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Main / / / Termez – The Heart of Buddhism in Central Asia

The city of Termez is situated on the left bank of the Amu Darya (the ancient Oxus); this is the city with incredibly dramatic history, which the researchers believe numbers much more than two thousand years. In 540 BC when Bactria, covering an area of Hissar range in Uzbekistan to the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, became a satrapy of the Achaemenid state led by Cyrus the Great, Termez was already called the ancient city. Its name according to one version goes back to ancient Iranian Tara-maia (tara - crossing, maia - place).

In 329 BC  Termez was conquered by Alexander the Great as a strategically important point with a comfortable crossing, through which passed the Great Indian road (the name was suggested by Uzbekistan academician E.V. Rtveladze), which is more ancient than the Great Silk Road. It linked the Great Steppe, and through it the entire Western world with India.

It was that way in the period of the Kushan Empire (I to III centuries) through which Buddhism came to the ancient land of Uzbekistan. Numerous archaeological finds manifest the wide dissemination of this religion. The settlements Dalverzintepa, Kampyrtepa, Fayaztepa, Karatepa and others are known far away from Uzbekistan. The centuries-old cultural layers of Surkhandarya still conceal the ruins of cities, once prosperous, such as Termez, with their palaces and temples, colorful murals and statues of Bactrian and Kushan rulers, the Buddha and bodhisattvas, products of the ancient masters of iron, glass and ceramics, agricultural tools and military equipment. All of this can be seen in the splendid archaeological museum of Termez, opened in 2002 in honor of the 2500th anniversary of the date of the first mention of this city in the written sources. This museum demonstrates the rich history of the region.

Buddhism had been the dominant religion of the Kushan Empire (though Zoroastrianism and ancient Bactrian deities were not prohibited). According to historical data after the fall of the Kushan Empire in the 5th -6th centuries, Termez joined first nomadic Hephthalites, and then shakhinshakhs from Iranian Sassanid dynasty. After they had been overthrown by the Arabs in the 7th century, local dynasty of shakhinshakhs was in terms. Afterwards the Arabs arrived here as well, and brought a new religion of Islam destroying the traces of past beliefs and cults.

From the 9th century Termez had been known as a major commercial, handicraft, cultural, scientific and educational center, still bound by caravan routes to China, India, the Byzantine Empire, Parthia, Egypt, Rome, the Black Sea coast. Many magnificent mosques, madrassahs, caravanserais and kanaka (shelters for wandering dervishes-pilgrims) distinguished by their original architecture, construction methods and bricklaying were erected in the city.

The most outstanding representative of the time was the scholar and hadith collector Al Hakim at-Termezi, a younger contemporary of encyclopedic scholar Al Khorezmi and Imam al-Bukhari, for his vast knowledge the latter was known as the Sage (Hakim - sage). Works of at-Termezi are stored in Damascus, Alexandria (Egypt), London, Leipzig, and Istanbul. Residents of Termez revere him as the patron saint of the city. He is buried at the medieval citadel of Termez. Today the restored memorial of at-Termezi includes not only mausoleum of the 9th century built over the tomb of at-Termezi, but later built structures- a tribute of children: a memorial mosque of the 12th century, mausoleum, built in 1389, and the kanaka (1405). Surprisingly white marble tombstone of Termezi is a masterpiece of stone carving and ornamental art of the Temurid epoch.

In 1220 a large port city of Termez was wiped out by the army of Genghis Khan because of fierce resistance of its inhabitants. After the end of the Mongol invasion, people gradually began to settle near the surviving mausoleums of the 9th century of Termez Seyids (descendants of the Prophet), named on the title of the first of those buried here Seyids - Sultan-i-Saodat. In the 14th century the surrounding of the sprawling memorial of Sultan Saodat grew into the town, called "gulguda" (noisy). Spanish Ambassador Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, bound with diplomatic mission to the court of Amir Temur, was impressed by its size. In his diary he wrote, as he rode and rode to the place of his stay, and there was no end to vast areas, crowded streets and bustling bazaars...

In the second half of the 18th century Termez was turned to ruins again. This time it was caused by incessant internecine wars of the local rulers. For a whole century numerically small descendants of Termez rulers, not wanting to leave their homes, huddled in two villages on the banks of the Surkhandarya.

Militarily significant location of the city promoted its new revival. At this time the city was impeccably renovated in order to protect the interests of Russia in its confrontation with England. In 1888, there were built fortifications, and in 1893, following the Termez transfer of Bukhara emirs to tsarist government, the town was put on the railway, held electric lines, telegraph. And since 1917, the city did not lose its military-strategic importance. It continued to grow and develop. Near it, possibly on the site of one of the old ferries, there was built a bridge across the Amu Darya. This very bridge was used in 1989 for the Soviet army withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Today Termez is the administrative center of Surkhandarya region, the southernmost region of Uzbekistan. During the years of independence in Surkhandarya there were improved quality of roads, restored ancient monuments, built new magnificent buildings that continue the tradition of ancient architecture, landscaped parks and urban markets, erected new administrative buildings and sports centers, theaters, cinemas and centers of education. The city remains an important outpost of the independent Uzbekistan. Modern ferry, concrete bridge across the Amu Darya, the only bridge at the border of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, connects Uzbekistan with its southern neighbors as in antiquity.