The town is the cultural center of the Hazara ethnic group of Afghanistan. Most of the population lives in downtown Bamyan, at an altitude of about 9,200 feet (2,800 m). The valley is cradled between parallel mountain ranges: the Hindu Kush and the Koh-i-Baba.
Bamyan is a small town, with the bazaar at its center. The infrastructure (electricity, gas, water supply) is totally non-existent. According to Sister Cities International, Bamyan has established a sister city relationship with Gering, Nebraska, USA. There is an airport with a gravel runway.
Mountains cover ninety percent of the province, and the cold winter lasts for six months with temperatures of three to twenty degrees Celsius below zero. Transportation facilities are increasing, but are still sparse. The main crops are wheat, barley, mushung, and baquli, which are grown in the spring. When crops were affected by unusually harsh weather, the people usually led their livestock down to Ghazni and Maidan Provinces to exchange for food.
The city of Bamyan was part of the buddhist Kushan Empire in the early centuries of the Christian era. After the Kushan Empire fell to the Sassanids, Bamyan became part of the Kushansha vassals to the Sassanids. The Hephthalites conquered Bamyan in the 5th century. After their Khanate was destroyed by the Sassanids and Turks in 565 AD, Bamyan became the capital of a small Kushano-Hephthalite kingdom that lasted until it was conquered by the Saffarids in 870 AD. The area was conquered by the Ghaznavids in the 11th century AD.
For decades Bamyan has been the centre of fighting between zealous Muslim Taliban forces and the anti-Taliban alliance – mainly Hizb-i-Wahdat – preceded by the clashes between the warlords of the local militia.
On the face of a mountain near the city, three colossal statues were carved 4,000 feet apart. One of them was 175 feet (53 m) high, the world's tallest standing statue of Buddha. The ancient statue was carved during the Kushan period in the fifth century. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001, on the basis that they were un-Islamic.
At one time, two thousand monks prayed in caves in the sandstone cliffs. The caves were also a big tourist attraction before the long series of wars in Afghanistan. The world’s earliest oil paintings have been discovered in caves behind the partially destroyed colossal Buddha statues. Scientists from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility have confirmed that oil based paintings, possibly using either walnut or poppy seed oil, are present in 12 of the 50 caves dating from the 5th to 9th century A.D.