Kunya Urgench is the ancient capital of Khorezm. Today, on the site where it once stood, there is a sprawling ancient settlement littered with shards of pottery and household bricks. Four mausoleums, a minaret and the portal of a caravanserai remain here as reminders of the former glory of the capital of the Khorezmshakhs. The architectural and cultural complex is located 120 km from Dashoguz, on the left bank of the ancient river Amu-Darya.
Its area is more than 650 hectares. In ancient times, the territory of the city was much larger – about 1500 hectares. The first mentions of it are found in ancient manuscripts from the beginning of our era. By the 10th century, Kunya-Urgench had become an important trading centre. In 995, it became the capital of the powerful Khorezm.
“I do not believe that there was a city similar to the capital Khorezm in terms of wealth, size of the capital and population … ” – so wrote the geographer Yakut about Urgench in 1220. The ancient capital of northern Khorezm, mentioned in Chinese sources as early as the I century AD, fell under Arab rule in the middle of the VIII century. Century under the rule of the Arabs.
In 995, Gurgandj became the residence of the Shah of Khorezm and the second largest city after Bukhara, the capital of the Samanid Empire. An important cultural and commercial centre of the Middle Ages, it was home to Avicenna, Al-Beruni, Ibn-Battuta and other famous thinkers of the time.
In 1221, the city known as “The Heart of Islam” rebelled against Genghis Khan and was destroyed by the Mongols. Kunya Urgench quickly regained power after the defeat, but in 1388 Tamerlane’s armies, who considered the city a rival to Samarkand, destroyed it again.
After this destruction, Kunya-Urgench fell into oblivion until 1831, when people came to the area to build the Khan-Yab Canal. It is thanks to this long period of neglect that most of the monuments of Kunya Urgench remain untouched but in very poor condition; however, some of them are actually intact.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Kunya Urgench had emerged from crisis before other Central Asian cities. The capital of Khorezm experienced a new period of prosperity. In the thirties of the XIV century, the geographer Ibn Batuta called the city “the greatest” and described its “beautiful bazaars, wide streets and numerous buildings, among which there was even a hospital”.
The end of the XIV century, however, was fatal for Kunya-Urgench. The descendants of the Khorezmshakhs, losing their power, tried to oppose Amir Timur, who wanted to create a powerful centralised state, but suffered defeat, and in 1388 he handed the city over to troops for plunder and, as Timur’s historian wrote, “ordered the inhabitants to move to Samarkand”.
Time has completed the destruction of Kunya-Urgench. Only half-destroyed majestic buildings from the centuries XII-XIV that remain in the old settlement bear witness to the city’s former glory.
Mausoleums of Khoremliakh il-Arslan (Fokhr-id-bin-Raghy). The mausoleum over the tomb of Khorezmshah, one of the Khorezm Shahs, is a miniature building that represents a special type of mausoleum of Khorezm architecture.
The title “Khorezmshakh” was given to the rulers of Khorezm even before the invasion of Islam in Turkestan. It was retained by the Arabs until the Mongol conquest of Turkestan and apparently ceased to exist only after the establishment of Mongol rule.
The only source of information on the origin and genealogy of the pre-Mongol Khorezmshakhs is the “Chronology” of Biruni. The first settlement of the land occurred in 980 BC (1292 BC), 92 years after the reign of the founder of the dynasty, Kaykhusrau.
The northern part of Khorezm, with its capital Kunya-Urgench, was separated from the Khorezmshakh state. Abu-l-Abbas Mamun succeeded in conquering the southern part and establishing the second dynasty of the Khorezmshakhs. Mamun died in 997 and the power was inherited by his sons.
After the death of Mamun II, power passed to his younger nephew Abu-l-Haris Muhammad, the last member of the Khwarzm Shah dynasty. But after a time, Atsyz revived the powerful dynasty.
The mausoleum of Khwarezmshakh-il-Arslan, known until recently as Fakhr-ud-Din Razi, is a typical Central Asian structure, square on the outside, with a square inner chamber developed into a cruciform chamber by deep arched niches in the wall thickness.
The eastern niche has a door, the northern niche may have had a window, now bricked up. It is known that the scholar Fakhr ad-Din Razi was buried in Herat. Consequently, the mausoleum of the same name in Urgench may have been built over his imaginary tomb.
The latter circumstance makes us question the connection of the mausoleum with the name Fakhr ad-Din Razi. The ancient city was surrounded by a fortress wall. At the time of the Mongol conquest, Kunya-Urgench was one of the richest and most beautiful cities in the East.
The Arab traveller Ibn Batuta wrote: “Urgench is the largest of the Turkish cities, the most important and the most beautiful, it has beautiful bazaars and wide streets, and numerous buildings.
The madrassa built by Kutlug Timur, the ruler of Khorezm, and the mosque built by his wife, Turabeg Khanum, stand out among the beautiful buildings. There is a hospital with a Syrian doctor and a building erected over the tomb of Najm-ad-din Kubra. Hanaka built by Turabeg Khanum where refreshments were arranged for Ibn Batuta…”. In the example of the Kunya-Urgench monuments, one can trace an amazing variety of techniques and decoration of Islamic architecture in Central Asia.
Here there are constructions made of mud and burnt bricks, as well as one-piece domed buildings with complex composition and architectural decoration, and rare forms of domes. There was a school of master builders here.
The traditions of this school can be widely traced in the constructions, forms and decorations of many buildings of Dehistan, Maverannarh, the cities of the Golden Horde in the Volga region, as well as in Transcaucasia, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and India.
Urva – Kunya Urgench is mentioned under this name in the holy book of the Avesta. In Chinese sources, Kunya-Urgench is mentioned as Yuegan. During the X-XII centuries, Kunya Urgench was called Gurgandj, but during the Mongols it was known as Jurganj.
Gurgandj was discovered by Europeans in the second half of the XIX century, when the English explorer Henry Lansdell wrote a detailed description of the city. Academician Vasily Bartold (1869-1930) made a great contribution to the study of the city’s history.
The Kunya-Urgench Reserve is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The most important sights of Kunya-Urgench:
Nadzimetdin Kubra Mausoleum (XII-XIII century)
Mausoleum of the Mongolian Princess Torebeg-Khanum (Turabekhanum, XII-XIV century)
Minaret of Mamun (X-XI century)
Minaret of Kutlug Timur (XII-XIV century)
Kirk Mallah Mausoleum (II century BC-III century AD)
The Madrasa of Ibn Khadzhib (XIV-XVI century)
Arslan II Mausoleum (11th century)
Mausoleum of Fakhr ad-Din Razi (13th century)
Mausoleum of Azizan Al-Ramatani (13th-14th century)
Said Ahmed Mausoleum (XII-XIV century)
Piryarveli Mausoleum (XIV-XVII century)
Guligerdan Mausoleum (XII century.)
Khorezimbag Mausoleum (XII-XVIII century.)
Dashgal mausoleum (XIV-XVI century)
Matkarim-Ishan Mausoleum (19th-20th centuries)
Sultan Ali Mausoleum (1580)
Mausoleum of Tekesh Khorezm Shah (XII c.) with XIV c. minaret, Dashmejit (1903-1908)