26 April 2017, 14:48




Konye-Urgench is an authentic pearl of the Turkmen history. Its masterpieces of medieval architecture absorbed the diversity of Islamic traditions - a unique combination of architectural styles and forms, the richness of textures and designs, rare dome shape, clarity and color depth

01.07.2016

Konye-Urgench is located 480 km to the north from Ashgabat near the old river stream of Amu-Darya on the crossroad of trade routes connecting China to the east and from south to north-west up to Volga River. Konye-Urgench is one of the largest cities of the Great Silk Road, embodied its symbolic landmark of the history of Turkmenistan. The date of its foundation is unknown, but remaining of the old fortress of the city of Kyrkmolla (40 mullahs) belong to the ancient period (II-V centuries of B.C.) There were references on this city in Aveste sacred book of Zoroastrian, which was called “Urva”, “Urga”.

In the middle of the VIII century the city was conquered by Arabs and was renamed and called Gurgandj. In X century on the right bank of Amu-Darya river the governors of Samanids developed North Khorezm state, the Urgench emirate, the capital of which turn to be the city.


XII and beginning of XIII centuries it was the period of astounding growth of Urgench. It was predominated in numbers and fame of many cities of Central Asia. Well-known thinkers of that time used to live and create here such as Avicenna, Al-Beruni, and Ibn-Battut and others. In 1221, the city regarded as "the heart of Islam" rebelled against Genghis Khan and was destroyed by Mongols.

Urgench was introduced to Ulucha Juchi, and later in 1359 year became independent from the Golden Horde. In the first half of the XIV century a special role in the development of the city played Qutlugh Temur and his wife Turabek-Khanum.

The city survived destructive conquest of Amir Temur’s army in 1388 years, and in the 16th century it had turned into a desert forcing people to leave due to change of the course of Amu Darya River. In 1664 years, after the construction of new Urgench in the territory of modern Uzbekistan, the old city was called Konye-Urgench (Old Urgench).

Konye-Urgench is a unique gem of Turkmen history and spirituality with masterpieces of medieval art of buildings, which embodied all variety of Islamic traditions. It is distinguished by high degree of decorativeness with combination of architectural style and forms, richness of textures and design, rear forms of domes, purity and in-depth colors. As prominent examples of classical Eastern masterpieces and evidences of creative genius of the Turkmen nation with its generative role in the history of human civilization, it is the best monuments of the ancient city is the objects of the State of historic-cultural preservation; Konye-Urgench is included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.

The diamond in the diadem of masterpieces Konye-Urgench

is called historians and critics of mausoleum Turabek-Khanum. Its architecture is a unique combination of elegance and monumentality, the perfection of architectural forms and gorgeous decor. The amazing beauty of the building with a rich finish inside and outside, with outdoor light hexagonal hall about a hundred square meters, decorated with carved mosaic. On top of all is a huge dome. The inner dome decor was a very fine mosaic works with ornaments of stars and colors.


Who and when has built this mausoleum is unknown; no information about it is retained. The name of Turabek-Khanum was always surrounded by numerous romantic legends, the favorite daughter of the governor of Golden Horde - Uzbek-khan and the spouse of his deputy in Khoresm Qutlugh Temur, who governed in XIX century. She became famous for constructing religious buildings. She had reputation of being mercy and fair and her name was well known all over Khorezm. Traditionally, Turabek-Khanum was the patroness of women and girls. In XIX-XX centuries, her mausoleum was the center of mass pilgrimage of brides. They usually come here before the wedding and asked for her blessing. Now, the tomb of Turabek-Khanum has been the center of mass pilgrimage.

There is a beautiful legend on true love which could not be recognized and valued enough by the daughter of the governor, Turabek. Inherited the throne of his father, Turabek-Khanym stayed long enough unmarried, and only after persuasion of elders decided to give her heart to the chosen one. However, she is known for her strict temper, nobody dared to ask in marriage. Only one master Gulgardan was not afraid of declaring his feelings and promised to construct her building the finest on the Earth. Turabek agreed with the state only if she like the building, otherwise he will be punished. The master constructed three times the buildings one better than other one. But capricious Turabek neither one liked but in her heart she realized that he was a talented master and all buildings were fine. She reproached him for wasted means. The saint Sheikh Sharaf asked her to give him the third building constructed by a master. Not willing to give up, Turabek said: “Well, I will give you this building only if you fill it up with gold”.

Today, Saint Sharif climbed up to the dome of the building, and put down the sleeve into the hole from the top. Gold coins kept falling from his sleeve and filled it up of the entire building up to the dome. But Turabek kept saying: "Common, pour it down!" Sheikh Sharaf continued to scatter gold, the dome overflowed and burst. Since then, the dome has cracks and holes. Gold is divided into seven parts. They say that one part is scattered over Urgench, even now residents of the city, once in awhile find gold coins.


On the seventh portion of gold, the master began new construction in the hope that Turabek would keep her words. But the capricious Princess set a new condition: to climb the peshtak and to jump from the building to prove his love, if stay alive, she will become his wife.

Gulgardan jumped, got smashed up, but did not die. Seven days his soul did not leave the body until Turabek after insistence of elders said: "My body belongs to you." They say that there is a buried place of the master in Mazar Turabek-Khanum and the spot left for Turabek.

Time has not had mercy on the mausoleum, as well as other unique examples of oriental architecture of Konye-Urgench. But even today, despite the absence of the north side and the destroyed dome of the mausoleum impresses with its grandeur.

Rush into the blue of the sky

The minaret of Qutlugh Temur is the highest in the world preserved medieval construction. It is impressed with height and harmony of proportions getting thinner on the top is a 60 meters high gigantic conical tower. Outside of minaret there are 18 wide belts carved with figural ornaments and 3 broad belts of inscriptions in Kufi.


Ornamental belt was separated with brickwork, which was called "Seljuk chain" when two intertwining wavy ribbons form a pattern. Among facing bricks, beautifully polished ones are covered with finely carved blocks in a "bow" and letters «S». The elements of the skillful ornamental decor emphasize the lightness and elegance of the architectural style.

Delighted with the minaret Qutlugh Temur, Kerim Kurbannepesov, a well-known Turkmen poet dedicated the following lines:

Onсe an architect built a minaret:
Made stand the tower even to the clouds
Drew on its walls such a fabulous design
Which sparkling on the stone the same as on the fabric
Depending how the ray falls on the chosen spot
It changed the pattern to the brightest color
It either breathed majestic hills of steeps
Or shed quiescent mode of love and kindness


The history of the minaret is covered by a veil of secrecy, which reveals occasionally for inquisitive researchers. Scientists received the answer not right away to the question about the date of its construction. At an early stage of the study, they noted its "archaic" and determined the construction time of X-XI centuries. On the basis of the translated inscription by Russian scientists A.Yakubovskiyi, V. Zotov, the construction time of encircling minaret was attributed to the XI-XII centuries.


The answer to another question has not been yet found by researchers. The entrance to the minaret is 6.5 meters from the ground. To get in one can either step up on the ladder or through the bridge of the adjacent building. However, careful archaeological excavations around the minaret did not reveal even a trace of any structures. From the entrance, on the spiral 144 staircase one can get up to the level of 50 meters in 5 minutes, where there is a second doorway. Staircase ends with a small circular area, but the minaret itself is continued further up for another 10 meters.

It remains mysterious the construction technology of the minaret. Scientists agreed that it was built from the inside without the use of scaffolding. A people’s legend said by announcing the construction of minarets Sultan Adil Qutlugh (Temur) imposed tax on the Khorezm population. Every citizen was required to be delivered a bag of straws to the construction site to build minaret to be able to reach the top of it.

By researching the basic masonry researchers noticed that each row was laid on two-centimetric layer of plastic clay. Between these rows it is carefully mortared by a solution of a special composition, hardened to a monolithic stone state. All this provides high protection against seismic shock that, according to scientists, explains the longevity of the monument.


Another intriguing mystery of the minaret is an unusual design of complex foundation. One part is a multi-stage inverted pyramid. To study in detail the foundation on which stands such massive column, scientists was not yet able to, because the main part of it is submerged in ground water.

Researchers have asked the question related to the purpose of such a grand structure in the center of Urgench. Had this platform is aimed to call the true believers to prayer then this minaret is too high, the muezzin's voice was hardly heard below. Inscriptions written on the top are indistinguishable to the naked eye, and no mosque nearby. Excavation is located in 80 meters to the west of the minaret on the hill and found fragments of glazed terracotta of stairways, and towers, gives scientists’ reason to believe that there has always been a festive Mosque - Namazgah. Together with the minaret Qutlugh Temur it formed a finished architectural complex so that it would be held crowded festive liturgy twice a year.

May be the minaret served a noble mission, hiding in the shadow of its secret treasure of the ancient thoughts of Gurganja? One legend tells that when the enemy army approached the city, the thinkers of that time asked primarily to remove and hide a rich collection of the library. But when the caravan with packs of books was about to leave the city, observers, sitting on top of a minaret informed that it was too late that the city was surrounded by enemies. The shadow of the minaret fell to the threshold of the ruined building with a basement. It was decided to hide the book in these ruins. So did they. The enemy has captured and destroyed the city, stole population. Books were hidden in the ruins. People say that the shadow of the minaret falls on the place of the hidden books only once a year. But when exactly it happens stay mysterious. Folk tradition can be true, and is associated with one of the most tragic pages in the history Gurganj - in 1221, the city was subjected to the ravages of the Mongol conquest.


Time passes, the era changes one to another, and the minaret of Qutlugh Temur looking to the heavenly blue sky, as a century ago, represents the greatness of our ancient land and talent of Turkmen artists excites inquiring minds of researchers. As far as armatures of oriental architecture and many travelers come to open up the secrets of our rich history and witness firsthand the unique spiritual and monumental masterpiece.

Connecting with the sky

To south east from minaret Qutlugh Temur is located one of the largest complex buildings of Urgench - Mausoleum of Tekesh dated the 12th century.

Massive and majestic (building size 18,5x18,5 m, wall thickness of 3.7 m, diameter of the dome - 11 m height from the floor to the top of the inner dome 18,5m) mausoleum dominates the city's landscape, symbolizing the divine origin of the power of the monarch. A conical dome, faced with sky-blue majolica tiles, in the spiritual beliefs of Turkic aristocracy represents the connection to the sky (Tangry), helping the soul of the deceased go to the other world. In terms of architectural uniqueness of Tekesh mausoleum is a portal-tent-shaped composition, specific for Central Asia only, and none of alike is met whatsoever.

The people called Mausoleum Mazar Sheikh Sharap Baba. This lawyer and preacher was Khorezmians lived in Urgench and became famous as the author of "Accomplice Murid", written in 1313 for Arsary Bai. The people’s legend stated as a sign of respect and reverence for the high-Sheikh people built a tomb. When the Sheikh showed building (mausoleum), he praised the builders, but said: "Such an insignificant servant of God as me, it would be too immodest to be" buried in this building". However, he agreed to be buried outside the tomb. After the Sheikh's death, according to the last will, he was buried outside. Historical records in particular report the historian Taj al-Din ibn Andjaba ibn Al-Ca and in the book "The brief collection of chronicles and biography", stated as follows: "He built this madrasa in Khorezm (Urgench) by Sultan Khorezmshah Tekesh. He built it for hanifits and founded a library in it, competing with the Seljuk sultans. He was fair to his subordinates, knew the basics and Hanifites’ jurisprudence sphere, engaged in it and led debates. He died on 20th Ramadan 596 year, in Shahrastan, and his son Kutty ad-Din Muhammad moved the body and buried it in Khorezm in the tomb, which Tekesh, built for himself at the madrassa. “For a more complete reason to believe that the mausoleum is indeed connected with a name Tekesh, scientists still need to resolve.


The construction of the mausoleum of Sheikh Tekesh was not associated with any names of governors or sheikhs. The contemporaries were attracted primarily for its architecture. When designing the building masters were founded upon the structure of a plain Chartaqi, they developed it to an enormous size, and masterly carved its exterior.

At the base of the monument there is a square prism with a distinctive conical dome above a 24-sided drum. The beautiful turquoise tile-work still adorns the dome. The “stalactite” decoration adorns the arch above the main doorway. The main entrance is highlighted particularly small portal and high stalactite arch. It is extremely unique ribbed drum finish. It is rich in plasticity of growing up forms. Artistic expression gives the color: the masonry panels and stalactites simple pattern inserted small turquoise bricks.

Time ruled, like many others architectural monuments, despite the loss in the decor, it now impresses with its originality of architectural design and artistic expression.

A halo of sanctity Najmuddin Kubra

Inside the modern Konye-Urgench there is a place, which is a well known Sih-Kabir mazary, which literally means "grave of the great sheikh." Here, according to people’s legend, in 1221 a martyr poured the blood, died for the faith from the Mongolian horsemen - the great Sufi Sheikh Najmuddin Kubra. For centuries, invisible to the uninitiated spiritual light the tomb of the great Sheikh serves as a beacon for pilgrims from around the world. Ahmad ibn Omar Najmeddin chose the path of the Sufi and known as the founder of the Sufi Order "kubraviya". He was called the "Kubra", ie greatest of the great, close to God, a friend of God. Alisher Navoi wrote that the saint was named after Kubra, which means that the dispute is not equal to him, he always wins. Ideas Najmuddin Kubra became a kind of stage in the development of the doctrine of Sufism and constituted a qualitatively new type of humanistic views on ways to improve the human. Najmuddin Kubra returned home about 40 years of age. In Gurganj he built khanaka (Sufi monastery) surrounded himself with numerous students. They came to him seeking the truth and he remained faithful to his ideas and his compatriots till the end of his life.


According to legend, the great Sheikh, possessing miraculous power, able to predict the events anticipated great calamity that will come from the East and turn flourishing region in ruins. "Return to your home, because Fire Troubles is coming from the East. This disaster did not know the story, "- cried Najmuddin Kubra to his disciples. To which they replied, "Pray to our mentor because everyone knows that your prayers are always favorably accepted by Allah." But the scientist said sadly: "This disaster is impossible to stop even with the prayer."

Sources also say that enemies allowed Sheikh Kubra to leave the besieged Urgench. But the 76-year-old Sheikh, by picking up his sword, went to the battlefield, from which escaped Khorezmshah. From the description of the event, made by Alisher Navoi, it is known that in one of the attacks Sheikh captured enemy’s flag and held it so tightly that the enemy managed to take the flag only after killing him, they cut off the fingers of the saint.

The place where it happened was associated and admired by the Sheikh built firstly a simple square room with a dome. However, as the posthumous fame of the saint grew the architectural ensemble as well. It is located in the center of the necropolis, which is people referred to "360 saints", according to the number of those who have died for the great sheikh. A special place in the memorial complex places a grave of Djamildjan - beloved disciple of Najmuddin Kubra.


The symbolic mausoleum of Sheikh in its present form was built and luxuriously decorated in XIV century, during the reign of Qutlugh Temur and Turabek-Khanum. The building has four domed premises and, indeed, the tomb with the tombstone which set according to the legend on the spot where body of Sheikh fell and next to it was stood a tall obelisk marking a spot of falling head. But the pole was broken in 1950 by the collapsed dome from the tombs.

Scholars and connoisseurs of eastern graphic note an outstanding artistic merit of the facing tombstones. According to the researchers, this is one of the best examples of eastern majolica. Small graphic painting curls in a stylized manner reveal the entire world of plant patterns of Central Asian flora.

No less value has a portal (peshtak) mausoleum faced with majolica tiles. Most of them have been lost, but remained Arabic inscriptions in the style of Suls and floral-herbal elements that are typical of Khorezm architectural ceramics.

During the time when Najmuddin Kubra lived, many people dreamed to see him even with a glimpse of an eye and worship him to talk to him. Today, the stream of pilgrims continues visiting Sih-Kabir mazary for the search of truth.

Surrounding old Urgench: Izmukshir Fortress


Anyne who has ever been in Dashoguz, be sure to show the remains of the walls of the ancient fortress Zamakshar. According to the stories of the local population, between the layers of the wall you can see human mortal remains. However, the fortress is well-known the most for being born and lived here Mahmyt al-Zamakhshari, a great scholar of XI-XII centuries

The fortress ruins are located in 25 kilometers south-west of the modern Dashoguz which is the administrative center of the northern region of Turkmenistan. Locals call the fortress Izmukshir, in Arabic it pronounced as Zamakhshari. What does that word mean and what has caused the name of the fortress, from the point of view of science stays to be resolved.

The name of this fortress is mentioned in the ancient sources. The medieval Arab poet said that all the villages of the world would be happy to become a victim of the village Zamakshari, because it gave the world the great thinker Mahmyt al-Zamakhshari. According to the stories of the local population, this fort was hastily built when was taken the field in Khorezm by the son of Genghis Khan, a commander Hulagu. To defend against the enemy, people gathered for the construction of defense. The height of the fort reached 20 meters. To speak the word "tired" for builders was tantamount to death. Those ones weaken of the hard work laid in wet clay wall and bricked. Therefore, even today, at the walls of the fortress, be careful of saying the word “I am tired”, - warn the local residents.

Let’s refer to the historical evidence. In 1219, the Mongol armies attacked Khorezm. How such military storm underwent is unknown. But looking at the remains of a fortified wall with towers and observation posts, you can imagine how the defenders of the fortress in the afternoon with the help of red cloth, and at night - a burning torch warned residents of nearby settlements of approaching enemy forces. Keeping the secret of the heroic past, Yzmykshir Fortress revered by the people, first and foremost, as the birthplace of the eminent scientist Mahmyt al-Zamakhshari, whose name was on a par with the great thinkers of the Middle Ages such as Ibn Sina, Al- Khorezmi, al-Biruni.


Since childhood Mahmyt al-Zamakhshari was interested in the sciences. He studied at the madrasa in Bukhara and Urgench. Anushtegina served for Khorezmshah, who gathered around him the best scientific minds. Zamakhshari was engaged not only in science, but also in poetry. Often, he was invited to the great councils to resolve important state affairs. He was even called Fakhr al-Khwarizmi, which is meant "pride of Khorezm". But at the age of 40 years Zamakhshari was very ill and made a vow that had he recuperates, it would no longer serve, Khorezmshah would be engaged in the teaching and science. The scientist kept his word, and after his recovery he went to Arabia.

On the way he met with well-known scientists, and everywhere, where he taught, enjoyed great prestige. He was given the honorary title of Al-Allama (the great scientist) for his talent, high education and achievements in science. A Syrian sovereign Mazaffareddin Al-Malik Al-Ashraf I gave a reward in the form of five thousand pieces of silver for those one be able to know the work of the scientist by heart. Today Zamakhshary works are studied in schools and universities in Turkey and European countries.

The scientist died in 1144 year in Urgench, according to the local people, his tomb is located to the east from the fortress Yzmykshir. In 2004, a six-volume works of the scientist was released under the name "Spring of the saints" in Turkmenistan.

Irina Imamkuliyeva,
Photo Yuriyi Shkurin