City of Screams

I took this picture in Bamyan, Afghanistan at a ruined mound known as Shar-e-Gholghola (شهر غلغله) which translates as “City of Screams.” The city on this site was destroyed in the 13th century by Genghis Khan. The local population was massacred, apparently in retribution for the death of his grandson who was killed in an earlier battle. I love history but it almost always saddens me. Here is a poem I wrote about the experience of visiting the City of Screams:

You are no longer known by your former glory

No one who walked your famed streets has passed on your memory

Your ancient past, where Joy was known, is long forgotten

Withered whispers that have drifted away

Your ruins are now a monument to that Dreadful Day

The thunder of hooves that shook the rocky depths

The hostile shouts in a foreign tongue

The cloud of arrows that blocked out the light

Your crumbled walls still echo with screams

Brick and stone have witnessed things unspeakable

Lives cut short, the innocent gone

Joy strangled by Death

Where then is Justice?

Is there not One who can reach down from eternity

Into time itself

To make right the wrongs of History?

To rend the heavens

And tear the curtain dividing the sacred from the profane?

To walk in the dust

To share the sorrow of the bleeding

To experience the loss of Love

And yet declare “it is finished”

To defeat Death and resurrect Joy?

Bamyan & Band-i-Amir 118

10 thoughts on “City of Screams

  1. Eternal sadness. The tides of history constantly bring it to our shores, ground up to almost imperceptible degrees by the oceans of madness that surround us. Our beaches resonate with it, creating an eternal note. Matthew Arnold heard it years ago on Dover Beach.

    I learned of Bamiyan in 1969. One of my friends, a Peace Corps administrator, attended a conference there. Afghanistan was just an out of the way place, governed, if you may call it that, by a king. Morocco on steroids, if you will, warlords instead of tribal chiefs (was there a difference). And a part of the great game. When Don returned from Afghanistan, I asked him what Kabul was like. He replied that it was a lot like Sefrou, multiplied twenty times.

    He visited Bamiyan. I put the great Buddhas my list of sites to visit, but sadly I shall never see them. My daughter was there after the vandalism of the statues, to do a photo shoot to accompany a NYT Magazine article.

    Statues cannot scream or the valley would ring with their protests, though Buddha himself would never give a thought to their passing. The world is full of suffering.

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    1. My experience of Morocco is limited to a short trip to Marrakech. But given the distance between Morocco and Afghanistan, there were more similarities than I expected.


      1. Morocco is not as isolated as Afghanistan, nor as ethnically or religiously divided, nor nearly as rugged. Central Asia and South Asia spent the Middle Ages battling barbarians and Turks and a large part of the area shares Farsi and related languages. Morocco evolved with an unspoken dialect as a second language for most country dwellers. It was a reservoir for interventions into Spain, but never was a fertile ground for high civilizations. Surrounded by dangerous and hostile powers (Span, Portugal, and the Ottomans) not to mention an uncrossable ocean and a vast desert, Morocco sunk into an isolation of geopolitical sorts until the twentieth century.

        The French could « pacify » it relatively easily and so created a state that the monarchy took over almost by default in 1956 (hope this is not offensive to those who brag about the independence « struggle. » This and some luck produced an enviable stability, but at a cost that is difficult for Moroccans to talk about.

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  2. The sadness in your poem is reflected over and over in human history for even today, we destroy and will never stop until we finally destroy everything. Then arrows , today , nuclear arms but the ruthlessness and quest for power and domination is still the same. Thank you for reminding us of our duty of compassion and preservation.

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  3. The poem speaks volumes! I always find ruins fascinating and in the silence try to imagine what it was like when people lived there, went about their lives and had dreams and then “the thundering hooves”. Nice one!

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