Friday, June 24, 2011

Archeological Sites - Karakalpakstan - The Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm

  Golden Ring of Ancient Khorezm.

Travelling east 2-3 hrs from Nukus or north 1-1.5 hrs from Khiva/Urgench permits you to view some of Central Asia's most fascinating archaeological sites, for in southern Karakalpakistan are located over 300 forts and other historical ruins dating from the ancient Khorezmian Empire established in 7th-6th century B.C up until the early medieval period.

These monuments include:
• Toprak kala. Fortress and Castle. (I-IV c.A.D.) (Ellikkala district)
• Ayaz kala. Fortress. IV-XIII c.B.C. (Ellikkala district)
• Guldursin kala. Fortress and Castle. XI-XIII c. A.D (Ellikkala district)
• Koy kyrilgan kala. Fortress and Temple. IV c. B.C.- IV c. A.D. (Turtkul district)
• Djambas kala. Castle. IV c. B.C. - I c. A.D. (Turtkul district)

Closer to Nukus/Urgench:
 • Mizdakhan & Gyaur-kala. Ruined city and Zoroastrian and Islamic burial site. IV-III c. B.C. to XIV c. AD. (Hojeli district)
•  Kyzil Kala. I-II c.A.D. (Beruni district)
• Chilpik Zoroastrian grave Mound II-IV c., IX-Xi c. AD (Beruni district)
• Djanpyk Kala : Site of Ancient City IX-XI c. and XIII-XIV c. AD (Beruni district)

Ayaz Kala: A series of three fortresses from 2nd-7th cc. AD

Ayaz-Kala situated in the Elikkalin district of
the Republic of Karakalpakstan is 70km from Urgench and 150km from Nukus.

One of the most spectacular archaeological sites in Southern Karakalpakstan, Ayaz-kala comprises the remains of three fortresses constructed during the 5th-4th centuries BC that are clustered together on and around a prominent hill, with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside overlooking the vast Amu Darya plain.

This amazing fortress is located on three levels on the eastern side of the Sultanuizdag mountain ridge and is considered to be the most impressive of  "Ancient Khorezm 300 fortresses".

Ayaz-1, built on top of the range, with a steep bank falling to the ancient delta of the Amu-Darya river, at its foot is Ayaz-3 the oldest part of the fortress that served as the Palace of the great King Afrig, from where a ramp leads up to Ayaz-2, the citadel that protected the palace. Until the 7th century, the entire fort served to protect the population of the surrounding fertile planes in times of attack.

From the top of the walls you can see 20km south west to the Toprak Kala fortress, and looking to the east are the ruins of Kul Kala (5km) and Kirkiz Kala (10km). Get there at the sunset. The views are truly amazing.

Nearby, a gravel road from the main Urgench-Nukus highway leads to a small cluster of yurts, a tourist rest and recreation centre overlooking a shallow but picturesque Ayaz lake. Also you can stay in the yurts overnight. A special experience sleeping under the stars out in the desert and the great cultural events run by the centre.

Chil’pyk. A cult structure of the 2-4th cc., 9-11th cc. AD.

Chılpık (photo from Google Earth)

A circular, high-walled enclosure located  to the north of the town of Mangit on an isolated peak overlooking the Amu Darya river built during the 2nd-4th c A.D and rebuilt as a beacon in the 9th-11th c. A.D . It sits on the edge of a conical 35-40 meter high hill and has the shape of an open-ended circle, 65-79 meters in diameter, the walls some 15 meters high.

Originally a Zoroastrian dakhma " tower of silence' which was used by people of the then prevailing Zoroastrian faith for exposure of their dead. Bodies were laid out under the open sky and, after the bones were cleaned (by vultures), thereafter families collected them and placed them in clay or stone ossuraries for burial. In later times Chil'pyik was used by local people as a beacon. It can be seen clearly for long distance and is easily accessible from the main road to Tashkent about 40 kms south of Nukus.

Toprak Kala: A citadel of the 1-4th cc. AD

Among numerous historical monuments in the Ellikallin region of Karakalpakistan, the ancient settlement of Toprak-kala deserves a special mention. Built during the II-IV cent. AD Toprak-kala was the mansion-house of Khoresmian governors.

Called the "the clay fortress" it is located right in the centre of the Ellik Kala oasis (literally meaning "50 fortresses oasis"), along the old Gavhor canal. It was first excavated in 1938 by S.P. Tolstov, digs conducted right up until 1992. The city was built in one go, according to a pre-determined plan, as a religious centre of the Khorezm kings. On the NW side of the fortress, you can still see the walls of the High Palace.

The complex covers approximately 17 hectares, surrounded by fortress walls preserved in their rampart shape, which are 8-9 meters high in some places. The Kala (500m by 350m in area) was surrounded by defensive walls with arched corridors and towers. The whole construction was broken into ten blocks separated by narrow paths and the main street led from the south gates to the temple of fire. There are ruins of palace at situated in the north-west part of the town, which was built up on a 14 m high base (80m by 80m in area) with three adjacent towers. Archaeologists have excavated a hundred residential and utility houses and in the palace found eight halls decorated with extruded clay and alabaster sculptures and frescos of Zoroastrians deities (vivid colourful wall paintings depicting men dancing in masks).

Artefacts found at the site (some on display at the Savitsky museum) include  decorated Rams' horns, gilded bronze rings and alabaster and glass vessels. Also uncovered were figurines of warriors' in the warriors' hall and sculptures made of unburned clay in the Kings' hall. The Royal Archives were also found at the site and are the oldest examples of documents written in the ancient Khorezm language printed on leather and wood.

Kyzyl Kala, A citadel 1st-2nd c AD., 12 - beginning of 13th c. AD.

Kyzyl Kala known as "the red fortress" is well preserved, it was first excavated in 1938 by the HAEE expedition and is located 27 kilometres to the north of the town of Beruni. It is only 2km (W) of Toprak Kala.

It is situated in a valley and has a square shape of dimensions 65x63 meters, its corners oriented to the four directions of the world. The outside wall was incised with two circles of lancet loopholes. It was apparently built as a defensive fortress, and was one of a line of Khorezm fortifications created to protect ancient Khoresm north-eastern borders.

At the time, the fortress was the centre of an agricultural region and a junction on the important caravan routes through the Sultanuizdag mountain range. It seems it was not aimed at providing shelter to local population in case of attack but exclusively used as a garrison fort for soldiers manning Toprak kala (2km to the West). The fortress is composed of two storeys with the soldiers lived on the lower level.

Gyaur Qala A fort of the 4th century B,C.

Located about 63 km from the town of Beruni next to the Sultan Uvays Dag mountains. It also  sometimes called Gyaur Kala Uvays Sultan Dag. The fort appears to have been constructed during the 4th cent. BC. Its objective was to guard and control the important Amu Darya trade route as it crossed into the southern frontier of Khorezm.

It is a strong fortress using a Keystone plan, approximately 450 meters long and 200 meters in width. Its southwest fortifications lay on the banks of the Amu Darya. The northern fortifications in places reach a height of 15 m. Its double walls were built on a clay base, designed to protect the bottom of the fort against attack by enemies (protecting against Rams). The spaces between the walls were arched to better protect the troops during battle. Today only the northern wall and part of the northwest corner remains.

Djanpyk Kala : The site of an ancient city of the 9-11th c., and 13-14th c. AD

Located six kilometres to the south-east of Karatau settlement, on the south-western spurs of the Sultanuizdag mountain range in the Beruni district Djanpyk Kala is one of the most picturesque monuments on the right bank of the Amu-Darya river.

The site has a complex configuration. The rectangular shaped citadel has been preserved in the eastern part. Its walls are decorated with close semi-columns, and the tops finished with stepped arcs (in pairs). On the north-western side of fortress there is a palace or a citadel with walls with elegant façade stucco mouldings, typically of the medieval architecture of Khoresm. The layout of the settlement is complex extending over a large area with large level difference following the landform.

Recent archaeological excavations have provided an idea of the site's chronology, with ceramics found dating back to the 4th c. BC up to the 1st c. AD. The date of the latest inhabitation has been determined by silver and copper coins found at the excavations, and traces back as far as the years 1319-1320 and 1345-1346. The site was used as a port during the Middle Ages. Numerous artefacts brought earlier from different Oriental and European countries (China, Egypt, Russia, Europe, and India) have also been revealed by the excavations.

Kurgashin Kala A defensive fortress of the 4th or early 3rd Cent BC.

Located near Beruni, Kurgashin Kala is situated on a slightly elevated platform. Looking from the west, it stands above the desert plains. The fortification measures some130 meters in length and 90 meters in width, with its protective walls reaching a height of 14 to 16 meters. Unlike many similar Kalas it was not only a refuge in times of trouble but was also permanently inhabited. In the vicinity of the fort, archaeologists have found many fragments of ancient pottery and the remains of ancient irrigation channels.

Gul’dursun Kala also known as the Big Guldursun, a fortress from the 3-4th cc. BC, 12-13th c. AD

Located 20 km east of Beruni Gul’dursun is a fortress built in the 1st Cent. BC that functioned up until the 13th century. It was first studied in 1937 by the archaeologist A. G. Gulyamov, and in 1940 the investigation was continued by S.P. Tolstov. Finally, from 1987-1994 it was completed by I. O. Dospanov.

It was one of the largest and most important fortress in its time until it was destroyed in 1221 by the Mongols. The only entrance to Guldursun Kala is located on south-east side and the two towers, connected bridges, provide an overview of the whole area.

Guldursun kala "citadel of the eagles" played an important strategic role at the middle ages, as it was situated at the frontier of  Khiva frontier with the nomadic territories. Known as the Big Guldursun it is one of the largest frontier fortresses in the whole region. The structure is built on the base of a pre-existing ancient fortress, it represents an irregular rectangle with the dimensions 350x230 meters, with the corners oriented to different parts of the realm.

It was renovated at the end of the 14th Cent. with the addition of a number of semi circular towers. You can still see remains of the earlier ancient fortification along the inner wall.

Many ancient and medieval age ceramics, bronze articles and decorations, as well as ancient and medieval coins were found inside during the archaeological excavations. The coin found are evidence to the fact that the last period of the monument's habitation is related to the year 1220, i.e. to last year of Muhammed Khoresmshah's rule, the time of the Mongol invasion of Khorezm. When much of Khorezm was raised to the ground by the forces of Gengiz Khan.

Mizdakhan,Ghyaur Kala: Archeological and Architectural complex, 4th c. BC - 14th c. AD

On the south-western outskirts of Khodjeyli is a unique historical and archaeological ensemble known as Mizdakhan. Located about 20 kms to the west of Nukus it occupies a vast site (some 200ha) and it is situated on two hills one containing a large cemetery and the other the nearby fort known as Gyaur Kala.

Considered one of the most important Zoroastrian sites in Central Asia and important monuments in all of Uzbekistan, Mizdakhan was once famed for its trade, being an important stop on the northern branch of the silk route. Unique ossuary's, coins, various domestic utensils, glass, and highly artistic golden articles have been excavated. Including items connected with the trading cities of the Golden Horde and Khoresm's rise.
The original settlement on the site was formed in the 4th century B.C. and lasted until the 13th century A.D. when it was destroyed by the Mongol-Tatar tribes.

At the top of the hill is the lovely underground Maslum khan-sulu mausoleum, in which visitors can descend stairs to a beautiful cupola structure lined with bright blue tiles.  Nearby is the very holy seven-domed (25m long) Shamun Nabi mausoleum (12th c AD) and many other holy graves and mausoleums such as that of Halfa Yereshep that are part of the Central Asia’s, perhaps, most ancient graveyard. Many Zoroastrian sepulchres have been preserved in the eastern part of Mizdakhan. The oldest skeletal findings in the cemetery come from the 2nd century BC, In the 5th to 8th c. AD when it became an important Zoroastrian graveyard. It is still used for that purpose.

Koy-Krylgan-Kala: Astral temple 4th c. BC - 4th c. AD

The ruins of the Koy-Krylgan-Kala fortification are located northeast of Turtkul about 24 km from the town of Bostan. One of the few large fully excavated ancient sites, it is characterized by its unique octagon-shape.

The monumental building was 42 meters in diameter, had double walls and 9 evenly spaced bastions (towers). The only entrance to Koy Kirilgan Kala fortress is on the eastern side.

It consists of two stories separated on the ground floor into rooms with arched windows and was organized into 3 interrelated groups. The entire structure was surrounded by a moat.

This fortress was a cult structure used for astronomical observations of the sun and the stars. At the time, the Sun and Water cult prevailed and particular devotion was rendered to the Fomalhaut star (in Arabic: 'star on the waters edge') an alpha star of the Southern Pisces constellation. Today we can see only insignificant fragments of the concentric circles of this most mysterious and unique monument of Ancient Khorezm as unfortunately bricks and clay that was used to build it have been removed by local farmers for reuse in their own homes.

A large collection of artefacts were found during excavations, including terra-cota and alabaster statuettes, bas-reliefs on ceramic flasks, sculptured ceramic urns and burial vessels, fragments of frescos, and stone seals that characterise the unique art of ancient Khoresm. A small number of written records, the most ancient in the Central Asia have been found on the site and are of great interest to archaeologists.

Near Koy Kirilgan Kala is Angka Kala, A Fort of the 1st to 3rd Century AD

A small fortified garrison guarding the caravan route into Khorezm, it lies 24 km east from the city of Turtkul and was built in the later period of ancient Khorezm. They consists of a small but well-fortified fortress with double walls which reach a height of 7-8m, with each corner of the fortress  buttressed with a tower. The entrance to the fortress is in the middle of south-east wall which is also defended by two rectangular towers (12 х 6 m). It has plan similar in the form of a square with the sizes on the sides being almost equal 90.8 х 91.6 m. The external walls and towers are cut in one line by loopholes of the typical form of an arrow. Anka Kala main function was to protect the borders of Khorezm state and the important trading caravan route.

Kazakl'i yatkan, A fortified city founded in the 3rd Century BC

Kazakl'i-yatkan consists of an upper and a lower enclosure, measuring about 15 and 30 hectares respectively. Both enclosures are heavily fortified.


The remains of a large fortified city Kazakli'yatkan lies 15 km north of the town Biruni. It was founded in the 3rd century BC, probably on the ruins of another city. Kazakli yatkan became the centre of an important agricultural region. Excavations by a joint Australian Uzbekistan Archaeological team led by the Karakalpak Academy of Sciences and the University of Sydney has revealed the remains of settlements, irrigation systems (canals) and ancient kilns. The fortress is built of burnt bricks, the double walls, towers and regularly distributed on a massive underpinning protection against attack (Rams). The Kazakl'i-yatkan temple / palace has produced an amazingly rich collection of vibrantly coloured ancient murals, as well as painted plaster statuary and stucco decorated with gold leaf. The temple is associated with a fire cult likely related to Zoroastrianism.

Djanbas Kala, fortress, 4th c. BC - 1st. c. AD

Located about 47km north east of To'rtku'l on a barren upland which closes a chain of hills stretching south-east from the Sultanuizdag mountains Djanbas Kala is one of the oldest fortresses in the Republic. it was built in the early 4th century BC to protect nearby agricultural settlements. Materials collected on the site, mostly ceramics, are inherent to the early antique (Kangyuy) culture.

The only entrance to the fortress on the northwest side. Its walls are in relatively good condition and in places reach heights of up to 20 meters The extant walls make a rectangle of 3.5 hectares in area and are oriented towards the east, west, north and south. Covered with sand dunes in some places, these double, five-metre-thick walls reach up to 20 metres in height. Between the outer and inner walls of the fortress there is a 3-meter-wide passageway. The lower part of the walls, up to the level of the embrasures, is made from wattle and daub with streaks of brickwork; above the walls are made of adobe bricks.

Djanbas-Kala is as such quite distinct from most Central Asian fortresses: it has neither corner nor in-wall turrets but still provided a strong defence. Around the whole periphery the outer walls of the fortress there are two staggered rows of arrow-shaped embrasures. Between the rows, from inside, there were built wide ledges for the defenders to stand on. The narrow 20-centimeter-wide embrasures were specially designed to shoot arrows downwards towards the foot of walls and steep slopes facing outside. To better able defenders to repulse of the enemy on the flanks, the walls of the fortress were provided with a group of three specially arranged embrasures: the central one directed straight ahead at a right angle, and two side ones directed right and left respectively at an obtuse angle. Each group of embrasures (with apertures opening inwards) being arranged with a small arched niche provided with a space for one archer. Such systems in the walls alternated with a set of 20-30 ordinary embrasures. The corners of the walls also had pairs of embrasures looking sideways.

Yakke Parsan Fort of the 6th and 8th Cent. AD

Yakke Parsan, is an elaborate early medieval feudal fortress situated 10 Km south of Ayaz Kala near the town of Bostan in the Ellik-qala region and was built during the period of the Afrighids. In the 6th Century A.D there arose a new class of feudal Landowners known as "Dihqans" descendants of soldiers who had been rewarded for their military service. The Dihqans lived on agricultural estates known as "rustaq" and built small forts "donjons" surrounded by defensive walls. 

At the entrance to the fortress stands two entry towers. The fort also has a central tower with vaulted ceilings. The central tower being used as a residence was surrounded by defensive walls linked into the two side towers.


  1. this is a fantastic find - living your blog. am researching all things uzbekistan for a dream trip i hope to make next year! will come back to visit more of your site!
    - anna from perth