Ancient city Turkistan in Kazakhstan
The legends and a true story
Turkistan was founded about 1500 years ago amidst the endless Kazakh steppes. The nearest city (Shymkent) is 169 kilometres away. It takes about 2 hours to get there by car. The excellent transnational highway “Western Europe - Western China”, a modern version of the Great Silk Road, connected these two southern cities. Today Turkistan is an industrial, commercial and tourist centre. In 1991, one of the main universities of Kazakhstan, the Kazakh-Turkish University, was opened here, which helps the city to regain the former glory of a spiritual and educational centre.
Turkistan is a sacred place for all Muslims. This city where the past and legends are closely intertwined enveloping its history with a halo of mystery and enigmas. The ancient city was and remains a Sufi sanctuary. Here, unique architectural monuments of Islamic culture have survived until the present time: the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, the religious centre of Khazret-Sultan, the Hilvet Semi-underground mosque and many others. The history of the city is tightly linked to the Great Silk Road. For centuries, it had remained an important place as a crossroads for the caravan routes passing from Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva to the north. Once Turkistan was part of the Tamerlane’s Empire, later it became the capital of the Kazakh Khanate. At different times, it was called in different ways: in the 10th century, Shavgar, in the 12th century, Yasy (Iasy) and in the 15th century the city received its modern name: Turkistan.
Even absolutely secular person, having got here and seen the ancient shrine, the mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi, with his own eyes, will be touched emotionally by the atmosphere of spirituality and mystery that reigns in this ancient place. The magnificent construction, crowned with luminous blue domes and directed towards the blue sky of the East, is exposed right in front of a traveller. Having entered there, any visitor experiences unexpectedly feelings of freshness and internal peace. For centuries the two meter walls of baked bricks have been protecting reliably the mausoleum occupants from the destructive influence of time. It is believed that the bricks for the wall construction were delivered from the city of Sauran (Sawran). Thousands of Tamerlane’s warriors, stretching out in a 45-kilometer chain, had been passing them from hand to hand for several years. Being at its magnificent portal, one can not help wondering, who was the man in whose honour Tamerlane himself had built this splendid mausoleum, not inferior to the best monuments of Samarkand.
Yasawi went down in history as the person, thanks to which Yasy in the 12th century became the spiritual centre of the entire Turkic world. Being a revered poet and philosopher, he founded the school of Sufism and was one of the first to spread Islam among the Turkic peoples. Thousands of his followers came to this city to listen to his poems and to learn the life wisdom from him. They accepted the faith and moved to Yasy to be closer to their teacher. It had changed the history of the city and possibly the history of the entire Turkic civilization. Pilgrims still go to Turkistan to visit the mausoleum of Yasawi. But first, according to established tradition, they have to spend the night in the mausoleum of Yasawi’s spiritual mentor: the Sufi saint Arystan-Bab.
The saint Arystan-Bab was the companion of Prophet Muhammad, and according to legend, at the time of the meeting with Ahmed Yasawi he was over 400 years old. By the way, his name and the name of Yasawi are associated with many other legends; one of them has to do with Tamerlane. It says that when Timur started construction of Yasawi’s mausoleum, the work on the site went wrong from the beginning. The walls that already had been erected collapsed several times. One night Tamerlane had a dream in which Yasawi appeared before him and told Timur that he should have built a mausoleum for his teacher, saint Arystan-Bab, at first, and only then for him. Timur got the point, did so and succeeded. Until present time only a few carved wooden columns of that mausoleum have survived. Today, in its place, visitors can see an elegant 20th-century building: a two-chamber gurkhana with symmetrical domes and a memorial mosque that are connected by a vaulted corridor. The first chamber is the tomb of Arystan-Bab, and in the second, his disciples rest. It is not known with certainty if saint Arystan-Bab ever existed or he was a collective image that absorbed the best qualities of different people. Any case before going to the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, do not break the tradition and visit this corner full of mysticism.
Do not ignore the settlement of Sauran, the very place from which the bricks and tiles had been delivered for the construction of Yasawi’s mausoleum. This ancient city at a crossroads of the Great Silk Road had existed from the 10th to the 18th century, and then it disappeared from the map. The well-preserved walls made of adobe bricks and the moat with a drawbridge, remind its former grandeur. Here you will see the famous "Kiryaz". The residents of Sauran, who lived in the middle of the bare steppe away from water sources, created a unique irrigation system. It consisted of wells connected by underground canals, which supplied city dwellers with water and irrigated their fields.
After spending even a short time in Turkistan and Sauran, the legendary images of the people who once inhabited these cities will remain in your memory for a long time.
Jatko Y.V., 2019
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