My Favourite Building

The building that I really wanted to get to and did finally get to in the end was the Minaret of Jam; this 12th century Persian building in central Afghanistan was only re-discovered by the West in the 1950s.

Utterly abandoned, it looked magical and mysterious, almost impossibly slender and vulnerable, surrounded by the raw and rugged power of nature. Standing 65m high, it is the most significant architectural memorial to the Ghorid empire, which in the height of its glory, in the late 12th Century, dominated Afghanistan, modern Pakistan and parts of Iran and as far south as Delhi in India.

I was amazed by the quality of the bricks and its fine surface decoration. I crawled inside – squeezing through a small window. Then I understood how the minaret has survived so long in an earthquake region. The walls are thick and inside is a stout brick-built central column around which not one but two staircases form a double-helix – an immensely strong form that gives the minaret some of the structural characteristics of the honeycomb. Getting there was an adventure in itself too… I wanted to keep a low profile but we ended up in a convoy of over a dozen police vehicles loaded with heavily armed men.  Dan Cruickshank

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