Day 80 (1): Interesting World Heritage ruins

kunya-urgench Travel Blog

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Turabeg Khanym Complex


The Karakum Highway had been a perfect smooth road until we reached the town where the people of Darvaza had been relocated. Suddenly everything changed. This town doesn't seem to appear on any maps at all, so I have no idea what the name of the place was. The desert gave way to green irrigated farmland but the road took a turn for the worse.
It was obvious that road traffic from Ashgabat never reaches beyond this village.

About an hour later we reached the settlement of Konye-Urgench. The modern town is nothing to write home about, but between the 12th and 13th century this was the capital of the Khorezem Empire and an important city along the Northern Silk Road.

Geometrical calendar inside the Turabeg Khanym Complex
Although Khorezem was an Uzbek empire, the town of Konye-Urgench and its Uzbek citizens were added to Turkmenistan in an attempt by Stalin to divide Central Asian ethnicities and minimise nationalistic feelings.

In Turkmen lore Konye-Urgench is still lovingly remembered as the city which withstood the Mongolian invasion for more than six months. The Mongols, not used to such resistance, eventually diverted the nearby Amu-Darya river and flooded the city, drowning its defenders.
Under Mongolian rule the city flourished once again and remained an important trading post until the city was sacked by the armies of Timur (an Uzbek king with Jengiz Khan aspirations).

Despite Mongolian, Timuroid and Soviet invasion there are surprisingly many buildings left, scattered around the desert.

The most interesting cluster of monuments lies south of the modern town.
Gutlug Timur minaret
The Turabeg Khanym Complex is an interesting mosque/mausoleum/school/whatever. To this day scholars are unsure just what the building was. It is generally considered a mausoleum, though there is no record of just who lies buried here. The geometric patterns inside the dome are in fact an intricate calendar, with 365 sections in the mosaic, representing the days, 24 arches beneath the dome representing the hours, 12 bigger arches representing the months of the year and four big windows representing the weeks in a month.

Further down there were several more tombs (with strange conical domes) and a large, slightly leaning, minaret, the last remainder of a massive mosque which once stood here.

There were many people visiting the monuments, most of them from Uzbekistan. It was interesting to see how the people reacted to what for them is some kind of pilgrimage.
Me at the Nejameddin Kubra mausoleum
In Central Asia Islamic religion has been riddled with pre-Islamic influences and animistic traditions. Women praying at the mausoleums and minaret would touch its walls and then make washing gestures on their faces, something I would more associate with Buddhism or Shamanism than with Islam.

And they would not just do this with religious buildings either. The Kyrk Molla, the hill where Konye-Urgench's inhabitants held their last stance against the invading Mongols, is now considered a place where women can increase their fertility by rolling down the hill. (I must admit that I didn't see any women rolling down the hill, but quite a few came running down in groups, holding hands as they did so).

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Turabeg Khanym Complex
Turabeg Khanym Complex
Geometrical calendar inside the Tu…
Geometrical calendar inside the T…
Gutlug Timur minaret
Gutlug Timur minaret
Me at the Nejameddin Kubra mausole…
Me at the Nejameddin Kubra mausol…
Detail of Thurabeg Khanym Complex
Detail of Thurabeg Khanym Complex
Women praying at Konye Urgench
Women praying at Konye Urgench
Women praying at Minaret
Women praying at Minaret
Sultan Tekesh mausoleum
Sultan Tekesh mausoleum
Sultan Tekesh mausoleum with Gutlu…
Sultan Tekesh mausoleum with Gutl…
Il Arslan mausoleum
Il Arslan mausoleum
Kyrk Molla
Kyrk Molla
Nejameddin Kubra and Sultan Ali ma…
Nejameddin Kubra and Sultan Ali m…
People praying at Nejameddin Kubra…
People praying at Nejameddin Kubr…
Inside the Nejameddin Kubra mausol…
Inside the Nejameddin Kubra mauso…
detail of the Sultan Ali mausoleum
detail of the Sultan Ali mausoleum
Konye-Urgench museum
Konye-Urgench museum
kunya-urgench
photo by: Vlindeke