Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Older than Rome

The KalpakOsh 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.

Older than RomeOsh 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 society today).

Older than RomeIn 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 Orthodox Church.

In Osh there are several guesthouses and hotels and a number of local tour companies can offer services in the neighbourhood.

By Ian Claytor

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #4

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