Home > Turkmenistan > Dashoguz region > Koneurgench

Koneurgench

Koneurgench is one of Turkmenistan’s most impressive world heritage sites, dotted with architectural masterpieces, including a minaret which is one of the oldest of its kind in the world.

Koneurgench, called Gurganj in ancient times, is located in the Dashoguz velayat in north-western Turkmenistan, on the left bank of the former Amyderya River. Gurganj was the capital of the Khorezm region, the origins of which go back to the 6th or 7th centuries CE and the early Achaemenid period. Koneurgench had a favourable geographic location at the crossing of two major caravan routes: west to east from Europe to China and from the south to the northwest to the Volga River.

The ancient settlement is situated within a vast landscape that lays adjacent to the modern town, also known as Urgench. Turkmenistan archaeologists discovered the city’s ruins during excavations for a canal to carry water

to the local area, uncovering numerous monuments, many of which have survived the ravishes of time. Archaeologists are as yet unable to complete the mystery of when the city was first founded. However, during the excavation of a barrow called Kyrkmolla, contours of a powerful antique fortress and ceramics from the 6th and 7th centuries CE were found.

The majority of the monuments discovered on the site date back to between the 11th and 16th centuries, including a mosque, the gates of a caravanserai, fortresses, mausoleums and a 60m high minaret. The monuments are testimony to the outstanding achievements in architecture and craftsmanship whose influence reached Iran, Afghanistan, and later the architecture of the Mogul Empire of 16th- century India. The monuments of Koneurgench use a variety of construction methods and incorporate decor of the Islamic architecture of Central Asia, with constructions from adobe and burned bricks, domes and a high degree of decoration with bright colourful enamel. Some monuments are testimony to a long history of development, repair and reconstruction, and demonstrate the evolution of methods of dome construction and ornamentation with the use of‘muqarnas’, brought to the highest perfection by local masters. The Islamic sacred objects concentrated in the city and the richness of the history make the site a popular place for pilgrimages and also serve to attract international tourism.

History of the Site

In 712, Khorezm was conquered by the Arabs and given the Arabic name Gurganj. At that time the capital of the Khorezm region was the town of Kyat on the right bank of the Volga River, where the local dynasty of Khorezm sheiks ruled in the capacity of vassals. Gurganj was situated on the left bank of the river and was ruled by governor generals who had been nominated by the Samanides. Being at the crossing of major trade routes, the town had been developing rapidly and in time declared its independence from Kyat. In 995 CE the leader of Gurganj, al-Mamun ibn- Muhammad, succeeded in conquering Kyat and overthrowing the pre-Muslim dynasty, reuniting Khorezm and adopting the role of Sheik.

Expansion into a true centre of civilization came quickly and in the early 11th century the fame of Gurganj surpassed that of even Bukhara. Under Mamun II, the second son of al-Mamun ibn-Muhammad to rule the city, an Academy was established and received great acclaim in the region. Scientists and poets flocked to the city, including the great encyclopaedist, Abu al-Rayhan and the ingenious scientist, doctor and philosopher Abu Ali ibn-Sina, calling it ‘the capital of a thousand wise men'. However, this period of prosperity was short-lived. In 1017, Mamun II was killed when Sultan Mahmud Gaznevi conquered Khorezm, and a quarter of a century later the victorious Seljuks seized power over the territory belonging to the Gaznevides.

By 1044, Khorezm was only a small province of the Great Seljuk state.

In 1097, the Seleucids nominated Kutb ad¬din Muhammad I as the ruler of Khorezm, who ruled for 30 years and who was loyal to Sultan Sanjar until his last breath. Kutb ad-din left the throne to his son, Atsyz, who took up the rule of Khorezm. However, Atsyz soon began to manifest his desire for independence and repeatedly provoked military confrontations with the Sanjar; gradually subduing the whole north-western part of Central Asia. In 1194, his grandson Tekesh ibn 11-Arslan finally succeeded in liberating Khorezm from the Seljuks and expanded his domains into an empire. This expansion continued under Tekesh's son, Al- ad-din Muhammad II, and the great Khorezm

 

state stretched from the northern Caspian areas to the Persian Gulf and from the Caucasus to the Hindu Kush Mountains, Throughout this lustrous period Gurganj was an imperial centre wherein art, handicrafts and trade thrived. It was from this period that many of the striking archaeological remains we see today, originated. Written sources also suggest that there are further buildings from this era, including the famous Mamun Academy and the library of Nizam al-Mulk, as well as palaces, mosques and the city gates. Archaeologists are still investigating the site and methodical excavation and research may yet uncover Koneurgench's most striking monuments.

In 1221, the city, regarded as ‘the heart of Islam’ was destroyed by Mongols who renamed it Urgench. However, due to its convenient location the city was able to revive rather quickly and maintain the status as a trade, artisanal and administrative centre. Upon once more becoming independent from the By 1044, Khorezm was only a small province of the Great Seljuk state.

In 1097, the Seleucids nominated Kutb ad¬din Muhammad I as the ruler of Khorezm, who ruled for 30 years and who was loyal to Sultan Sanjar until his last breath. Kutb ad-din left the throne to his son, Atsyz, who took up the rule of Khorezm. However, Atsyz soon began to manifest his desire for independence and repeatedly provoked military confrontations with the Sanjar; gradually subduing the whole north-western part of Central Asia. In 1194, his grandson Tekesh ibn 11-Arslan finally succeeded in liberating Khorezm from the Seljuks and expanded his domains into an empire. This expansion continued under Tekesh's son, Al- ad-din Muhammad II, and the great Khorezm

 

state stretched from the northern Caspian areas to the Persian Gulf and from the Caucasus to the Hindu Kush Mountains, Throughout this lustrous period Gurganj was an imperial centre wherein art, handicrafts and trade thrived. It was from this period that many of the striking archaeological remains we see today, originated. Written sources also suggest that there are further buildings from this era, including the famous Mamun Academy and the library of Nizam al-Mulk, as well as palaces, mosques and the city gates. Archaeologists are still investigating the site and methodical excavation and research may yet uncover Koneurgench's most striking monuments.

In 1221, the city, regarded as ‘the heart of Islam’ was destroyed by Mongols who renamed it Urgench. However, due to its convenient location the city was able to revive rather quickly and maintain the status as a trade, artisanal and administrative centre. Upon once more becoming independent from the

Mongol Golden Horde, the city blossomed under the rule of Kutloug-Timur and his wife Turabek-khanum's. The most magnificent architectural monuments of Urgench were erected at this time. A great Arabic geographer and traveller, Ibn-Battut, who visited the city in 1333, called Urgench the largest and most flourishing Turkmen town. Kutloug-Timur died in 1335 but the inscription on the minaret bearing his name has immortalised him forever.

After the year 1360, a Sufi dynasty, also independent from the Mongol Golden Horde, settled in Urgench. By that time the transition from the Khorezmian's language to Turks was complete, however, a new catastrophe was soon to occur. In 1388, Timurid troops, regarding Urgench as a rival to the Timurid capital of Samarkand, ravaged the city.

 

[table id=26 /]

[table id=23 /]