But over the centuries the statues had largely been left untouched.
In July 1999, Mullah Mohammed Omar issued a decree in favor of the preservation of the Bamyan Buddhas.
Because Afghanistan's Buddhist population no longer existed, which removed the possibility of the statues being worshipped, he added: "The government considers the Bamyan statues as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitors.
All OIC states - including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three countries that officially recognised the Taliban government - joined the protest to spare the monuments.
It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them." He had clearly changed his position from being in favor of the statues to being against them.
During a March 13 interview for Japan's Mainichi Shimbun, Afghan Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel stated that the destruction was anything but a retaliation against the international community for economic sanctions: "We are destroying the Buddha statues in accordance with Islamic law and it is purely a religious issue." On March 18, The New York Times reported that a Taliban envoy said the Islamic government made its decision in a rage after a foreign delegation offered money to preserve the ancient works.
Monks at the monasteries lived as hermits in small caves carved into the side of the Bamyan cliffs.
Many of these monks embellished their caves with religious statuary and elaborate, brightly-colored frescoes.