Showing posts with label Uzbekistan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Uzbekistan. Show all posts

Friday, October 15, 2021

Uzbekistan | Khorezm | Nukus | Fifty Forts Region


From Khiva I wandered on down the Amu Darya River (also known as the Oxus)  to the city of Nukus. Actually I did not want to go to Nukus. I was much more interesting in the ruins of the old Silk Road cities and fortresses scattered along the north bank of the Amu Darya, but my driver insisted that all tourists who come this way go to Nukus to visit the Karakalpakstan State Museum of Art. Unfortunately he did not point out why all tourists go to the Karakalpakstan State Museum. It turns out, according to A Recent Story In The New York Times, that this “museum in the parched hinterland of Uzbekistan . . . is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Russian avant-garde art.”

I did not know this at the time. I did peek through a few doorways into galleries containing what looked like avant-garde art, but of course I did not go in, since I have not the slightest interest in anything avant-garde and indeed little interest in any art created since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. I did spend an enjoyable couple of hours examining the museum’s fair to middling collection of Zoroastrian Ossuaries, which were especially interesting to me since I had just recently visited a Zoroastrian Tower of Silence, also on the banks of the Amu Darya, where human corpses were stripped of their flesh so their bones could be collected and placed in funeral urns like these. I also drooled over the museum’s small but mouth-wateringly delectable collection of antique Turkmen Carpets.  

But enough of that. From Nukus we proceeded eastward along the northern bank of the Amu Darya through what is known as the Ellik Kala, or Fifty Forts Region. The area is dotted with ruins of cities and forts dating from perhaps the third or fourth century BC to the seventh century AD. At one time many of these settlements would have served as important way-stations on the Silk Road between Bukhara and Samarkand to the east and Kunya Urgench, farther on down the Amu Darya. 
 Kyzyl Kala (Fortress)
 Ruins of Toprak Kala, dating to about 2000 years ago
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
  Ruins of Toprak Kala
Aerial view of the ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala. Built sometime in the 4th–7th centuries AD, the fortress may have been destroyed during the Mongol Invasion of Khorezm in the 1220s (see Enlargement). The ruins of the old city can be seen to the left of the fortress. 
Ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala
Ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala
 Ruins of the lower fortress of Ayaz Kala
Just north of the Lower Fortress on a higher summit is another larger fortress dating back to the 4th century BCE.

Aerial View of Upper Fortress (see Enlargement)
 Ruins of the upper fortress of Ayaz Kala
 Ruins of the upper fortress of Ayaz Kala
Ruins of the upper fortress of Ayaz Kala

Monday, September 6, 2021

Uzbekistan | Khwarezm | Gyaur Qala

Sixteen miles southeast of The Zoroastrian Tower Of Silence are the ruins of Gyaur Qala, or fortress, located right on the banks of the Amu Darya River not far from the edge of the Sultan Uvays Dag Mountains.
Driving through the Sultan Uvays Dag Mountains. These hills (they would not be dignified with the name mountains in Mongolia) are somewhat of an anomaly out here in the generally flat valley of the Amu Darya (click on photos for enlargements)
The founding of Gyaur Qala probably dates to about 400 BC, or roughly 2400 years ago. It was thought to be strategic stronghold guarding the important Amu Darya trade routes to and from Khwarezm, the ancient realm on the lower part of the river and its delta where it flows into the Aral Sea. Given its locale the fortress could have controlled both the land routes on the banks of the Amu Darya and the boat traffic on the river. At its prime of the two north-south trending walls of the fort measuring almost 1500 in length. The northern wall was about 650 feet long. Today only the northern wall and portions of the northwest corner remain. The nearby Janpiq Qala was supposedly sacked by Chingis Khan’s sons Chagatai and Ögedei in the winter of 1220-1221, but there is no record of them attacking Gyaur Qala. It is not at all clear when and why the fort finally was abandoned.
 The Amu Darya from Gyaur Qala
 Northern Wall
  Northern Wall
  Northern Wall
   Northern Wall
   Northern Wall
  
Northern Wall
Northern Wall
Northern Wall
 Northern Wall
 Northern Wall
 Northwest corner
 Northwest corner and northern wall
 Northern Wall
  Northwest corner and northern wall
  Northern Wall
Exterior of northwest corner

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Uzbekistan | Paikend | Varakhsha

I already mentioned the Kushans, who may have ruled Bukhara when the Magok-i Attari was first constructed. After the Kushans, around the beginning of the sixth century, Sogdiana fell under the sway of the Hephthalites, perhaps descendants of the Yuezhi, who themselves may have been Blonde-Haired Blue-Eyed Proto-Hippie Potheads but exact origins unclear.

The Hephthalites emerged in the fifth century a.d. and at the peak of their empire controlled much of East Turkistan (current day Xinjiang Province China, Afghanistan, and northwest India. According to one contemporary historian, the word “hephthalite” is derived from the Sogdian word for “strong man” Although the Hephthalites may have claimed suzerainty over the city-states of the Zerafshan Valley the Sogdians probably enjoyed a degree of autonomy, and by 563 a.d. Hephthalite influence in the region had ended altogether.

It was around this time that the Ark in Bukhara and the various small settlements surrounding it had coalesced into an important city. Still, it was one of numerous cities in the Bukhara Oasis and not necessarily the most dominant. Varakhsha, on what was then the western edge of the Bukhara Oasis (its ruins are now in the desert), and Paikend (also Baikand), on the very southern edge of the oasis, were both substantial, well-fortified cities older than Bukhara itself. Indeed, according to the ten-century historian Narshakhi a trader who went to Bagdad was more likely to brag that he was from Paikend than from Bukhara. These cities of the Bukhara oasis and the other loosely aligned city-states which made up Sogdiana dominated trade on the Silk Road arteries stretching from China and India to Byzantium, southern Russia and northern Africa, and their language, an early form of Iranian, became the lingua franca of commerce.
Locations of Paikend and Varakhsha (click on images for enlargements)
Paikend, twenty-eight miles southwest of Bukhara, was an important caravan stop on the Merv-Bukhara-Amul (at the Amu Darya Crossing)-Samarkand route. Attacked and largely destroyed by invading Arabs in the 710s, it was partially rebuilt but probably never recovered its former prominence. It is now in ruins. 
Ruins of Paikend
Southern entrance to the city. Stalls used by merchants can still be seen at top, just left of center.
Remains of what were probably residences
View of vineyards from the walls of the city
Ruins of Varakhsha
Varakhsha, twenty miles west-northwest of Bukhara, probably exceeded Bukhara in importance during its heyday. It boasted of impressive palaces used by Sogdian rulers. Once in the cultivated part of the Bukhara oasis, it may have been abandoned for lack of water as the oasis contracted. 
Ruins of Varakhsha
Ruins of Varakhsha
Ruins of Varakhsha
Ruins of Varakhsha
From Varakhsha the desert now stretches for hundreds of miles to the west
The religions practiced in Sogdia were indicative of these trade links with varying cultures. Buddhism, which had entered the region via Bactria, was in decline by the sixth century, but Zoroastrianism, the dominant religion of the Sassanian Empire to the southwest, was flourishing. Nestorian Christianity, stamped out in Byzantium, had spread eastward, and as early as 334 a.d. there was a Christian bishop in Merv, just south of the Amu Darya. By the sixth century Nestorian Christians were established in Samarkand, and probably in Bukhara. Manichaeism and a host of breakaway sects and chthonic cults also found followers among the Sogdians. By the end of the sixth century Sogdiana was flourishing, but dangers lurked just beyond the horizon. It was probably at this time that the Sogdians constructed the Kanpirak, or “Old Woman, the 150 or-more-long wall which surrounded most of the Bukhara Oasis and served as a bulwark against the hostile Turkish nomads who inhabited the deserts and steppes to the north. The invaders who would bring down Sogdiana and forever change the way of life in the Land Beyond the Rivers came not from the north, however, but from the south, in form of Arabs who came proclaiming the new religion of Islam.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Uzbekistan | Dabusiya

As you know, the Great Silk Road City Of Bukhara fell to the Mongols sometime of February of 1220. By the beginning of March Chingis Khan was ready to march on Samarkand. The two Jewels of Mawarannahr, Bukhara and Samarkand, were linked by the so-called Royal Road, an ancient thoroughfare following roughly the course of the Zerafshan River. Samarkand is 135 miles east of Bukhara ATCF, but upstream from Bukhara the Zarafshan River loops to the north before continuing on east, and the distance between the two cities via the Royal Road, which roughly follows the river, was between thirty-seven and thirty-nine farsakhs (148 to 156 miles) This was a journey was six or seven stages, or days, by camel. 
The Zerafshan Valley (click on photos for enlargements)
Accompanied by the huge flock of levies who had been dragooned in Bukhara for the anticipated siege of Samarkand, the Mongol army proceed north on the Royal Road, probably passing once again through the towns of Shargh, Iskijkath, and Vabkent  and finally reaching the edge of the Bukhara Oasis at Tawais. After another eight miles they passed by the Caravanserai Of Rabat-i-Malik and continued on twelve more miles to Kermaniye. 
The huge portal of the Rabat-i-Malik Caravanserai
At some point beyond of the Bukhara Oasis Chingis Khan may have divided his army into two parts, with one contingent crossing the Zerafshan River and proceeding east on the north bank, and the other riding east on the south bank. According to a story told by the Chinese Daoist Chang Chunzi, who himself traveled along the north bank of the Zerafshan a year later, in 1221, Chingis Khan himself led the army on the north bank. The Chinese holy man saw “on the road a well more than one hundred feet deep, where an old man, a Mohammadan, had a bullock which turned a drawbeam and raised water for thirsty people. The emperor Chinghiz, when passing here, had seen this man, and ordered that he should be exempted from taxes and  duties.”

Beyond Kermaniye the Royal Road veered to the south-southeast and passed a region dotted with numerous cities and towns that had flourished for a thousand years in the rich oases lining the Zerafshan RIver. This was the very heart of old Sogdiana. Chingis Khan, in his haste to get to reach Samarkand, did not linger in this well-populated and prosperous region. According to the Persian historian Juvaini (1226–1283), “whenever the villages in his path submitted, he in no way molested them.” The historian al-Athir (1160–1233), however, asserts that Chingis Khan continued to seize able-bodied men in the towns he passed through, adding them to the already vast horde of levies he had dragooned in Bukhara. Al-Athir further asserts that these men were forced to march on foot alongside the Mongol army and that any who fell from hunger or exhaustion were killed. 

We hear of only two cities which put up any real resistance. The first was Dabusiya, located twenty-four miles south-southeast miles east of the current-day town of Karmana on the south bank of the Zerafshan. One of the half dozen or so major cities of ancient Sogdiana, Dabusiya had been a well fortified city as early as 112 a.d., and in the early eighth century over 10,000 Sogdian and Turkish troops had unsuccessfully defended the city walls against Arab invaders. It was later occupied by the Samanids, and was still a well-fortified city when it it finally fell to the Qarakhanids during the reign of Ismail II al-Muntasir, the last of the Samanid rulers. With the defeat of the Qarakhanids it became part of the Khwarezmshah’s realm. Although still heavily fortified, with mammoth walls facing the Zerafshan River, it did not provide much of an obstacle to the Mongols. Chingis left a detachments of troops to besiege the city while he and bulk of his army hastened eastward to Samarkand. We hear no more of Dabusiya from Juvaini or other historians, but eventually the city fell to the Mongols and was at some point destroyed. It was never rebuilt and today there is no city or town of Dabusiya, although the ruins of the old city walls still rear up from the south bank of the Zerafshan. 
Looking down the Zerafshan River from the ruined ramparts of Dabusiya
 The walls of Dabusiya
 Walls of Dabusiya
An old street running through the ruins of Dabusiya
 One of the city gates in the distance, with a street running through the city
Street running through the city
 The Zerafshan River upstream from the top of the city’s ramparts
 Local people taking the ferry across the Zerafshan
Nowadays people come here to visit the tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, a famous local saint, whose mausoleum now stands amidst the ruins of the old city.
 Mausoleum of  Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam, situated amidst the ruins of Dabusiya
 Mausoleum of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
Tomb of Daliv Ismatulla Abrievich Imam
My driver (left), without whose help I would have never found Dabusiya; the imam in the charge of the mausoleum (center); and some guy who insisted on getting into the photo (right)