Lest We Forget, the Taliban Destroyed Thousands of Ancient Treasures

The Taliban’s war on art is the most abhorrent legacy anyone ever made.

First, they destroyed television sets. Then they destroyed heritage sites. Since 1992, the Taliban’s war on art is the most revolting and senseless crusade anyone has ever accomplished. That feat is only rivalled by the destruction of ancient relics and artifacts by Alexander the Great more than 2,300 years ago. 

 The purge of thousand-year-old artifacts is the result of the Taliban’s mission of eliminating all that is “un-Islamic” from the world. 

Afghanistan lies on the edge of what is known as the Fertile Crescent, an area in the Middle East that birthed the earliest civilizations. It is also called “Cradle of Civilization.” This region boasts some of the world’s oldest artifacts and heritage sites dating back to at least 5,000 years ago.

Afghanistan was a crossroad that connected Central Asia to East Asia, which is why the country shares some of the most prized and outstanding evidence of high culture and civilization from thousands of years ago. Many of these treasures were destroyed by the Taliban, including 2,750 ancient works of art found nowhere else in the world. 

Among the most recent was the destruction of the Giant Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2008. The twin Colossi dated  back to the 7th century B.C. The Taliban fired grenade launchers into the statues and bombed the top of the mountain to erase the images from the mountainside.

Before and After Destruction: Giant Buddha of Bamiyan


Since 1992, the Taliban has looted and destroyed at least 70,000 treasures and  artifacts at the National Museum of Afghanistan

In 1998, they razed the Puli Khumri Library, which housed some of the oldest books in the world. At least 55,000 old manuscripts, scrolls, and books burned. 

National Museum of Afghanistan

Photo by Ninaras | Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC-BY-4.0.
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Why Destroy Precious Relics?

According to National Geographic, the Taliban espouse a fundamentalist version of Islam that “rejects all images of humans and animals and looks askance at the pre-Islamic past.”

With the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban swiftly conquered the ancient cities throughout the country. The nation’s museum curators and archaeologists are now racing to secure sites and artifacts still under their control, and fly them to museums in Paris and Great Britain. 

And for the rest of the artifacts that will not be saved, the future remains uncertain. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor-at-Large
Mario Alvaro Limos is features editor-at-large at Esquire Philippines, and heads the Lifestyle and Esports content of SPIN.ph as its section editor. Email him at [email protected] and [email protected]
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