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Main / / / Karakalpakstan – The Land Of Legends

Age of the capital of Karakalpakstan cannot be compared with the age of the ancient cities of Uzbekistan, numbering more than one millennium. The first mention of it refers to the second half of the XIX century. Hungarian traveler and scholar Arminius Vamberi sneaking in 1883 under the guise of a dervish in the forbidden for Europeans cities of Khiva and Bukhara mentions in his notes Nukus fortress on the banks of the Amu Darya.

Nukus got city status only in 1932, and in it 1939 became the capital of Karakalpakstan. Despite the heat of the Kyzyl Kum desert, which begins just a few steps away from the city, it turns green boulevards, shady streets, replete with flower gardens. From the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, it is a little over one and a half hour flight on a modern airliner, the caravan even through the beaten path of the Silk Road would take about two months.

This small town, unremarkable in terms of history and archaeology, is now known throughout the world for its unique museum which experts call "the Louvre in the desert."

Founder and first director of the Museum Igor Savitsky arrived in Central Asia with the evacuee during the Second World War, the Moscow Art Institute named after V. Surikov, where he was studying at that time. Shaken by history and ancient culture of the region, he stayed in Karakalpakstan forever, dedicating his life to collecting objects of history, ethnography, art.

Most of his life and his own funds went to rescue paintings by Russian avant-garde, repressed and exiled during the Stalin period in the Aral steppes. It is this collection of Russian avant-garde art of 20-40-ies of the last century. That collection appeared to be the second in importance after the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, and the museum got worldwide fame. Its catalogues comprise the names of dozens of artists, well-known in the West. Many of them took part in the Paris exhibition of the early XX century. Today, the museum named after Savitsky is included in the prestigious international directories. His masterpieces were exhibited in Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland.

The museum houses a huge collection of national Karakalpak jewelry in silver and carnelian, traditional carpets, embroideries, appliques, and of course, the archaeological finds: figurines, ossuaries - vessels for the remains of the dead, bronzes and ceramics, and documents of the history of trade ties of ancient Khorezm, which was home to the holy book of Zoroastrianism and worshipers of "Avesta", and held once the lands of modern Karakalpakstan in the lower reaches of the Amudarya.

Numerous archaeological findings appear to us like a page from the life of ancient Khorezm. Near the town is Khodjeyli it is located historical and archaeological complex Mizdakhan, placed on three hills. According to the Uzbek scientists in this place was once the City of Mazda mentioned in the "Avesta", named in honor of the main deity of fire worshipers, Ahura Mazda. It was a major center of trade and handicrafts in Khorezm state, which passed through the northern route of the Silk Road. Remnants of fabrics with gold threads, cowry shells from the Indian Ocean, and coral beads testify to this fact.

One of the towering peaks of Mizdakhan contains majestic ruins of the ancient city Gyaur-kala - "Fortress of infidels", The Arabs named this fortress due to the 70-year resistance of fire worshipers against Islam. Archaeologists have determined that the ten-meter cultural layer of Gyaur Kala covers the period of the 4th century BC – the 13th century AD, when the city was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan.

Another unique monument of Mizdakhan is an underground mausoleum Mazlumkhan-sulu (XII century). Its walls are decorated with blue tiles pattern "bow (ribbon)" or " Zoroastrian butterfly ", some scholars find it similar to the Nestorian cross, considering it to be echo of coexistence of several religions in the land of Khorezm. Near it the ruins of madrassahs and mausoleum Erejep Khalif (IX-XI centuries) were found. Each of the sites is covered with legends.

Impressive are the ruins of ancient Toprak-kala in Ellikkala district of Karakalpakstan. According to archaeologists, in the II-IV centuries there was the capital of ancient Khorezm, covering an area of over 17 hectares. Archaeologists managed to restore the contours of the great palace, the residence of the rulers of Khorezm, with more than a hundred rooms: large rooms with frescoes and sculptures representing the kings, black skinned warriors and dancers in masks, long series of rooms, residential apartments, patios, barns and workshops. Nearby there is a large fire temple with a sanctuary and the area in front of it. The city was surrounded by strong walls around the perimeter of mud brick with numerous towers. Main thoroughfare, dividing city in two parts and beginning at the entrance gate, was crossed at right angles to a few streets.

In twenty kilometers  from Toprak-Kala on the border of Kyzyl Kum and spurs of Sultanuizdag mound  there is located the city site of the  4th century BC - Ayaz-kala ("Fortress in the wind"). Placed on top of a rocky hill, the fort was almost impregnable. However, at the turn of the old and the new era the builders intended to further strengthen it: archaeologists discovered the whole piles of bricks laid on edge, but no one had ever used them...

The territory of Karakalpakstan Ellikkala district has one of the most prominent ancient monuments of Central Asia - settlement with Janbas Kala fortress dating back to the 4th century BC. On its ruins, archaeologists found abundant evidence of ancient Khorezm trade relations with other countries, including many of glass beads, which in the 3rd -2nd centuries BC were common in the northern Black Sea coast. In the first century fortress Janbas Kala fell. Around it one can still find metal arrowheads two different kinds: one belonged to the defenders, the other – to the attackers.

On the territory of Karakalpakstan, there are hundreds of ancient sites, including the ruins of a long chain protruding in the Aral steppes fortresses, outposts, which were designed to protect the rich and fertile land in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya River from invasions of nomads. In addition to the ancient man-made monuments Karakalpakstan possesses unique natural monuments. It is famous chinks of Ustyurt plateau, which can be compared only with the Colorado Canyon. There are the Sarmat burials and ruins of signal towers.

Karakalpakstan is notorious because of the shallowing of the Aral Sea that was in the middle of the last century the fourth largest lake in the world. Today, the Aral Sea, due to the almost complete cessation of flow in a water of Amu Darya and Syr Darya, took on 100 km of coastline near the former fishing town of Muynak, leaving only the skeletons of fishing ships...