Desert Castles of Ancient Khorezm

Date of Submission: 18/01/2008
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Commission of the Republic of Uzbekistan for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Republic of Karakalpakstan
Ref.: 5311

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Desert Castles of Ancient Khorezm consists of following: Toprak Qala, Ayaz Qala, Koy-Kirilgan Qala, Big Guldursun fortress, Pil Qala, Anka Qala, Kurgashin Qala and Djanbas Qala.


Site of ancient settlement Toprak Qala occupies the area of 500 х 350 m. (17 hectares) in rectangular form. It is surrounded by the fortification walls, which have preserved in the form of shaft, reaching the 8-9 m. height in some places. The walls strengthened by the numerous quadrangular towers with oval corners and led round with wide ditch. Originally, walls were in two floors with corridors and vaulted ceiling on the ground floor, and arrow-shaped loopholes - on the second.

The entrance of the site of ancient settlement was in the middle of the southern fortification, in the form of complex gate's constructions. The citadel located in the northern part of the site of ancient settlement where palace was with 80х80 m. area. It was built on the platform. The general view of the palace represents the form of the truncated pyramid and reaches 14,3 m. height.

Facades have been decorated by the system of vertical ledges and niches, covered by alabaster of whitewashing.

Until now has partially preserved about 100 rooms of the ground floor of the central file and some rooms of the second floor. Walls of premises were preserved almost on the full height. Ceilings were as vaulted, and beam-type, supported by columns.

Excavation discovered the rests of the palace archive, warehouses of the weapon, room of ablution, two-chamber sanctuaries with altars and niches, inscriptions with the stage of mourning of the late.

The most part of the palace was occupied with the complex of front rooms and sanctuaries connected with aspects of an imperial cult. Inscriptions and clay bas-reliefs have decorated the walls.

The most valuable is «Hall of tsars» - dynastic sanctuary in which on an altar burned fire before big images of 23 tsars of Khorezm, (sculptures were full volumetric). They settled down on sufas (bench). Besides, there was «Hall of Victories» with images on the walls, in the form of the bas-reliefs sitting tsars and soaring near them of goddesses. There was a hall and «Black soldiers» with images of tsars and the black soldiers blown glory to tsars. «The hall of deer» was decorated with figures of these animals. The hall of «Dancing masks» partially has preserved on walls of the image in pairs men and women. In this temple part of the palace have been found out Ancient Khorezm written documents.


Site of ancient settlement Ayaz Qala has a quadrangular layout with the parts of 182х152 m. focused on the sites of the world. It constructed at the flattop of the hill and surrounded by multi meter breakages from three parts. The internal layout is absent. The walls, preserved places up to 10 m., have constructed from adobe brick in the size of 46х32-46х10-13 cm. Ayaz Qala is a group of widespread on wide plain at bottom of Ayaz Qala's rocks, large not strengthened country manors, each of them consists from huge, surrounded by the low brick wall, court yard, deprived traces of the building and, probably sometime occupied by the gardens.

The house consists of 10-15 rooms. This place of dwelling has already allocated from tribal community of separate patriarchal family. Among the group of manors, three of them are sharply marked out. First, the huge fortress is Ayaz-1 with the extensive empty courtyard, surrounded by the mighty wall with the towers with gate labyrinths, not conceding to the walls of Antique cities of Khorezm. The grandiose similar manor is located in the northwest corner of settlement. On the cone-shaped rock towering at the bottom of the hill Ayaz Qala, rise effective ruins of the castle- Ayaz-2, modernized in V-VII centuries but constructed in Kushan period. At last, above everything, on breakage of plateau Ayaz Qala on the adjoining settlement, are located majestic ruins of perfectly preserved fortress Ayaz-1, with the numerous semicircular towers, strengthened by constructions with the arcade in the basis of walls, cut well in the center by rock, and nearby located antique tower.


Koy-Kirilgan Qala represents ruins of round fortification form, diameter 90 m., focused by the entrance to the northeast. The monument completely excavated. The fortification construction consists of the big cylindrical building surrounded by the fortification wall, located from its basis on the 15 m distance. The functioning of the monument to the end of the long period, the closed space between the well-kept original form of the central building and fortification wall, completely has been built up in some circles. The monument has three building periods.

The central building belongs to the first, round form is a monumental construction, surrounded arrow shaped gallery with one line of loopholes, below on 9,7 - 3,9 m settled down 7 trapezoid windows. The height of the central building reaches up to 8,5 m., the base of the diameter is 44,5 m. The walls are built from pahsa (adobe wall) in alternation with adobe brick. The thickness of the walls in the basis is 7,2 m. The building consisted of two - storey. The entrance was from the east side.

The second construction period is characterized by the construction of external ring building.

Building of the space concerns to the third construction period between the central building and external wall.


Archeological monument of Guldursun consists of two independent objects. Big Guldursun represents the most attractive in the historical and town-planning aspect. It is the largest boundary fortress of Khorezm XII-XIII centuries, constructed on the base of desolation of the antique fortress. The monument represents a wrong rectangular form in the size of 350х230 m. focused by corners on the sites of the world. The entrance is located in the middle of the southeast wall. Antique walls and towers have been built up in the socle part from pahsa (adobe wall), and above from the adobe bricks. The walls were preserved almost on all height reaching 15 m. in some places and make the basic file of the medieval fortification. In the cut section of the wall, the remains of bygone antique wall with loopholes were preserved.

The fortification of the fortress has strengthened by construction of the front wall barrier with the second line of the panel towers, flanked approach to the wall. Front gate construction became a semi circle form. According to that medieval fortress has been weekly to wall in inside, unlike of fortified cities of the antique period, it played only strategic role.


Site of ancient settlement is similar to the square form with size of 230х227 m. sides also is focused on the sides of the world. The walls have preserved in the form of strong mud-stream. The traces of the internal layout were not preserved. Archeological excavations have shown that shaft hide inside of themselves the bottom parts of double walls with shooting corridors between them. They were constructed from pahsa (adobe wall) and reach the 1,8 - 2,4 m. width. The width of the shooting corridor is 2,3 - 2,4 m. The walls have been strengthened by semi oval towers which built from adobe brick in alternation with pahsa. Size of slope walls are reached to 10 m. The southwest corner of the fortress is strengthened by the rectangular covering tower in the size of 17х17 m. The wall were preserved 11 m. in the height and 6,5 m. in the thickness.


Anka Qala is the fortification construction on the caravan way leading both from the east to the west, and from the west to the east.

It has plan similar to the form of the square with the sizes on the sides 90,8 х 91,6 m. focused on corners to the sides of the world. The walls of good safety, reach the height 7-8 m. They are double; between them installed the corridor. Walls are erected on adobe socle in the height of 3,2 m., and in some places up to 5 m. The walls have erected from the bricks above the socle. The entrance is in the middle of the southeast walls and protected by the two rectangular towers (12 х 6 m.) put against each other. The external walls and towers are cut in one line by loopholes arrow-type form.

The courtyard of the fortress is almost free from building. The well was erected in the middle of the courtyard.


The fortress in the rectangular form with sizes of 132,9х89,2 m. focused corners to the sides of the world. The walls are double; some places have preserved on the height 14-16 m. The thickness of the walls is 2,35 m. The width of the shooting corridor is 2,35 m. It constructed from adobe blocks in alternation with the brick. The walls have been flanked on the corners with three towers and with one by one rectangular tower, slightly oval in the middle. The top part of walls and towers has system of protection in the form of loopholes arrow-shaped forms.

The entrance is in the middle of the southeast wall and protected front gate construction of the rectangular form. Unlike from other fortifications of Ancient Khorezm, Kurgashin Qala was surrounded by the barrier wall - proteihizm, from the different sides (except for southwest) constructed from a square brick.



Rectangular form of the fortress (200х170 m.) is focused on the sides of the world. Unlike of all other fortresses of Khorezm, Djanbas-Qala differs by the absence of towers. The gate is located from the northwest part and protected by the rectangular front gate construction with the length of 65,2 m. and width of 20 m. The safety of fortification walls reaches 9-10 m. The walls are two-tiered, top arrow-shaped gallery. The laying of the walls combined - pahsa (adobe wall) alternates with brick. From the both parts of street all area of the fortress is built up by the habitation, consisting, as well as in Tuprak Qala from two up to eight houses-blocks, each of them includes from 150 to 200 rooms.

The city houses-blocks differ only that they are not strengthened. Functions of the protection are realized by the external defensive system of the city.

There are two massifs in Djanbas Qala, the unique wide street of the city was stretched between them. In the walls of Djanbas Qala precincts to each of two big buildings, tamga - marks on the bricks were different, that testifies about existence of patrimonial divisions - partition.

The important element of city settlement of antique Khorezm is «House of fire» located in the opposite part from the beginning of the street.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity



Features of internal building with symmetrically located concerning the unique central highway leading from the entrance gate of city to the palace complex, put Toprak Qala in one line with such correctly planned cities of the antiquity, as old Indian centers of Kharapsk civilization, Taksila (Sirkap), Hellenistic the Dura-Europos, etc.

The origin of the correct, regularly reticular layout, many researchers connect with the name of Gippodam Milletskiy. Direct reflection of Hellenistic town-planning ideas is the plan of Dura-Europos.


Studying of the complex of Ayaz Qala monuments opened an unknown veil of social and economic history of Kushan Empire. We are present at disintegration of traditional tribal community of free citizens of the slaveholding state. Few agricultural aristocracies have been sharply marked out from others. The sovereignty of the city community gives the place to the imperial sovereignty. These fortresses protect oasis's borders from enemies. Similar process occurred in the antique Mediterranean, in Roman Empire. Bearer germs of the new social order were villages that removing conservative city community on the second plan. An origin of such process of social development on the huge spaces from Greece-Rome down to the borders of China testify of close contacts of the people of Central Asia with antique and Late Antique state formations of Greece and Rome.

The meaning of Ayaz Qala consists also in that here has been found out of Ancient Khorezmian writing materials, in the big degree. It is very close to Ancient Syrian Aramaic alphabet. From Aramaic letters appear the family tree various alphabets of Iraq and Central Asia - arshakid pehlevi, sasanid pehlevi (or farsi), alphabet of avesto, alphabet of sogd - even Uigur, Bukhara and usrushan, distinct from sogdian. Khorezmian alphabet represents the independent branch, coming from classical Aramaic and from all listed alphabets in the greatest measure preserved Ancient Aramaic traditions. Being on the Great Silk Road, Ayaz Qala was the bearer in the greater degree of the culture, conceiver and transferring the great cultures which are passing through it as from the East to the West, and in the opposite direction.


The meaning of Koy-Kirilgan Qala is difficult for overrating. It greatly characterizes of material and spiritual culture of Khorezm in its development during almost thousand-year historical period, shows the cultural relations of this detached area of Central Asia with the next steppe tribes and developed countries Front and Middle East and Black Sea Coast - with another side. Excavation of the bottom constructional horizon allows stating opinions that, originally, it was the cult construction that strengthened by the temple - a tomb, astronomical supervision here were made. Inside of the fortification around of the central cult building settled down economic and housing estates, possibly, for attendants of a cult. Archeological finds characterize original art of Ancient Khorezm. Numerous monuments of the writing materials from excavation, the most ancient written monuments in the whole territory of Central Asia and represents the earliest Ancient Khorezmian inscription.


Big Guldursun is unique as the monument of the military-engineering construction for the epoch of the developed Middle Ages. Similar monuments even present in Ancient Khorezm, however, the given object surpasses all available monuments by its sizes and fortification. Guldursun protected the borders of Khorezm state since antique times, occupying the major strategic point on the approaches of blossoming and vital valleys of Khorezm oasis. Guldursun shows us about bygone progressive development of the principles, in the rudiment acting already in fortification large afrigid castles.


Reference of this monument to "Outstanding" is based that the city was formed on one place from IV-II centuries B.C., and keeping traditions of construction of antique cities with one street highway and dense square reticular construction. However, in the Late Antique time, with its decline, instead of week strengthened cities like Аyaz Qala, being under the protection of the state, came strongly strengthened, laying separately among fields a manor of farmers and above these country "castles" is proudly rising strengthening of aristocracy castles. Antique fortresses are trailing oasis from desert, fall into decay. It is visible on example Pil Qala and is very evident on monuments of Berkut Qala oasis of Ancient Khorezm. It is visible all dynamics on their example of development of antique cities and Late Antique Khorezm up to the Arab conquer.


Anka Qala is the fortification construction by the functions, which protected the borders of Khorezm state and trading caravan ways.

The value of this construction is in not only military purpose, but also in planning structure, where domestic building is absent. Probably, here has carried the keeping watch a garrison. It is remarkable that on the opened bricks were tamgas- marks. In one of them, in the top part of tamga is made the ancient Khorezmian inscription from five marks in one line. Fingers in 2-3 mm on crude clay have drowned marks. The sense of tamga and inscriptions are unknown yet. 

The great value of this monument is one of the most ancient buildings, but also this fortress existed, in the XII century inclusively did not change the function as the defensive construction, and entered into the line of ancient Khorezmian strengthening constructions, not only the state, but also Great trading caravan route.


Monument of Kurgashin Qala as the defensive fortress has bright trace of traditions of the fortification of the classical east - from archaic Egypt and ancient Sumera until Assyria and Aheminid Iran. However, considering developing of the "Great Silk Road" Khorezmian architects on the example of the given monument was independently solved the problem of defense. Here is necessary to see more likely result of independent development in the similar historical conditions, than direct influence like, ahemenid fortifications.


In the fortress of Djanbas Qala, as well as a whole, the plan of settlements of Ancient Khorezm of the epoch of development came after disintegration of the power of Ahemenid's state. It amazes with its archaism, vivacity and variety of display primitive-communal, patrimonial, including maternal-patrimonial traditions. The archeological material testifies about high degree of the development craft, ceramic industry. All of them have been executed on the potter's wheel. There was found out stone beads, which describe a high degree of the developments of the trade of the Ancient Khorezm with Syria, Egypt, cities of North Black Sea Coast .

Comparison with other similar properties


Analogue of Toprak Qala is, except for the mentioned, also the western part of Palmir, in Egypt (Giza, Kahun). Proceeding from these facts received as the result of studying of given city during many decades, we consider that Toprak Qala is a unique monument of town-planning culture of the I-IV centuries A.D.


The analogies of Big Guldursun are the fortresses Kavat Qala


Analogue of Kurgashin Qala, besides similar constructions of Khorezm is well-known palace Sargon in Khorsabad.


Analogues of Djanbas Qala is Tuprak Qala, Kurgashin Qala, Erk Qala in Merv.