Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day Trips from Nukus - Mizdahkan

Photo: Mizdahkan Hilltop Credit: Geocoucou

The Archaeological and Architectural complex of ancient Mizdahkan covers a vast area of over 200 hectares.
A half day tour of Mizdahkan requires around 2-3 hours in total from Nukus to visit. It is located 19km accessible by bus / taxi from Nukus; to visit including visiting the beautiful Mazlumkhan Sulu, Shamun nabi and Halfa Yereshep mausoleums and the archaeological site Gyaur-Kala Caravanserai.
Mizdahkhan is located 3 km from the town of Xo‘jayli also spelled as Khodjeyli and Khodzheyli (Uzbek: Xo‘jayli / Хўжaйли; Karakalpak: Хojeli / Хожели; Russian: Ходжейли)  and is situated along one of the northern branches of the Silk Road - today the main arterial route from Kunya-Urgench across the border in Turkmenistan to Nukus and then onto the northern regions of the Republic - Kungrad and Muynak and up onto the Ustyurt plateau.

Mizdahkan sits on three hills on the south-western outskirts of Khodjeili, and consists of the antique pre - Mongol town of Gayur - kala, the religious centre the hill of Mazlumkhan sulu and the ruins of the unfortified city built during the period of the Golden Horde (the 13th-14th centuries AD.) that was once a major trade and handicraft centre of the ancient Khorezmian state. The first settlement on the site was formed sometime in the 4th century B.C. and building lasted until the 13th century A.D when the city was destroyed by the invading Mongol-Tatar tribes.

During 1985 - 1999 archaeologists excavated dwellings, streets and small hills containing rich ceramic complexes (pottery kilns and ceramics for food and wine), various domestic utensils, glass, unique ossuary’s, coins and highly artistic silver and golden articles. Many Zoroastrian sepulchres being preserved in the eastern part of Mizdahkan.

Today, one finds thousands of tombs, mausoleums, shrines and small qalas all over this hill. Some researches believe that the doctrine of Zoroastrianism was initiated and its religious teacher Zoroaster wrote his original holy book "The Avesta" at Mizdahhan.

Photo: Capitals - This finds show the high level of architectural décor in Khorezm in the 13th-14th c AD, which influenced not only on architecture in the steppe cities of Golden Horde, but also adjoining regions in Central Asia and the Northern Caucasus.

Gyaur Kala

Gyaur Kala (or Qala) meaning infidel fortress (name given by the Arab conquerors) is one of three Gyaur Kalas in the region. One is located not to far away across the river and south beside the Sultan Uvays hills and the other in Turkmenistan's Merv (old Avestan country of Mouru).The naming of these Kalas or fortresses as Gyaur Kalas assures us that they belonged to Zoroastrian kingdoms as the Arabs were particularly hostile and derogatory towards the religion.

The fortress appears to have been constructed and occupied by the 4th century BCE during the height of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. It also appears to have been destroyed by fire towards the end of the 2nd century BC and then rebuilt and occupied up to the 4th century AC until it was once again destroyed.

Photo:Mizdahkan looking west with the Necropolis in the foreground and
Gyaur Kala in the background. Credit: Zoroastrian Heritage


The two hills closest to Khodjeili are covered by a vast necropolis - a large, elaborate, ancient cemetery - literally a city of tombs and graves. Numerous ossuary's, coins, domestic utensils, items made from glass, and exquisitely crafted gold ornaments and objects have been excavated and removed from the site.

The oldest burials sites are found on the north-eastern hill and date back to the 2nd century BC. These sites show the use of Kurgan like burial practices, a practice prevalent amongst the nomadic people. Kurgans had mound covered graves that often contained artefacts. memorabilia and items to assist the dead in their afterlife. Usually, the size of the mound indicated the status of the person.

Over time the necropolis has been shared by many different communities and people of different religious backgrounds.

In the early 7th century the people of Khvarizem began to make ossuary's out of alabaster, many of which were decorated with a scene of mourning that some have interpreted as the legendary death of Siyavush, son of the Kyanian King Kai Kaus, a legend that was later recounted by the poet Ferdowsi in his epic poem the Shahnameh.

The eastern hill also contains a number of Zoroastrian ossuary burial sites dating from the 5th century AD. In 651 AD the Arab advance had reached neighbouring Khorasan, overcoming the defenders and captured the city of Merv. It was not long before they would arrive at the outskirts of Mizdakan and in 712 CE, both Mizdakan and other parts of Khwarazem fell. The Arab armies destroyed all the Zoroastrian fire temples and according to a report by al-Beruni, killed scores of the Zoroastrian priests. While some Zoroastrian burials continued through the 8th and 9th centuries, these soon ceased and the site was then on used for Muslim burials.

Photo: Maslum Khan Sulu

Famous Legends

The mausoleum Maslumkhan-Sulu is a multi-domed construction partially constructed  underground. Associated with the burial mounds of Tagisken and the mausoleum of Balandy II. The rich architectural décor of Maslumkhan-Sulu consists of bow-shaped tiles-crosspieces and a system of constructive stalactites. The monument was built during the epoch of the Golden Horde and has historical parallels to architectural monuments of the Western Kazakhstan and the Volga region.

Mizdahkan is shrouded a number of colourful local legends and folk beliefs that are all intertwined in the history of the complex.  On the top of the eastern hill in the 12th-13th centuries there was built the unusual semi-underground mausoleum the Maslum khan-Sulu. A young princess whom it is said died for her love of a man she could not marry. You can enter the mausoleum which has been restored to its former beauty. It is serene and beautiful inside, its walls lined with geometric patterns and carvings. It has been a place of local veneration for centuries.

Photo:Tomb of Maslum Khan

The legend goes like this - A long time ago lived Maslum Khan the beautiful daughter of the ruler of  Mizdahkan. Many rich and noble men sought her love, but she fell in love with a poor man. However she was a princess and he was a labourer, so there was no way for them to marry. She rejected all her suitors and the angry father decreed that his daughter could only marry the man who could build a minaret to heaven overnight. Inspired by his love, the lovestruck labourer built such a minaret and in the morning came to the palace to claim his prize. But the ruler still refused to let his daughter marry. The grief stricken youth jumped from the minaret that he has built himself and she jumped after him. Only in death could their souls be joined. They were buried together. On top of their grave a mausoleum was built. According to the legend the mausoleum was built from the bricks taken from the minaret that was destroyed by the order of her father.

Today only the domes and the portal of the mausoleum rise over the ground. Through a vaulted corridor down to a small room and further down to the main hall there run stone stairs; the passages from the hall lead to scantily lit small rooms covered by an octahedral vaults. On a hot day, when outside the temperature exceeds 40 degrees C, it is really cool in here; the streams of sunlight passing through the windows in the vaults illuminates blue mosaics on the walls and the vault of the mausoleum.

The niches of the main hall contain two tombstones covered with white and blue glazed tiles containing gilt patterns. The tombstones are decorated with Arabic epitaphs made in naskh script and quoting the lines from the Koran. There are neither names nor death dates of the people buried inside.

Just south of Muzkum khan-Sulu Mausoleum are the ruins of the most mysterious structure on Mizdakhan  the  Erejep Caliph Mausoleum built from adobe and hard-burned bricks. According to the legend, it is the burial place of a famous Islamic saint who preached in the area during the early Islamic period. It is believed that after his death that his spirit continues to do good deeds.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the solid foundation of the mausoleum, built in the 9th-10th centuries, has a cane base to protect the building from ground water and to make it earthquake-resistant. However, only three walls and fragments of the dome and part of the façade (brickwork of the former portal and entranceway).

All around the mausoleum lies heaps of polished baked bricks. Pilgrims who have come there to pray building hundreds of little 'wish' piles by putting the fallen bricks one atop the other. According to tradition the number of the bricks in such a pyramid must be only "seven", and one must not take bricks from other pyramids – destroying the happiness of someone else you cannot build your own happiness. To take away even one brick means that you are committing a sin.

The magic power of the number "Seven" is also connected with the mausoleum of the Saint Shamun-Nabi. His mausoleum stands on the northern hill of Mizdakhan. It is said that he worked wonders, healed the sick, controlled the weather and the movement of the heavenly bodies; he understood the languages of animals and preached the belief in God.

The mausoleum was built in the 18th century on the ruins of an ancient structure. His tomb is an elongated sepulchre, some 25 metres long, topped by seven cupola domes. It is said that his tomb was built long so as to confuse pilgrims who liked to souvenir holy relics! However, when archaeologists opened the tomb, no remains were discovered inside.

Photo:Tomb of Shamun Nabi

Next to Shamun-Nabi Mausoleum there is a 5-metre-high burial mound supposedly built over the grave of the saint Djumarat. The mound is the highest point of the eastern hill and it rather nondescript and has a survey marker on top. Djumarat Khassab was a revered butcher. According to legend he used to come to the mound to hand out meat to the poor and needy in times of bad harvests or famine. For his kindness and his compassion he has henceforth always considered a saint.

Sources: A number of sources including;


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