Last updated: May 5, 2012 12:12 am

Ancient monoliths

The story behind the centuries-old carvings once found on the cliffs of a small Afghan town
 

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, by Llewelyn Morgan, Profile, RRP£15.99, 256 pages

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, the latest addition to Profile’s brilliant Wonders of the World series (under the general editorship of Mary Beard), tells the story of the iconic figures carved into cliffs above the small Afghan town 1,400 years ago.

What makes this book unusual though, compared to, say, the ones on St Pancras, the Taj Mahal or Stonehenge, is that the Buddhas now exist only in photographs, travelogues and the minds of those who visited Bamiyan before the Taliban destroyed them in 2001.

Llewelyn Morgan, a classics lecturer at Oxford University who visited Bamiyan several times, tells the fascinating story of these figures (the larger 58m high, the smaller 38m). He begins with their ignominious end and recounts western responses to them, their construction and the wealth and importance of Bamiyan to have been able to create such sculptures.

Although a little academic at times, Morgan’s book underlines just what has been lost to wanton vandalism.

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