The Valley of Bamiyan: Buddhism, Radical Islam and the Taliban Collide at one of History’s Greatest Crossroads, The Silk Road

In 2001 in Afghanistan the Taliban destroyed two absolutely enormous statues of the Buddha that overlooked the Valley of Bamiyan, a once great and powerful place along the road that connected eastern and western civilizations. Saturdays are religion in the news days, however, and what happened in 2001 can hardly be called ‘in the news’ right now.

The significance – news-wise – of this destruction at this place is not in the missing statues but rather, in the labyrinth of caves that stands behind the place that these statues once stood. Throughout the caves, paintings have been found and one in particular which dates from the 6th century CE used oil in the paints, making it an oil painting. It was once believed that the technique of painting with oils was invented during the Renaissance, but this painting, if its date is confirmed, will prove this notion false.

Honestly, though, I don’t much care about this. I mean, I love history and I especially love when our notions of what was and wasn’t the case in history are shaken and reformed. I also like that religion (these were religious paintings) has a place in this mix. However, what interests me most in this case is the Taliban’s actions: their destruction of these two enormous and beautiful statues of the Buddha.

Of course, they did this because their radical sect of Islam insists that images cannot exist, especially ones of the Buddha which admittedly border on deification. So they destroyed them. I say, what a crying shame. I absolutely hate the destruction of amazing things, especially if the reason behind that destruction is some religious nonsense.

I’ve always said that if I was granted three wishes (I’m still holding out), one of them would be the ability to see any spot exactly as it stood at any point in history (think the fourth dimensional existence of the Trafalmadorians in Slaughterhouse 5), effectively allowing me to see every city, site and place that ever existed. I know – a lofty wish. But as a stood in Ephesus, Turkey at the site of the Temple of Artemis, staring at a pillar and a half that had been overgrown with weeds, I wished to sweet heaven that I could have seen it in its original glory. And that’s what I think about at so many places: in Rome, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the site of the lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. I just want to see it as it originally stood.

That the Taliban would destroy a place of such magnificence and beauty – one that was actually still standing so recently though constructed over a thousand years ago – truly disgusts and disappoints me. Why couldn’t they have just put up a giant sign that said, “Blasphemy Ahead – Enter and We’ll Stone You” or something comparable? Why did they have to destroy it?

Have you ever been to the Valley of Bamiyan? Did you go before or after the Buddhas were destroyed? Have you heard that there may be a third Buddha buried beneath the river bed lying down?

What is the most incredible place you ever saw that you wished you could have seen in its original glory? What amazing world sites (manmade) would you like to see?

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