While ongoing political intrigue over the past 50 years between Afghanistan, Russia and the United States has raised global awareness of this war-torn country. The numerous struggles faced by this region and its marginalized population date back hundreds of years. Aside from Afghanistan’s harsh political climate, the natural climate is another trial to be faced by its people, who are troubled by frequent droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters. Large-scale famine and fighting throughout the country have driven over two million Afghans out of the country and into refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan.
Throughout history, Afghanistan’s strategic location has led it to play an important role in cultural exchange and trade between ancient Chinese, Indian and European civilizations. This advantageous position brought wealth and prosperity to the region, but it also brought large numbers of invaders and outsiders hoping to stake a claim to the spoils of an important meeting point on the Silk Road. A cultural terminus, the Silk Road brought more than goods and profit to Afghanistan; the country was also exposed to a wealth of art, spiritual beliefs and foreign culture.
A famous legacy of Afghanistan’s role in trade between Europe and the Far East were two colossal statues of the Buddha constructed in the 3rd and 5th centuries by Buddhist monks in a cliff face at Bamiyan. These two statues were the largest representations of the Buddha in the world, and an important part of Afghanistan’s artistic and cultural history until they were demolished in 2001 by the Taliban, who claimed they were an ‘affront to Islam’. This irreverence toward the wide and varied artistic and cultural heritage of Afghanistan was not an isolated occurrence, but a systematic destruction of non-Islamic art all over the country as Taliban forces destroyed entire museums and hundreds of monuments, some of which were ancient Greek and Roman monuments which dated back thousands of years.
The limited remnants of ancient art and architecture in Afghanistan tells a tale of influence from the Greeks and Romans, as well as neighbouring China and India. This exotic blend of classical European and ancient oriental styles is found in frescoes, stucco decorations and statuary all over the country. This fusion of styles can be found in a small number of remaining fragments of stone relief work, which are intricate and beautiful pieces that bear witness to times of wealth and prosperity in a country whose troubles seem endless in recent history. Fragment of a wall with relief sculpture carved in stone depicting seated figures and a pillar (200)