Sultan Palace Merv

History Sites of the Oasis for Travel Interest in Uzbekistan. Part II

The Other Fortresses (Kala/ Tepe) in the Khoresm oasis

Bustan Elli Kala is a small but pretty regional centre of the administrative district of Elli Kala (Fifty castles). The town lies beside a scenic lake and a home to a small museum that displays some of the principal fortresses in the region, including dioramas and some artifacts from the excavations.

Chilpyk is a circular high walled enclosure on an isolated peak overlooking the Amu Darya River which can be seen clearly from the main road. It is a dakhma or Tower of Silence which was used by people of the Zoroastrian faith for exposure of the dead. The bodies were laid out under the open sky for the birds to eatfor the birds to eat. When the bones were cleaned, the families collected nd placed them in clay or stone ossuaries for burial. The hills surrounding Chilpik are filled with burials and examples of these ossuaries can be seen in the Nukus museum. Cilpik is located 43 kilometers south of Nukus on the road to Turtkul. It lieas on the right bank of the Amu Darya and can be approached by a sandy track from the main Nukus road.

The walls form a slightly irregular circle some 65 metres in diameter with an opening to the northwest. Leading up the steepest part of the hill to the entrance is a 20 metres long staircase. From the base of this a ramp leads down towards the river. The walls are preserved to as much as 15 meters in places and are of pakhsa construction, measuring 2-3 meters in thickness at the top and a little over 5 meters at the base. The building was originally constructed in the first centuries CE bu saw a phase of rebuilding in the 7th-8th centuries and again in the 9th-10th centuries.

Dzhanbas-kala is a frontier fortress on the southeast border of ancient Khorezm on the way to Turtkul. It is a spectacular ruin on a slope overlooking an old branch of Amu Darya. Many Bronze Age sites were found in the vicinity but most have now disappeared under agriculture. The fort is rectangular in plan, 200 X 170 meters. Like many of the fortresses, the site dates to the Early Antique period. It was founded in the 4th century BCE and was and was occupied until about the 1st century CE. It has well preserved walls still stading up to 20 meters high in places and a monumental gateway.

The site is different from the most of the other fortresses, in having no towers on its outer walls. However, the site was well defended. The double walls provide an inner corridor with two levels for archers. The outer faces of the walls are well supplied with over a thousand arrow slits. The embrasures located at several points along the upper wall galleries, are the precursors to towers, allow a single archer to fire down along the face of the walls through arrow slits positioned at three different angles. From the main gatein the southwest wall a street lined on either side with residential blocks led up to the top of the town where there was a monumental building, believed to be a Fire Temple. Finds from the site suggest that it was in use from the 4th century BCE to the 1st century CE. Dzhanbas-kala is visible from the road but the track leading up to it is very sandy and is only suitable for high clearance vehicles.

Dzhanpyk-kala is one of the most beautiful fortress in Khorezm. Located on the southwestern slopes of the Sultan-uiz-dagh range, near the banks of the Amu Darya River. The earliest foundations are date to 4th BCE – 1st CE, but the walls visible today are from the medieval period 9th-10th centuries CE. There are domestic and industrial areas within the fortress which date to the 12th-14th centuries. On the northwest side is a palace building or citadel with walls that preserve the elegant fluted facade mouldings indicative of medieval architecture in Khorezm.

The plan of the site is complex as it is not regular but follows the relief of the land. On the top of the fortifications was once an open shooting gallery protected at the front by a low wall. Access to the gallery would have been by means of steps set against the inside of the walls. There are five towers preserved, set roughly 70 meters apart. Only the tower on the east wall has an internal chamber; others are solid. It is likely that there were once two entrances. One in the north wall leads out to a cemetery while the second is in a bend of the wall on the southern side. At the highest point of the site is a rectangular citadel. On the southern wall are traces of a breach created and repaired during the Mongol invasions. The site can be reached by a road leading off the Nukus- Turkul highway at the end of the Sultan-uiz-dagh range. The first part of the road is sealed but the last section of track requires a high clearance vehicle.

Guldursun-kala Bolshaya

The fortified town of Guldursun lies beside the road running from Bustan to Turtkul. Founded in the Early Antique period. However, the ruins today show a major center of the Khorezmshah period. The site is one of the largest fortresses of ancient Khorezm. The exterior walls and towers date to the 12th century. It has complex fortifications and a monumental gateway located in the middle of the east wall. The curtain wall has rounded towers at the corners on one side. This section of wall also has the only gateway, flanked by rounded towers. The outworks consist of a low parapet incorporating mini- towers and detached oval towers. Various structures are still visible within the fortifications and there are outworks dating to the 12th- 13th centuries. Much ancient and medieval pottery and many bronze items and coins were found within the site during archeological excavations. The coins indicate that the last period of occupation is related to the year 1220, during the rule of Muhammed Khorezmshah and the Mongol invasion in Khorezm.

Gyaur-kala Sultan-uizdaghskaya

The fortress of Gyaur-kala lies on the right bank of Amu darya, 80 km south to Nukus, on the road to Turtkul. A small tarmac road, leading down towards the river that turns and runs immediately by the site. Founded in the Early Antique period and in use until the 4th century CE. Today, only the north wall and a short section of the western wall partly survived. The fortress had a trapezoidal plan, with typical Khorezmian double walls and double storey archer's galleries, towers and arrow slits. The walls built of mud brick on pakhsa socles. The remains are preserved to an impressive height and give a good indication of how forbidding these walls must once have been. The northern wall is about 200 meters long while the east and west walls were once over 400 meters long. A monumental building preserved within the northwestern corner of the citadel walls. It had several small halls, with ornate sandstone column bases. Finely plastered walls with wall paintings in niches, appears to have been an altar. This building was probably a cultic fire sanctuary. Gyaur-kala remained in use into the Kushan period, around the 3rd century CE.

Kazakli-yatkan is of the largest, most complex sites to be found in ancient Khorezm. Possibly founded around the early 2nd century BCE and continued in use until 1st- 2nd centuries CE. The site comprises a rectangular fortified enclosure with outworks, to which was later added a huge outer enclosure, also well fortified.

The earlier enclosure lies in the northwest corner of the later city. Both enclosures were defended by galleried walls with regularly spaced arrow slits and towers. Two complex gateways give access from the earlier enclosure into the later one located lower.Traces of monumental buildings can be seen in the earlier enclosure. In the northwest corner is a temple or palace, a rectangular building with a massive outer wall lined on the interior and exterior by a colonnade. The bases of the columns were supported by ornate stepped and drum pedestals. Traces of painted plasterand ornamental stucco work have been found in the interior. In the exact centre of the site is a building interpreted as a mausoleum, consisting of two square towers flanking a partly preserved barrel vault. The site lies on the minor road to the east of the Biruni- Nukus highway and very close to the back road from Biruni to Elli-kala. A one-kilometer sandy track leads from the tarmac road to the site. Visitors can either walk or use a high clearance vehicle.

Kzil-kala is 1.3 km west of Toprak-kala and was built and occupied during the same period as the largest site. It lies about 500 m off the tarmac road among fields. Visitors can reach it via a sandy track. The fortress stands on level ground among canals and fields. It is near a square in plan. It has towers on two of the four sides while the walls are well preserved and still 13-16 m in heoght. The entrance to the fort is in the southeast wall and is approached by a ramp. Kzil-kala was originally constructed in the Late Antique period, 1st-4th centuries CE, but was abandoned and rebuilt again in the 12th-13th centuries on the eve of the Mongol invasions.The walls are elaborate, built with square unfired bricks, and the outer wall has arrow shaped embrasures. Supposedly, it was an early example of one of the many fortified manor houses that were typical of Khorezm in the early medieval times whilst other scholars think about fort as a garrison barracks for troops.

Bolshoi Kirk-kiz-kala

Large Kirk-kiz-kala dates from the 4th century BCE to the 7th-8th centuries CE. The site lies on the edge of the irrigated lands and forms part of the chain of frontier fortresses running eastwards from Ayaz-kala. It lies close to a minor road to the north of the main Bustan to Turtkul road. Founded in the Early Antique period; saw reconstruction in the Kushan period, the Late Antique times and further rebuilding in the 7th-8th centuries CE. The fortress is rectangular in plan with double walls containing a double storey archer's gallery with arrow shaped embrasures. The walls are defended by rectangular two storeyed towers. The entrance was in the middle of the northeast wall.

An external cover wall some ten meters further out added to the protection of the fortifications. The ruins of farmstead or manor house preserved within the walls, while outside the fields contain scatters of shards over a wide area. This indicate an extensive suburban complex, now destroyed by ploughing. In the Afrighid period the area within and around the fortress was a pottery production center.

Malii Kirk-kiz-kala

Small Kirk-kiz-kala founded around the 4th-3rd centuries BCE, abandoned at the end of 3rd or the early 4th century CE. The fortifications consist of western and eastern parts, abutting each other and with different plans. The western part has a sub-circular ring of fortifications with double walls, protected by two tiers of arrow slits. The eastern part forms a segment of a circle abutting the inner fortified enclosure. The wall is preserved only as a thick foundation block some 3 meters wide. It lies quite close to Bolshoi Kirk-kiz-kala and can be reached from the same road. Malii Kir-kiz-kala was a border fortress, forming part of the defense system at the edge of oasis. It can be seen from Ayaz-kala I to the west, and from Kurgashin-kala to the east, and the garrison may have used smoke signals to warn of enemy incursions. Some scholars also believe that border fortresses such as this one performed an additional commercial role as centers of trade and exchange with nomadic peoples roaming the desert and steppe to the north.


One of the most enigmatic of Khorezmian monuments, Koi-krylgan-kala, lies 22 km northeast of Turkul. While today little is visible but a dusty mound, the original plan of the site consisted of a rounded, two storey building 45 meters in diameter fortified by a double ring wall with arrow slits and towers. There was an elaborate gateway flanked by semicircular towers in the east of the fortress with a ramp leading into the main building. The ground floor of the central building was divided into eight sectors forming two separate complexes.

The building stood eight and a half meters at its highest point. Access to the upper floor was only possible from the second floor of the archer's gallery by means of ladders. Between the fortifications and central building, storehouses and informal dwellings were gradually built up. Finds from excavations at the site suggest that the purpose of the main building was not residential. Its circular plan and perfectly aligned internal chambers, as well as terracotta figurines and other artifacts, led the excavators to conclude that the building was originally constructed as a scared building used for astronomical observations.

There later followed a period of abandonment when squatters used it as a locationfor pottery production, but its original purpose appears not to have been forgotten and later it was rebuilt again for cult practices. Storage of grain and other commodities again became important. The site saw continuous growth and change, during which the fortifications became redundant and it became an open settlement. The site proved very rich in artifacts including terracotta figurines, statues and fragments of wall paintings, as well as ornate clay ossuaries. Among the finds were also examples of some of the oldest written documents in Central Asia. Founded around the 4th century BCE, it continued to be in use into 4th century CE.


The fortress lies seventeen km north of Dzhanbas –kala, on the same line of hill. The site is well preserved and some of the towers still stand up to two storey high. It is 1.4 hectares in size, built in the 4th-3rd centuries BCE and have been in use up to the 4th century CE.The fortress has a rectangular plan. The walls are double thickness with a central corridor. The outer faces are pierced by arrow slits. The defenses are strengthened by a combination of rounded and rectangular defensive towers, with a different treatment used at each corner. The gate was in the center of the southeast wall, reinforced by a protecting barbican. Outworks complete the defenses. The site is located in strategic position, guarding the northeast sector of the ancient Khorezmian state. Accordig to local herders the name is derived from the Turkic word for – lead, which is supposed to have been mined nearby. Located right beside the fortress were several large farmsteads, with houses, storehouses, fields, canals and extensive vineyards.

Mizdakh-khan is a large complex since the early Antique period and reoccupied extensively in the medieval period, up to the 14th century. The ruins sprawls across the road towards Kunya Urgench on the western border of Karakalpakstan. Medieval Mizdakhan mentioned by Persian historians and the writings of the Arab geographers in the 10th century. The various monuments are sited on and between three small hills and the complex has a number of sectors including a citadel, an outer town and a necropolis.

The oldest settlement established on the west hill in the 4th century BCE. The town was destroyed by fire and a new town was built on top in Kushan times. Finds from the necropolis show that the city continued in use from 5th to the 8th century CE and during this time new public building were constructed.

From the 9th to the 11th century the city saw a period of major renaissance with the construction of a fortified citadel. During this time changes in burial practices indicate the introduction of Islam to the region. Bodies were not longer exposed before burial in ossuaries but were interred according to Muslim rites. New Mausolea and Mosques were built, but in the early 13th century the Mongol invasions caused a short abandonment of the city. By the later part of the century a new lower town spread across the site, with bazaars and craft workshops.

Medieval Mizdakhan was a flourishing craft center on the trade route to Kunya Urgench and was destroyed by Tamerlane on his way through to Kunya Urgench in 1388 CE. The main monument of the site are located on the northern side of the Eastern Hill. There are several medieval mausolea and tombs. The most notable is the restored Mazlum Khan Su mausoleum and ablutions hall wich dates to the 14th century CE and was constructed underground. Other monuments are the 25 m long sarcophagus of the giant Shamun Nabi which is a scared place. The holy place of Djumarat Khasab is a high place on the eastern hill, which may have once been used as a dakhma.

There is also the crumbling tomb of the Caliph Yerejeb (or Erezhep), dating to the 11th century. The tomb displays fine architectural construction with its use of mud brick and fire brick. A layer of reeds was placed in the base of the walls to add to their seismic stability.

Tash-kirman-tepe is a religious complex lying a few km east of Kazakli-yatkan . The site is located on the ancient canal system and covers an area of about 10 hectares. The parts visible on the surface today include a monumental mud brick platform with a centrally located temple and some outlying features. The platform is made with alternating layers of sterile sand and mud brick. An earlier building has been found under the existing temple platform which may date back to the 6th century BCE, while the main buildings visible date to the end of the Early Antique Period. The temple lies at the center of the platform and consists of a complex of corridors surrounding a central chamber which probably housed the main fire altar. In the later stages of use, the corridors were used to store the sacred ash from the main altar.