A remote 800-year-old minaret which is one of Afghanistan’s greatest archaeological treasures is in danger of falling down because of flood damage.
The Minaret of Jam stands taller than Nelson’s Column and is on a list of United Nations world heritage sites, but is now in an “alarmingly precarious” condition, a survey has found.
Archaeologists fear the condition of the 213ft (65m) tower will worsen over the winter as moisture and ice get into the brickwork and add to the damage.
A local Taliban official earlier this month warned that the three-storey tower was in danger of collapse if action was not taken.
The loss of the minaret in Ghor province would be a “devastating, devastating tragedy”, said Rory Stewart, a former secretary of state for overseas development.
Mr Stewart, who walked past the minaret while trekking through the country in 2002 soon after the Taliban were ousted, said the tower was one of the most important monuments in Central Asia.
He said: “You come down this tiny, narrow deserted gorge, having crossed a 14,000 foot pass and suddenly you find this thing exploding in the middle of this valley.
“It’s the most beautiful, haunting, extraordinary tribute to this lost civilisation. It would be one of the great, great most devastating cultural losses that we could experience for the last 50 or 60 years to lose something like that.”
The brick-built late 12th century minaret sits in a hard-to-reach valley at the confluence of the Hari Rud and Jam Rud rivers. Its three cylindrical levels rise from an octagonal base, and the whole tower is covered in elaborate decoration interspersed with text from the Quran.
Historians believe it sits at the site of Firozkoh, or Turquoise Mountain, a city which was destroyed by a son of Ghenghis Khan and the minaret is thought to be the only remains of the settlement.