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(Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

In 1221, the medieval fortress of Shahr-i-Zohak ("Red City") at the entrance to Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley withstood a Mongol invasion led by Genghis Khan's favorite grandson, Mutugen. Almost 800 years later, efforts to remove another threat to the site-- landmines-- have been successful and the Bamiyan area is now free of mines and other explosives.

For much of the last two years, teams of de-miners have been working to clear the archaeological sites of Bamiyan, including Shahr-i-Zohak and the nearby ruins of Shahr-i-Gholghola (the so-called "City of Screams," named for the cries of those massacred by the Mongolian army), of more than 7,000 antipersonnel mines and other explosives put there during Afghanistan's long civil war. Now Afghans hope that archaeologists will return to the sites to conserve them and conduct further research, according to Brenden Cassar, a cultural specialist for UNESCO. While there is a bleak outlook for the nation's immediate future, the Afghan cultural ministry believes tourism is one of the best hopes for economic revival in this archaeologically rich area. The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001 may have made the valley notorious, but this isolated region in mountainous central Afghanistan is today actually one of the country's safest areas.

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