Articles on Central Asia: Ruins of Otrar and Turkestan

Otrar is a Central Asian ghost town that was a city located along the Silk Road in Kazakhstan. Otrar was an important town in the history of Central Asia, situated on the borders of settled and agricultural civilizations. It was the center of a great oasis and political district, commanding a key point connecting Kazakhstan with China, Europe, Near and Middle East, Siberia and Ural. Otrar archaeological site is unique monument of ancient turk archaeology, history and culture. Archaeological investigations have been implementing here since 1969. In ancient Otrar city Friday Mosque of XIV-XV cc AD was excavated. It was conserved. Remains of medieval baths, residential area of different epochs, pottery workshops of XIII-XIV cc AD, fortification and irrigation system are very interesting. Except Otrar there are such sites as Kuiruktobe, Altyntobe and Mardan-Kuik which can attract tourists’ attention. Kuiruktobe is ancient Keder city. The earliest on the territory of Kazakhstan mosque of X c AD was excavated here. In the Shaulder village big archaeological and ethnographical museum exists. Excursion provides for visiting of Arystan-bab’s mausoleum where teacher of Khodzha Ahmad Yassaui - Arystan-bab was buried. Geographic position especially Syr Darya River played a special role in the life of Otrar and the whole region, and its waters were used for irrigation. They were also known for being abundant with fish and its shores were covered with rich vegetation and were also home to many birds and animals. Otrar is mentioned in numerous sources such as medieval Arab, Persian and Turkic authors. These sources refer to it as one of the Zhetysu (Seven Rivers) towns. The town was situated at the junction of different geographical landscapes and was at the intersection of the caravan ways of the Great Silk Road. Otrar, being at the junction of the two great rivers, was the center of the large agricultural region and, being near the foothills of the Karatau mountains, became one of the supporting fortresses of the nomads wandering in the steppes. From Otrar, along the Arys, roads spread out to Taraz, Balasagun and further on to Chinese Xinjiang; along the Syr Darya an old road went up to Shash, Sogd and then to Merv and Nishapur, and another road went down to Pre-Aral and Ural. Another well known road ran through Kzylkum moving westward to Khorezm and on to the Volga region, the Black Sea and the Caucasus.

For centuries, the Great Steppe received travellers in its cities and villages that were scattered along the Silk Road like oases. One of them is Turkistan (also known as Yasy). Founded in South Kazakhstan circa 4th-6th centuries AD, it achieved its peak of glory in the 12th century AD. At that time the city was diverse and crowded, with rich bazaars and endless caravans. It was famous throughout the Islamic world. In the 16th century AD Yasy was renamed Turkistan.

The first capital of the Kazakh Khanate, Turkistan is best known today as a spiritual centre of Turkic peoples. The legendary sufi Hoja Ahmed Yassawi lived and preached in Turkistan in the 12th century. After his sacred dust had been buried there, Yasy started to gain the reputation of the second Mecca. Turki would say: "Mohammed is in Mecca, and Hoja Ahmed is in Turkistan". A pilgrimage to Turkistan is considered a "minor hajj", and visiting the mausoleum three times is considered equal to a pilgrimage to Mecca. Following Yassawi's death, Tamerlane, impressed by his intellect and selfless life, personally drafted the design of the Yassawi mosque and closely supervised its construction in 1385-1405. And so, the finest creation by medieval architects, Yassawi mausoleum, was built.

This vast complex of palaces and temples impresses the visitor with its elegant decorations, patterned domes and richly coloured majolica. The dimensions of the mausoleum itself are 46.5 m x 65.5 m. The outer walls are 2-3 m thick and 39 m high, with a foundation of the same depth. The building features a huge portal, a number of domes and more than 35 rooms.  The central hall of the mausoleum is called kazanlyk (in Kazakh, kazan means "boiler", which symbolises the unity and hospitality of the Turkic people). The kazan installed in the mausoleum is second to none in size. It has a capacity of 3,000 litres, a diameter of 2.45 m and a weight of two tonnes. It was cast from an alloy made of seven metals. The kazanlyk has a brick dome with a diameter of 18.2 m (the largest dome in Central Asia).

The walls of the mausoleum are made of burnt bricks, the technology of which was developed to perfection. The facing of the northern portal and the door to the burial-vault with fine ivory incrustation are especially beautiful. The burial-vault of Yassawi occupies the central part of the mosque. The tombstone is made of dark-green jade brought from India. At a distance from the mosque there is a pantheon in which many Kazakh khans are buried.  The Yassawi mausoleum is attended by 100-250 people daily, and during religious feasts the attendance increases to 1,000. Most visitors are Muslims from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. In June 2004, the Yassawi mausoleum was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Turkistan features numerous examples of ancient architecture that are associated with the Kazakhs' belief in aruahs (ancestors' souls). Those who revere the memory of their ancestors are protected by them. That is why crowds of pilgrims come to sacred places such as the tomb of clairvoyant woman Domalak-Ana on a hill near Turkistan. In 1998, the old tomb was reconstructed into a modern-style memorial built of white marble. Two stones from the original tomb are considered sacred, and people say that only a righteous person can walk between them.

 

 

 

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