JĀM (1)


JĀM, a mountainous region on the way from Kabul to Herat, and a historically important village in the province of Ghur (Ḡur) in western Afghanistan (lat. 34°23ˈ N, long. 64°30ˈ E). Lying 45 km northeast of Šahrak, Jām is located on the barren foothills of the remote narrow valley of Jām, close to the well-known minaret of Jām (see JĀM MINARET). The village of Jām abounds in cornfields, willow trees, and orchards, particularly of apricots and apples (Adamec, III, p. 183; Pažvāk, p. 16, no. 1; Stark, pp. 65-66; Masse, p. 406).

The history of Jām is virtually interwoven with that of its minaret, which stands at the confluence of the Harirud River and one of its tributaries, Tagao Gunbaz (or Jam Rud). Emphasizing the cultural significance of the place, in 2002 UNESCO declared the minaret of Jām and the surrounding archaeological remains as Afghanistan’s first World Heritage Site, but due to the status of the minaret it was also put on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger or List of Endangered Sites (Thomas, Pastori, and Cucco, 2004, p. 89; “Endangered minaret puts Afghanistan on World Heritage list;” Manhart, pp. 406-8; for more details see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/211/). Built in the late 12th century on an octagonal base, the cylindrical minaret is 63 meters high (Thomas, Giannino, and Cucco, 2004, p. 87), and consists of three superposed stages culminating in a huge lantern. It has an interior staircase of over 180 steps (Bar, p. 510; Massé, p. 406). In height, the minaret of Jām, made of baked mud-bricks, is the second tallest in the whole Islamic world, after the Qoṭb Menār in Delhi (Jilāni-Dāvari, p. 45; Leshnik, p. 40; cf. Dupree, p. 315). It is widely assumed that the minaret was constructed about 591/1194 by the Ghurid (see GHURIDS) ruler Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Moḥammad b. Sām I (r. 558-99/1163-1203), who was a great patron of arts and the builder of mosques, madrasas, and caravanserais (Bosworth, p. 1103). The inscription on the side of this colossal building indicates that the minaret was constructed to commemorate Moḥammad b. Sām I’s triumph in one of his campaigns (cf. Marciq and Wiet, p. 65; Pinder-Wilson, pp. 171-72). It is evidently the only significant piece of architecture left from the Ghurid dynasty which ruled, for some sixty years, a vast area extending from Khorasan in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east.

Because of the brevity of historical evidence, some confusion has arisen regarding the position of Jām and its minaret in relation to the now non-existent city of Firuzkuh (see FIRUZKUH i. The Ghurid Capital) and its Friday Mosque (masjed-e jāmeʿ). In his Ṭabaqāt-e Nāṣeri, Menhāj-al-Din b. Serāj-al-Din Juzjāni (1193-1260?), the main source on the Ghurids (q.v.), states that, when the Ghurid Malek-al-Jebāl Qoṭb-al-Din Moḥammad-Ḥosayn decided to have a well-fortified castle (qalʿa) built, he sent his people around to find a suitable place. He eventually chose the spot where the city and the castle of Fi-ruzkuh were constructed (Juzjāni, I, p. 336). Elsewhere in his Ṭabaqāt-e Nāṣeri (I, p. 375), Juzjāni reports that Firuzkuh’s Friday Mosque was washed away in a flash flood. Apparently, for both natural and human reasons, the city itself disappeared completely.

On the other hand, due to its inaccessibility, local conflicts, as well as devastating Mongol incursions, the village of Jām seems to have been lost to the outside world for centuries until it “was ‘re-discovered’ during a survey of the Afghan Boundary Commission in 1886” (Thomas, Pastori, and Cucco, p. 89, with reference to Holdich). In the mid-1950s, the governor of Herat reported to the Afghan Historical Society of his sighting of a minaret on the banks of the Harirud River, thus drawing some attention to Jām again. In 1957, an expedition led by the President of the Afghan Historical Society, Aḥmad-ʿAli Kohzād, and by the Belgian archaeologist André Maricq visited the minaret of Jām. Since one of the two inscriptions on the minaret glorifies Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Moḥammad, Maricq came to identify Jām with Firuzkuh (Maricq and Wiet, pp. 21-55), the summer capital of the Ghurids, assuming accordingly that the minaret belonged to the Friday Mosque of Firūzkūh (Leshnik, pp. 37, 40-41; Jilāni-Dāvari, p. 44). Maricq thus called the whole area Firuzkuh (Jilāni-Dāvari, p. 52; Massé, p. 406). However, the view that the flood had destroyed Firuzkuh’s mosque but left its minaret intact, has been seriously challenged. It appears highly improbable that the Jām minaret survived so strong a flood which had devastated the rest of the mosque. Besides, because of its mountainous condition and the lack of land space, the area of Jām could not have possibly afforded such enormous monumental buildings as Firuzkuh’s Friday Mosque. Nor could it have possessed the capacity of becoming the capital of the Ghurid dynasty, as some have assumed (Jilāni-Dāvari, pp. 55-56).



L. W. Adamec, ed., Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan III, Graz, 1975.

Moḥammad-ʿAlī Bar, Afḡānestān men al-fatḥ al-eslām elā al-ḡazw al-Rusi, Jeddah, 1985.

C. E. Bosworth, “Ghūrids,” EI2 II, 1965, pp. 1099-1104.

A. Bruno, “Notes on the Discovery of Hebrew Inscriptions in the Vicinity of the Minaret of Jām,” East and West, N.S. 14/3-4, 1963, pp. 206-8.

L. Dupree, Afghanistan, Princeton, N.J., 1973; 2nd ed. 1978; new ed. Karachi and Oxford, 1997.

T. H. Holdich, Geographical Results of the Afghan Boundary Commission cf. India Office Political department Memoranda, London, 1886.

Ḡolām Jilāni-Dāvari, “Taḥqiq-e jadid darbāra-ye Jām wa Firuzkuh,” Aryana 33/1, 1975, pp. 43-58.

Menhāj-al-Din b. Serāj-al-Din Juzjāni, Ṭabaqāt-e Nāṣeri, ed. ʿA.-Ḥ. Ḥabibi, 2 vols., 2nd ed., Kabul, 1963.

L. S. Leshnik, “Ghor, Firuzkuh and the Minar-i Jam,” Central Asiatic Journal 12, 1968, pp. 36-49.

Ch. Manhart, “UNESCO’s Mandate and Recent Activities for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage,” IRRC 86, No. 854, June 2004, pp. 401-14; available at www.icrc.org/web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/634jk5?opendocument (accessed on 17 August 2007).

A. Maricq and G. Wiet, Le minaret de Djam: la découverte de la capitale des sultans Ghorides (XIIe-XIIIe siècles), Paris, 1959.

H. Massé, “Djām,” EI2 II, 1965, p. 406. ʿAtīq-Allāh Paž-vāk, Ḡuriān, Kabul, 1966.

R. Pinder-Wilson, “Ghaznavid and Ghurid Minarets,” Iran 39, 2002, pp. 155-86.

F. Stark, The Minaret of Djam: an Excursion in Afghanistan, London, 1970.

D. Thomas, “Looting, heritage management and archaeological strategies at Jam,” Culture Without Context 14, 2004, pp. 16-20.

D. Thomas, G. Pastori, and I. Cucco, “Excavations at Jam, Afghanistan,” East and West 54/1-4, 2004, pp. 87-119.

Online sources.

“Endangered minaret puts Afghanistan on World Heritage list,” available at www.portal .unesco.org/culture/en/ ev.php-URLҳID=25620&URLҳDO=DOҳTOPIC&URLҳSECTION=201.html (accessed on 17 August 2007).

“Minaret of Jam (12th century)” at www.orientalarchitecture.com/afghanistan/minaretjam index.htm (accessed on 17 August 2007).

G. Pastori, and I. Cucco, “The Minaret of Jam Archaeological Project (MJAP),” Antiquity 79/303, March 2005, Article no. 79010, available at http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/thomas/index.html (accessed on 17 August 2007).

(Majd-al-din Keyvani)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 10, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 4, pp. 430-432