument representing the exceptional artistic creativity and mastery of structural engineering of the period. This exceptional example of Islamic architectural decoration represents a peak of its form, illustrating the outstanding artistic endeavour of a disappeared civilization.
At 1,900 meters, the spectacular Minaret of Jam rises in the solitude within rugged mountains and the two rivers (Hari and Jam Rivers) in the heart of Ghur Province. The monument and archaeological remains are surrounded by mountain ranges, providing natural fortification for ancient settlement areas and setting up a spectacular natural setting for the Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam.
The Minaret of Jam
Date. The Minaret of Jam was constructed on the south bank of Harirud River at the intersection of two canyon-like river valleys. The minaret, often referred to as the “victory tower”, is believed to have marked the centre of 12th century capital Firuzkuh of the Ghurid empire that ruled Afghanistan and parts of India in 12 th and 13 th centuries. Sultan Ghiyath al-din Muhammed Ibn Sam was responsible for the construction of the Minaret between 1163 and 1202.
Height and Form. The Minaret of Jam is made up of four tapering cylindrical shafts which rest on an octagonal base. It towers up to 65 meters with a 10-meter diameter base, gradually narrows up following a truncated cone section up to 40 meters height. Beyond this level, the circular cross-section decreases to become 8 meters in diameter.
Interior. Inside the base and the Minaret’s first cylindrical tier is a steep double spiral staircase leading to the summit. The center core and double staircase start below the ground level and extend up through the elaborately decorated first section to the base level of the second doorway of the next tier. In the next tier are six squares, vaulted brick platforms spaced a distance of six steps apart. The steps leading from platform to platform project from the curving wall. One must cross each platform diagonally to get to the next set of steps. Two sides of the squares platforms are open while sides opposite to each other handle the stairs. The third tier and the arcaded fourth tier contain no stairs. In these sections the brick ribs have been reinforced by the addition of new bricks and tie beams. The tie beams hold together the outer shell. Six arches that once supported a small cupola remain at the top.
Material. The Minaret was constructed of fired brick bonded with mortar. The first balcony was reinforced by projecting wooden beams. At the level of the first balcony is a door leading out to what might have been the roof of the first corbelled balcony or at least a second level of this balcony.
Decoration and inscriptions. The exterior of the minaret shaft is completely covered with a geometric decor in relief laid over the plain structural bricks, except for one band of blue tile inscription near the top. A short inscription around the top of the first level states precisely the dates of the erection of the monument in 1194 under the rule of the Ghurid sovereign. It consists of plain raised band and glazed circles or pearls. This Kufic script (the oldest Arabic calligraphic style) is covered with turquoise-colored glaze set against a background of plain buff bricks. Below runs a band containing rosettes centered with a geometric design.
The most intricately decorated tier is the first cylinder which is divided into vertical segments or “panel architecture”, matching those of the base section. The three dimensional ornamental brickwork within the panels creates a pattern of light and shade. Each vertical zone has a narrow band of inscription which runs in an unbroken line around each panel. The text is the entire Sura of Maryam, the 19th chapter of the Koran. All 976 words are in Kufic traditional script and are made of small carved terra-cotta bricks. The areas between the Koranic inscription are covered with geometric openwork patterns in high relief.
Archaeological Remains in Jam
Jewish cemetery with Hebrew inscriptions. A group of stones with Hebrew inscriptions is located on the hill of Kushkak between Jam village and the minaret, believed to date from the 11-12th century and probably came from a nearby Jewish cemetery. The presence of such stones confirms the presence of a Jewish settlement in the area.
Ghurid castles, fortification walls and towers, bazaar. On the opposite side of the Hari river, high on the cliff, are remains of castles and towers of the settlement. The ruins have an obvious character of fortification, and giving the impression that the Minaret was not surrounded by a city proper, but a fortified military camp. A small Jewish settlement is believed to have carried out various trade activities with the military installations. The remains of the fort are found on the north side of Hari River. The thick walls are made of clay bricks while the fort foundation is constituted of natural stones. A water reservoir has a rectangular shape and is made of fired bricks. Two pipes made of clay protrude from the reservoir and it is assumed that these were underground pipes that were directed towards the castle in order to supply water in times of war. Three mud-brick watchtowers form a fortification line. There are also ruins of a bazaar. Very thin fragments of painted and varnished pottery, as well as fragments of mother-of- pearl dating from Ghurid period have been retrieved.