Friday, February 8, 2013

Uzbekistan | Bukhara Oasis | Paikend

In a post about the Early Sogdian History of the Bukhara Oasis I mentioned the ancient cities of Paikend and Varakhsha. I would be remiss if I did not make a few more observations about Paikend, known during its prime as “the city of merchants”, or “the copper town” (apparently for the quality of its copperware). Located at the southern entranceway to the Bukhara Oasis, Paikend may well be older than Bukhara itself, and for much of the first millenium a.d. may have been the more important of the two cities. It was the first major city in Sogdiana north of the Amu Darya River and most caravans that crossed the Amu Darya at Amol would have passed through the city. Through Amol it was linked to Merv in Khorasan and the great Silk Road cities of the Iranian Plateau and Mesopotamia beyond. From the east much of the caravan trade from China, Mongolia, and East Turkestan (now Xinjiang Province, China), would have been funneled through the city. Paikend was also famous for its locally produced silk, glassware, copperware, pottery, armor, and weapons. Chinese, Arab, Indian, Afghani, Persian, and European merchants could be found searching for bargains in the city’s marts and roistering in the less salubrious districts. 
Bukhara-Paikend-Amol Route (click on images for enlargements)
On source suggests that since so many of the men are often out of town on trade missions the city itself was garrisoned at least in part by women. Girls were taught horseback riding and archery from an early age.  Finely carved bone rings found in the ruins baffled archeologists for years before it was determined that women wore them on their middle fingers as a guard when drawing a bow string. Famously independent, the women of the city were known to pick out their own husbands and may have engaged in polyandry, a practice not unknown in societies where one husband could be gone for years at a time on trade expeditions and a spare or two would come in handy. 

As mentioned in an earlier post about the Arab Invasions of Sogdiana, Paikend was invaded by Islamic armies in the first decade of the eighth century and thoroughly plundered. Enormous amounts of booty were seized, including armor and weapons the quality of which amazed the Arabs. Ephemeral sources also indicate that numerous gold and silver “idols” were also looted and melted down for their metal. Whether these were Buddhist statues or those of some indigenous religion is not clear. Buddhism was certainly known of and probably practiced in Paikend, along with a host of other religions, including Zoroastrianism and Nestorian Christianity. The city did recover and was rebuilt, as demonstrated by the remains of the mosque and minaret built after the Arab conquest. Presumably the city was no longer garrisoned by women after the arrive of Islam. 

The Tenth-Century Historian Narshakhi wrote that the merchants of the city had become extremely rich on account of the trade with China, and that any trader from the region who went to Baghdad was more likely to brag that he was from Paikend than from Bukhara. At one time nearly 1000 ribats, or caravanserais, surrounded the city. The record is far from clear, but apparently Paikend fell from grace due to the lowering water table which left the city, which sits on a low rise, high and dry. In the early twelfth-century the Khwarezmshah Arslan attempted to revive Paikend by supplying it with water via a new canal, but construction of the waterway proved to be too difficult and the project was eventually abandoned. Today Paikend is in ruins, but traces of its former greatness can still be seen, and if you listen very carefully you can still hear the muted laughter of women from the city’s battlements. 
Watchtowers in the old city wall were located about 180 feet from each other
 Fortifications in the city wall
 Fortifications in the city wall
 Fortifications in the city wall
 Fortifications in the city wall
A residential district within the city walls
Residential district within the city walls
 Ruins of residences
 Ruins of residences
 Ruins of residences. The function of the round hole,which is lined with brick is not clear.
 Remnants of a large wok-like metal structure
 Looking from the residential area toward the Citadel
Ruins of the Citadel
Ruins of the mosque next to the Citadel
 Ruins of the mosque
Base of the minaret next to the mosque. The base is larger in diameter of the still-existing 155-foot Kalon Minaret in Bukhara, which has led some to speculate that it may have been higher than the Kalon Minaret. 
 Floor of the Citadel
 Paving stones on the floor of the Citadel
 Building connected with the Citadel. The purpose of the round hole in the wall is unclear.
 A well near the Citadel. It is now dry. 
 Looking south from the Citadel
 Another residential area
 Ruins of residential area
Ruins of residential area
Archeologists claim this is the ruins of an apothecary. Broken glass and pottery containers with traces of plants and other medicinal substances in them were found here. 
 The main artery through the city leading to the southern gate. It is not entirely clear from the available sources, but it may be that for security reasons city had only one gate—this gate opening to the south.
 Looking north along the the main artery through the city leading to the southern gate
The main artery. Ruins of merchant stalls can be seen to the right.
 Merchant stalls lining the main artery
The main artery from the southern gate of the city. This may have been the city’s only gate.
A high-class residential district, probably inhabited by wealthy merchants, just east of the southern gate. 
 Upper-class residential district. The brick structure may have been a cistern. 
Well in the upper-class district
Ruins of ribats, or caravanserais, just outside the walls of the city at the southern gates. At one time there were close to 1000 of these ribats surrounding the city. 
Locals are still uncovering artifacts from the ruins. This young man has a pottery vessel which an archeologist whom I consulted said was used to store mercury. Apparently there are other examples in museums. Among its many other uses, mercury was used in processing gold, and was exceeding valuable in Sogdian times. Shards of common pottery are found everywhere within the ruins. 
 Detail of pottery vessel
Vineyards outside the ruins of the city walls