Saturday, 15 December 2012

Afghanistan. World Heritage Sites: Minaret of Jam. Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley. Tourism.

Owing to the continuing war in Afghanistan which began on 7 October 2001, only 3,000 to 4,000 tourists a year visit this beautiful country, including the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
·         Minaret of Jam
·         Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley.

The Afghan Ministry of Justice Law for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Properties provides the necessary finance and technical resources for the sites.

Minaret of Jam

The 65m-tall minaret is lyrically described by UNESCO as
“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”.

It has been on the List of World Heritage in Danger sites since 2002 and will only be taken off the list when Decision 31 COM 7A.20 is implemented. Monitoring the erosion of the Hari riverbanks adjacent to the Minaret, movement in the level of inclination and measures of stabilisation and conservation measures all have to be carried out.
Jam is believed to have been the summer residence of the Ghurid Emperors, and a mosque used to be beside the minaret.

Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley.

Bamiyan Valley or ‘Place of Shining Light ‘is in the Hindu Kush mountains in the centre of Afghanistan, and dates back to the 3rd century. The Bamiyan area was once on the ancient Silk Road trade route between the Roman Empire and China.
UNESCO gives a brief description:
“The cultural landscape and archaeological remains of the Bamiyan Valley represent the artistic and religious developments which from the 1st to the 13th centuries characterized ancient Bakhtria, integrating various cultural influences into the Gandhara school of Buddhist art. The area contains numerous Buddhist monastic ensembles and sanctuaries, as well as fortified edifices from the Islamic period. The site is also testimony to the tragic destruction by the Taliban of the two standing Buddha statues, which shook the world in March 2001”.

Both Buddhas were destroyed
A start has been made on putting the statues Vairocana and Sakyamuni back together from the remaining rubble and modern material; funding has been offered by Japan and Switzerland among others. Local people are being trained as stone carvers. Plans are also being mooted for Hiro Yamagata, a Japanese artist famous for his laser works, to project the images of the Buddhas on to their original niches in the cliff, using solar and wind power. UNESCO has not yet assented to this £5m plan, in case the laser images further damage the deteriorating cliff.
The 3,000 or so caves once inhabited by Buddhist monks have wall paintings dating back to the 5th century. Before the Taliban were driven out, the caves were used to store weapons. Now refugees from the war live in them.

Afghanis visit the area to see where the Buddhist statues once were, the wild life, the Band-e Amir lakes in the National Park, and to go skiing. Snow is good although avalanches are frequent. Cricket is also gaining in popularity in the region and all over the country.
The Bamiyan Eco-Tourism Programme was started up in 2008 by Afghanistan, New Zealand and the Aga Khan Foundation but tourism cannot really develop in Bamiyan or anywhere else in Afghanistan as long as the war continues: it is extremely dangerous, security can never be guaranteed, mines need to be cleared and new roads and infrastructure all need to be put in place.