Thorough Documentation of the Minaret of Jam ©UNESCO

Safeguarding of World Heritage site of the Minaret of Jam 

The Minaret of Jam is located in the Ghor Province, Afghanistan, around 200km east of Herat, at the confluence of the Hari Rud and Jam Rud rivers. Its isolated location has probably prevented the monument from extensive intentional destructions in the past (as those occurred on the Minarets in Herat), but in return this isolation poses serious challenges today in terms of accessibility, feasibility of conservation/stabilization works and long-term maintenance. 

Probably built between 1163 and 1203 during the reign of the Ghurid sovereign Ghyias-ud-Din, its first rediscovery dates back to 1944, when the Minaret is mentioned in an article published by the Afghan History Society in the journal Anis. However, it is only in 1957 that a French archaeological expedition under the auspices of the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA) was able to identify the location of the Minaret and publish its actual discovery in 1958.

Since then, and until the end of the 70s’, the first scientific studies and surveys were conducted, while a number of limited and isolated interventions were carried out to prevent the Minaret from further tilting and decay. All the initiatives taken thus far halted at the end of the 70s’, when the former Soviet invaded Afghanistan and no interventions on heritage properties in the country had conducted. After this period of protracted conflict, UNESCO’s first mission to Jam was conducted in 1999 and gave the opportunity to assess that none of the isolated stabilization interventions carried out before was still in place, thereby requiring immediate actions to be promptly taken.

It is in 2002, after its inscription to the list of World Heritage Properties in Danger, that the Minaret and Archaeological remains of Jam commenced receiving more continuous attention. To respond this request, the topographic survey of the area was updated (2002), geological investigations were conducted nearby the Minaret (2002/2005/2007), consolidation works were done on both the base of the Minaret and the rivers’ banks (2006/2008), periodical monitoring through Total Station surveys were organized in order to identify possible movements of the inclination of the Minaret (2006/2014).

Furthermore, in November 2014, the Afghan Ministry of Public Works implemented some stabilization works on the rivers’ banks under the supervision of the Ministry of Information and Culture. This was to reinforce the protection walls built in 2007 which collapsed partially in summer 2013 and in summer 2014.

In 2014, the Government of Afghanistan requested UNESCO to launch a new phase of impact assessment report whose main scope was to create the basis to restart a more comprehensive set of actions. But unfortunately, due to the difficulties in approaching the site and security issues, the two main activities included in this impact assessment (hydrological study and evaluation of risks; preparation of an action plan) could be conducted as desk-studies.

Finally, in September 2017, with the international assistance from World Heritage Fund and the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund, and with the strong endorsement of the Presidential Palace, which took care of all the security and logistic arrangements, a mission took place for a thorough documentation of the Jam Minaret. The mission resulted being critical to assess the current state of the Minaret and surrounding archaeological area after 3-year interval of visits/activities. Furthermore, the data collected for developing the detailed survey are the first practical implementation of the recommendations stated in the last World Heritage Committee (July 2017), when strongly advising the preparation of an Actual Plan for which a detailed and updated survey is indubitably the first step.

The experts, along with two Afghan officials from the MoIC (one from the Department of Historical Monuments; the second one, trained by UNESCO in 3D survey last year, from the Institute of Archaeology), remained on site for four additional days in order to complete the collection of field data. The combined technology used to collect the data allowed a through survey of the inner and outer portions of the Minaret, along with a general survey of the area around. In particular, the use of drones with high-quality cameras offered the possibility of collecting high-qualified photos of the entire external decorations, which will be used as a basis for the preparation of detailed orthophotos. Please see here the link to see a short summary of the mission conducted: https://youtu.be/PcE10VsqP5Q

The concrete onsite documentation created through this recent mission will be the baseline of a long-term stabilisation plan for the Jam Minaret. The materials will be arranged and prepared for the purpose of public awareness of cultural heritage in Afghanistan as well. 

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