Osh is the second largest
city in Kyrgyzstan, reputedly 3000 years old. Archaeologists have found
artefacts dating back to about the fifth century BC. One claim that is
often heard is that Osh is "older than Rome".
There are several legends about the origin of the
city - including claims to having been founded by Solomon or Alexander
the Great. Even if it was not founded by such a great personage, its
position at a crossroads along the ancient trading routes that became
known as the Silk Road almost guaranteed that it would become a major
settlement. In the period between the 10th and 12th centuries it was
the third city of the Ferghana Valley, and in 1762 it joined the
Khanate of Kokand and became one of the six trading centres with the
Khanate. Assimilated into Tsarist Russia, the city expanded onto the
left bank of the river and European style houses started to appear.
Osh is mentioned in the
greatest epic of the Kyrgyz People, Manas: the wiseman Oshpur was a
tutor of Manas.
The city is the administrative centre of the Osh
oblast, at the head of the Ferghana valley and lies close to the border
with Uzbekistan. A large number of travellers along the Silk Road use
the nearby Dostuk border crossing.
Not far from Osh are the caves of Chil Ustin and
the petroglyphs of Avaran.
The Ak-Buura river runs through the city from
north to south, and to the west is Sulaiman Too (Solomon's mountain),
which dominates the city. Some Muslims consider it sacred and make a
pilgrimage to the site where Muhammad is supposed to have once prayed.
For some reason (apparently, in profile some people think it resembles
a pregnant woman) it is also revered by many women who have been unable
to bear children. At the top of a short (30 minute climb) is a flagpole
and a mosque built in 1497 by the 14 year old Babur who had been
recently crowned the King of the Ferghana Valley and who later went on
to become the founder of the Mogul dynasty in India. Destroyed and
rebuilt twice it is another centre for pilgrimage. There is also a
small archaeological-cultural museum here with many of the ancient
artefacts discovered in the city environs. An historical-ethnographic
museum called the Great Silk Road Museum, on Kurmanjan Datka, has good
exhibitions which focus on South Kyrgyzstan and cover the Silk Road
days; Kyrgyz immigration from South Siberia; the Kokand khanate;
Russian annexation in 1865 and the Bolshevik takeover after 1917. One
interesting exhibit is a map dating from 1953 that shows the different
Kyrgyz tribes and clans (still a very important factor in Kyrgyz
In the city there is a
statue of Kurmanjan Dakta - the 'Queen of the South' who opposed
Russian expansion in the region and is featured on the 50-som note.
Most guidebooks refer to the bazaar as one of the
most picturesque in all of Asia, stretching for about a kilometre along
the bank of the river. Also worth visiting are the Rabat Abdul Khan
Mosque - but only if you are a suitably dressed man - and the Russian
In Osh there are several guesthouses and hotels
and a number of local tour companies can offer services in the