10km south of Tokmok, the tower is all that remains of the ancient city
of Balasugan set at the foot of the Shamshy valley. Established in the
10 th century on the site of an older settlement, the city was the
birthplace of the poet Jusup Balasugyn (1015) who wrote an epic poem
called Katadgu Bilig ("The knowledge which brings happiness"), which
has been translated into several languages including a recent
translation into English by Walter May.
With Kashgar, Balasugan was one of the capitals of the Eastern Khanate
when the Karakhanid state split up. (The capital of the Western Khanate
was Samarkand.) It was spared from destruction by Genghis Khan's
Mongols, and renamed Gobalik ('good city') in the 13 th century, but it
lost its importance and had disappeared by the 15 th century.
There were major archaeological surveys of the site in the 1920s, 1950s
and 1970s. The archaeologists discovered that the town had a
complicated layout covering some 25-30 square kilometers. There were
ruins of a central fortress, some handicraft shops, bazaars, four
religious buildings, domestic dwellings, a bathhouse, a plot of arable
land and a water main (pipes delivering water from a nearby canyon).
Two rings of walls surrounded the town.
Although the Kharakhanids (who
built the city) practiced Islam, they were tolerant of other religions
and there are some examples of early Christian (Nestorian)
The entire museum complex today covers some 36 hectares. It includes
the tower itself, reconstructions of mausoleums found on the site, a
mound that is all that remains of the palace/citadel, a collection of balbals
(grave markers used by nomadic Turkic peoples
who used to roam Central Asia) and petroglyphs (paintings on stones),
and a small museum. An embankment on which the town walls were built
out of wattle and daub, would have surrounded the town.
The tower is believed to be a minaret and if so it is the oldest in
Central Asia. The name Burana itself is probably a corruption of the
Turkic word murana (minaret). A similar
construction is preserved at Uzgen, in the south near the Uzbek border,
complete with the domed crown and doorways from which the muezzin would
call the faithful to prayer.
Originally 45m tall only the bottom 25m remain - the top was lost in an
earthquake in the 15 th century. The tower has an octagonal base and on
this was constructed a conical tower. On the outside of the tower is
pattern of relief work in brick. The diameter at the bottom of the
tower is 9.3m and the top is 6m across. The remains were "canabalised"
by local people who took the bricks from the base for their building -
photographs of the tower before reconstruction in the 1970s can be seen
in the small museum and show this clearly.
Inside is a narrow spiral staircase that is said to be original,
leading to the top. Access would have been by removable stairs, or
through the roof of the mosque - now there is a metal staircase leading
to the door nearly 7m above ground on the southern side. From the top
it is possible to get a good view of the Chu valley and Tokmok. Also,
it is possible to make out the lines of the walls of the settlement in
the fields surrounding the tower.
At the foot of the tower are some reconstructions of the foundations of
several ancient mausoleums made out of burnt brick. These foundations
were uncovered in the 1970s. The different shapes and sizes indicate
the different status and numbers of occupants.
Nearby is a small hill, measuring 100m square and 10m high. It
apparently hides a palace complex (or a temple - the archaeologists
aren't sure), which existed in the 10 th century - that is before the
town itself came into being.
A little further away is a collection of balbals
(small statues of the dead - gravestones of the nomadic Turks) dating
from the 6 th century, and petroglyphs dating from the 2 nd century BC,
brought and placed here from all around the Chu valley. There are other
collections around the Chu valley and in Southern Kazakhstan.
The small museum, established in 1976, contains some artifacts
recovered from the site (jars, coins, a board game), but it is claimed
that the best articles were removed a long time ago to Moscow or St.
Petersburg. In the Shamshy valley itself has been found a wide range of
Scythian artifacts, including a heavy golden burial mask.
From the Tower, it is possible to head into the mountains to a
picturesque valley to the Kegeti or Shamshy gorges.