Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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The Uzgen Minaret

The Uzgen MinaretThe city of Uzgen is said to date back over 2000 years. It is claimed to have been the site of a number of citadels built at various times since the 1st century BC, and is sometimes identified with the town of Yu in 2nd century BC Chinese Chronicles. There are even claims that it was the site of a camp for Alexander the Great's troops.

It was an important centre on the trade routes between the Fergana and Semirechye. Uzgen became a highly developed town in the Karakhanid epoch and developed into a large trading and handicrafts centre. In the 11th and 12th centuries Uzgen was one of the capitals of the Karakhanid State (at that time it was called Mavarannahr). However, from the 13th century it gradually lost its economic significance.

The ancient city of Uzgen was located on a high bank of the Kara-Darya river and consisted of three shakhristans, of which only hills and ruined walls remain. However, an 11th century minaret survives and three mausoleums dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, making it one of the unique architectural sites of medieval Central Asia.

The Uzgen Minaret is vertical and consists of three parts: the lower part is an octahedron 5 m high; the middle part is in the form of a tapering cylinder; and the upper part is a lantern built in 1923 to1924, with a cupola and arched windows. The minaret is 27.5 m high. The diameter of the lower part is 8.5 m, and the upper part 6.2 m. The minaret was made of brick. One of the faces of the base has a lancet arched door leading to the spiral staircase, lit by two narrow windows. The cylindrical part is decorated with 11 ornamented belts, the narrow ones decorated with embossed patterns. Because the ornamentation is artistically and technically more diverse than that of the Burana Tower in the Chui oblast it is thought that the Uzgen minaret was built later than its northern relative.

Near the minaret are three mausoleums built in a line. These are known as the Northern, Middle and Southern Mausoleums.

The Uzgen MinaretThe Middle Mausoleum was the first to be built, in the early 11th century (1012 to 1013). According to some sources, it was built in honour of Karakhanid Nasr ibn Ali. It takes the form of a square, measuring 11.3 m by 11.4 m - the interior measures 8.5 m by 8.5 m - and is 13 m high. The mausoleum is built of fired brick and it is richly decorated with figured brick work and carved ornaments in alabaster plaster. It is possible to count about 12 ornamental geometrical and vegetation motifs. There are columns in the corners and it has four doorways, three of which are actual doorways. The western facade is in the form of a portal with a door in a deep niche. The niche is topped with a lancet arch supported by columns. The niche is 3.8 m wide and about 7 m high, and is framed with decorative strips.

The Uzgen MinaretThe Northern Mausoleum was built in 1152 to1153, a date that was determined in the 1920s from an analysis of the inscriptions found on the mausoleum. According to some sources, it was intended as the burial place of Klich-Burhan-Khan, and his father and mother, but according to other data it is the burial place of Ilchi-Mazi-Sultan. However an inscription tells that the Mausoleum was built in honour of Jalal-ad-dinual-Husein. It is square in shape measuring 10.2 m by 12.2 m, (the interior is 7.5 m by 7.5 m) and is built of brick. Inside there are two columns supporting the cornice on both sides of the portal, decorated with a rhombic pattern of brickwork. In addition to the decorative brickwork and alabaster carvings, there are also terracotta tiles with various forms of ornamentation and carved Arabic inscriptions.

The Southern Mausoleum was built in 1186 to1187, (a date also determined from analysis of the inscriptions), but it is not known to whom it is dedicated. It is much smaller than its neighbours although it is also square in shape with the interior measuring 6.4 m by 6.4 m. The portal resembles that on the Northern Mausoleum, but the decor is different. Here different sizes of terracotta tiles were used with inscriptions implemented in "kufi" and "nash" handwriting with arabesque "islimi", ornaments of stars and crosses filled with winding rods of grapes.

A little to the north east are the petroglyphs of Kara Dzhar.

By Ian Claytor

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #4

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