The Taliban have set up a ticket office at the site of ancient Buddha statues that they demolished 20 years ago.
The statues, known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, were carved into a cliff in central Afghanistan in the 6th century. They were among the largest and most impressive Buddha sculptures in the world, measuring 55 and 38 meters in height.
However, in 2001, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar ordered the destruction of the statues, claiming that they were idols and violated Islamic law. The militants used explosives and gunfire to reduce the statues to rubble.
The international community condemned the act as a crime against cultural heritage and a loss of irreplaceable art.
Now, after taking over Afghanistan again in 2021, the Taliban have changed their attitude towards the statues. They have admitted that destroying them was a mistake and that they are part of the country’s identity.
They have also started to charge visitors for viewing the remains of the statues, which are still visible on the cliff face. The tickets cost 58 cents for Afghans and $3.45 for foreigners. There is also an ice cream stand nearby, guarded by armed men.
In addition, there is a hotel near the site, surrounded by barbed wire, and paintings depicting how the statues looked before they were destroyed.
The Taliban’s cultural officials have announced plans to open a souvenir market and to employ more than 1,000 guards to protect cultural sites across Afghanistan.
However, not everyone in the Taliban agrees with this new approach. The governor of Bamiyan province, Abdullah Sarhadi, said that he supports the decision to destroy the statues and that Muslims should follow God’s commands.