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Rocky Mosques of Mangyshlak Peninsula

Date of Submission: 25/08/2021
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Kazakhstan to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Mangystau Region, Karakiya, Mangystau and Tupkaragan Districts
Coordinates: N43 60 E54 07 (Beket-ata (Oglandy) N43 90 E51 88 (Karaman-ata) N44 43 E51 14 E (Shakpak-ata) N43 55 E53 39 (Shopan-ata) N44 47 E51 01 (Sultan-Epe)
Ref.: 6566

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Mangyshlak Peninsula is situated between the western cliff of the Ustyurt Plateau on the east and the Caspian Sea on the west. Some of the components of the local cultural complex became in our days the destinations of massive national and international pilgrimage. The main destinations of this pilgrimage are widely known as the “underground” mosques of local Sufi saint figures. However, the scientific studies of their construction show that most likely they should be identified as the “rocky” mosques.

The property includes the following components all situated on the territory of Mangystau Region of modern Kazakhstan: Beket-ata (Oglandy), Karaman-ata, Shakpak-ata, Shopan-ata and Sultan-Epe. The rocky mosques nominated within the present property have several following particularities: they have the burial complexes in their proximity, they are the main pilgrimage and tourist destinations of the modern period across the peninsula and they played this spiritual role for local communities during a long period of time. The burial places of the Sufi saints that gave their names to the sites are situated inside the internal part or outside in the proximity of the entrance.

The rocky mosque of Beket-ata is situated on the territory of Oglandy Area 100 km north-east from the city of Zhanaozen on the limestone and chalk cliff 100 m above the depression. The necropolis in the proximity of the site was dated by X-XIX centuries. The exact period of construction of the mosque remains unknown. The site was recently restored and has on its territory a small museum and several sleeping accommodations for the pilgrims situated on top of the cliff. The sited was named after the famous Sufi saint – Beket-ata, who was born in the middle of the XVIII century. In fact, four different sites on the territory of Mangyshlak Peninsula were named after Beket-ata. However, the rocky mosque of Beket-ata in Oglandy is considered as the most well-known and popular destination of pilgrims and tourists in the region.

The rocky mosque Karaman-ata is situated 60 km north-east from the city of Aktau. It was built during the XIII century to host the body of Karaman-ata – Sufi, who left very small amount of information on his real life. Some of the tombs forming the necropolis around the site belong to VIII-IX centuries, while the latest Adai tombs correspond to the beginning of XX century.

The rocky mosque of Shakpak-ata is situated 90 km north from the city of Aktau on the territory of Tupkaragan Peninsula in the slopes made of limestone. The component is considered as the oldest rocky mosque in Mangyshlak (IX-X centuries) and has a huge necropolis near it. One of the particularities of the site is the numerous graffiti made on its walls apparently made by the representatives of Oghuz and Adai communities.

The rocky mosque of Shopan-ata is situated 60 km north from the city of Zhanaozen on the bottom of the limestone cliff of the mountain also called Shopan-ata. The cemetery surrounding the site belongs to X-XIX centuries and includes Oghuz and Adai graves. The mosque itself belongs to X-XII centuries and hosts the graves of the saint named Shopan-ata and his daughter. Shopan-ata was known as the person who was spreading Islam among the local shepherds (“shopan” in Kazakh language means “shepherd”).

The rocky mosque Sultan-Epe is situated 100 km north from the city of Aktau on the territory of Tupkaragan Peninsula on the edge of the canyon carrying the same name as the site. The necropolis of XVIII-XIX centuries starts in several meters north-east from the mosque, which has 9 rooms and was made on the place of the ancient cave formed by the floodwaters. The well situated near the mosque is widely used by local communities and the pilgrims.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The component sites nominated as part of present property represents a very particular cultural tradition of the construction of the rocky mosques that characterize the region of the Mangyshlak Peninsula.

Criterion (iii): The rocky mosques of Mangyshlak simultaneously represent several outstanding testimonies of the following cultural traditions of the past: style of Oghuz and Adai burial monuments; construction of the rocky mosques and use of natural landscape for this purpose; and perception of the Muslim religion and its expansion, Sufi masters and their practices by the local communities.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The rocky mosques of Mangyshlak Peninsula and burial grounds around them have a very good state of authenticity. Proposed components have no physical traces of destruction and damagе by the local populations. Instead of that the modern pilgrims and tourists demonstrate a very respectful behavior towards the proposed property, which positively contribute to the preservation of its authenticity. On the other hand, the local desert climate and a relatively low level of annual precipitation also positively contribute to the conservation of the proposed cultural heritage sites. The main natural risk to the state of authenticity of the property is represented by the winds and airing of the cliffs supporting the structures of the rocky mosques.


The cultural complex of the Mangyshlak Peninsula includes several hundreds of the tombs of the ancient Sufi masters and a large number of various rocky caves used for religious purposes. However, this property includes five rocky mosques that all correspond to several following factors: all of them are the main pilgrim and tourist destinations of the region and represent the biggest spiritual value for its visitors; all of them have a good state of conservation and management; all of them are the biggest rocky mosques of the region; and all of them are related to the names of the most well-known persons among the Sufi masters. From the point of view of the above-mentioned arguments, the site corresponds to the factor of integrity.


Comparison with other similar properties

The proposed property is a unique example of a cultural heritage site, which cannot be considered as similar to any other site inscribed in the World Heritage List.

On the territory of Central Asian countries, there are many different burials of the Sufi masters that continue to have a big spiritual and symbolic value for the modern populations. One of these sites – Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, was the first property on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan inscribed in the World Heritage List in 2004. However, other groups of burials of the Sufi masters have no such form as the rocky cave used for the funeral purposes.

Another characteristic particularity of the property is their location in the very isolated and remote areas situated far away from any major centre of urban life. At the same time, these sites were attracting numerous pilgrims in the past and in our days continue to attract pilgrims and tourists that need to pass very long distances to reach the components of the property. This geographical context is very different from the well-know remains of the Sufi tombs situated in other regions.