Western Kazakhstan — which embraces the regions (oblasts) of West Kazakhstan, Atyrau, Mangystau and Aktobe — is mostly empty desert and steppe. The places with significant populations are around the Caspian Sea, the Russian border and oil, gas and mineral deposits. In recent decades attention was focused on the huge oil deposits in the Tenghiz oilfield and Kashagan near the Caspian Sea and the Karachaganak gas field near the Russian border, south of Oral, in northwestern Kazakhstan.

Its vast territory of West Kazakhstan, Atyrau, Mangystau and Aktobe regions stretches 1,200 kilometers from the north to the south and 1,300 kilometers from the west to the east. The main rivers are the Ural and Emba. The largest lakes are the Inder, Aralsor and Kamys-Samara. In summer the temperature rises to 45 degrees Celsius; in winter the temperature drops to –45 degrees Celsius. Rivers in this region are small. The only river which reaches the Caspian Sea is the Ural. The others dry out in the desert.

Irgiz-Torgaj Reserve in Aktobe Region is somewhat representative of the landscape found in western Kazakhstan. Occupying an area of 7,630 square kilometers it is one of the largest protected natural territories in Kazakhstan. The main task of this reserve is to protect and restore the betpakdala population of Saiga Antelope, as well as the integrity of its marsh lands, steppe and semi-desert landscapes, which are unique and have remained practically untouched. These marsh lands are the home and nesting gounds for over 250 species of water fowl. Among the reeds bushes, one may easily meet a wild boar or a muskrat. Boat tour around the Malaydar system, where the lakes are connected by the Irgiz river, may surely be of interest.

Aktolagaj Plateau, a cretaceous plateau which is situated on the border of the Atyrau and Aktyubinsk regions, appears to have been a sea-bottom tens of million of years ago. For that very reason, now you may find many fossilized remains of molluscs, corals, urchins, sea hedgehogs and other creatures of the sea living at that time. Teeth of the ancient sharks, ichthyosaurus, dinosaurs, stone prints of plants that are unknown today and petrified trees have all been found here..Now Aktolagaj is a deserted steppe landscape, where harsh winds blow through areas saline earth and snow-white rocks and bushes, among which you may be lucky enough to find some vegetation for shade for protection from the scorching sun. Silence except for wind and open spaces are the main attractions here.

Caspian Sea

The Caspian Sea is the world's largest inland body of water. Bordering Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran, it is 760 miles (1,200 kilometers) long, 130 (200 kilometers) to 300 (480 kilometers) miles wide and has a surface area of 143,550 square miles (370,000 square kilometers) and is 92 feet (28 meters) below sea level. It is about the same size as California or five times the size of Lake Superior, and 1½ time the size of all the Great Lakes combined in terms of surface area but hold less water than Lake Baikal in Siberia. [Source: Robert Cullen, National Geographic, May 1999]

Named after an ancient tribe called the Caspii and really a lake not a sea, the Caspian Sea has no outlets but loses a lot of water to evaporation. Its water is salty. The Volga River flows into the northern Caspian Sea and is the source of 80 percent of its water. The level of the Caspian Sea rises and falls with the flow of the Volga River, with the level at its highest in the spring after the river swells from the spring melt.

The Caspian Sea has no access to the world’s seas. The northern part of the Caspian Sea is very shallow. The average depth is 20 feet (6 meter). Around the Volga Delta the depth is only around seven feet (two meters). The water in the north is less salty than other parts of the sea and is bluer in color. The Caspian Sea is much deeper in the southern and central sections. There are two deep basins, separated by an underwater ridge. The deepest point 3,190 feet (975 meters).

On the eastern shore is a unique gulf called the Garabogaz Bay (Kara-Bogaz-Gol). Covering 7,000 square miles (18,00 square kilometers), an area almost as big as Lake Ontario, it is almost completely cut of from the rest of the Caspian Sea by sand spits. Water evaporates very quickly here because of the exceptionally arid climate. The water level in the gulf is lower than the rest of the sea and water rushes through narrows that separate the gulf from the sea. Along the southern seabed are a number of “mud volcanoes,” some of them several hundred feet high. They spew out clay and are capable of quick, unpredictable growth. They are associated with oil deposits but also present a challenge for pipeline planners.

The Caspian Sea Basin lies as low as 132 meters below sea level. The forested slopes of the Caucasus mountains and Iran's Eburz mountains abut against the southwestern and southern shore. To the east are the Balhhan Ramges and the Kara-Kum desert. To the north is the Ust-Urt plateau and beyond that are the rolling Volga uplands.

Atyrau: the Oil Capital of Kazakhstan

Atyrau(near the northern limit of the Caspian Sea, 1,650 miles west if Almaty) is regarded as the oil capital of Kazakhstan. Located on the Ural river, about 20 miles upstream from the Caspian Sea, it is home to 240,000 people and 250 foreign oil companies and joint enterprises, many of them some how connected to the nearby offshore Kashagan oil field or the Tengiz oilfield which is about 320 kilometers to the south. There are lots of foreign businessmen running around and thus the choice of nice hotels, restaurants and bars is better and the prices are higher than other places in Kazakhstan. It is a good placed to pick up on good caviar for relatively cheap prices.

Atyrau is located on both sides of the Ural River, which is regarded as the dividing line between Asia and Europe. People routinely cross bridges from one continent to another on a daily basis. Archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of human occupation dated to the 3rd - 4th centuries B.C., written records begins in 1640. In recent decades, the city has attracted people from all over Kazakhstan in search of work. The city is an industrial center and has facilities for refining oil, manufacturing construction materials and processing agricultural products. Fishing is also a key industry. There isn’t that much to see: a Russian Orthodox Church, the Atyrau History Museum, the Palace of Culture.

Atyrau is one of Kazakhstan’s largest ports. It situated about 20 meters below sea level and prone to flooding when rare heavy rainstorms occur. Climate is arid. Strong winds and dust storms are common.. According to Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT): 1) Urban roads in inter-regional roads are in poor condition. 2) Air pollution levels are often high. 3) The availability of adequate medical services is low. Public transportation is not well developed. Bus service is available from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm, Taxi service is available 24/7. Atyrau Airport is 5 kilometers from the city. Passengers are transported between the terminal and the planes by buses. There is no public transportation to the airport. Taxi service is available. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2008: PDF]

Sights in Atyrau

Imangali Mosque (on the street. Satpaeva 15) is located in the center of the city of Atyrau. It is crowned by a large dome seven meters of a diameter and 23 high. On either side of the building are 26-meter-high minarets. The main hall and balcony accommodates 600 people and covers 346 square meters. A small hall for women has 100 seats and is divided by a wooden lattice pandjara. The total area of the mosque is 1300 square meters. The total area of land it is located on is 9358 square meters.

The Uspensky Cathedral (on 16 Taimanov Street at the corner of Gagarin Street) is a Russian Orthodox Church. Built in 1883, is made of brick and the total area is 230 square meters and space for 900 people. The height of the main tower and gilt onion dome is 40 meters. Smaller towers and onion domes rise 10 meters from the roof.

The Regional History Museum is a cultural center as well as a museum. Established in 1939, the museum opened its doors in an old church building before World War II. It has only 242 exhibits. In 1999, an oil museum was established in a new refurbished building, Its inauguration was attended by President Nazarbayev.

Tengiz Oil Field

The Tengiz field (350 kilometers south of Atyrau) is an onshore oil field near the Caspian Sea. It is one of the ten largest oil and gas fields in the world. It holds 6 billion to 9 billion barrels in proven reserves. It yields over 500,000 barrels day, which works out to several billions worth of oil a year. Production was expected to increase to 700,000 barrels a day by 2010. It has over 800 thousand barrels a day potential total liquids production with further development. Korolevs is an oil field adjacent to Tengiz being developed by Chevron.

Tengiz and Korolev are is worked by Chevron, ExxonMobil, KazMunaiGaz, LukArco (Lukoil and BP). Production started in 1991. It produced 581 thousand barrels a day total liquids production in 2013. It produced 252 Bcf of dry marketed gas in 2013. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration based on data from TengizChevroil, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Eni]

In the 1990s, Tengiz Field was the largest oil strike in 20 years. It was initially developed and managed by Tengizchevoil, a joint venture involving Chevron and Mobil. Both Chevron-Texaco as well as Exxon-Mobile invested billions to develop the site.

The largest deposit at Tengiz begins at more than 12,000 feet below the ground, and as of the early 2000s, oil companies had yet to locate its bottom. One Chevron executive told the New Yorker in 2001, “It’s a mother of an oil field, and we still don't know much oil is in it.” Over a 40 year period Chevron Texaco and the Kazakhstan government planned to invest $20 billion to develop the field. [Source: The New Yorker]

In the early 2000s, foreign workers in the Tengiz fields lived in prefabricated buildings in military-base-like compounds, where almost everything was trucked in from western Europe: food, entertainment and furniture. It seems like nothing was purchased from the local population except sex and souvenirs.

Kashagan Field

Kashagan field (near Atyrau) is the world’s fifth largest oil field in terms of reserves and is considered the world's largest discovery in the last 30 years. Described as the biggest find since Prudoe Bay in Alaska and dubbed the “Kuwait of Central Asia,” the Kashagan field was discovered off the Caspian Sea coast in 2000. By some estimates it holds three times the reserves of the Tengiz field. The total geological reserves are estimated at 35 million barrels. The natural gas reserves are estimated at over 1 trillion cubic meters.

The Kashagan field, the largest known oil field outside the Middle East, is located 80 kilometers off the northern shore of the Caspian Sea near the city of Atyrau, Kazakhstan. Kashagan's recoverable reserves are estimated at 7 to 13 billion barrels of crude oil. On September 11, 2013, production from the super-giant field commenced, eight years after the original scheduled startup date. In October 2013, just a few weeks after production began, production had to be halted because of leaks in the pipeline that transports natural gas from the field to shore. Production is not expected to resume until the second half of 2016 at the earliest. [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)]

Kashagan is being developed by KazMunaiGaz, Eni, ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, China National Petroleum Corporation and Inpex. It is expected to start production in 2017. It hopes to produce 370 thousand barrels a day from processing capacity with current development (1,500 thousand barrels a day potential liquids production with further development). The field is expected have a 100 Bcf gas production capacity (most gas to be used internally at Kashagan). [Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration based on data from TengizChevroil, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Eni]

According to Offshore Energy Today: “The Kashagan field represents the largest oil accumulation in the North Caspian Sea with estimated reserves of approximately 35 billion barrels of oil in place. Water depths range from 2 to 6 meters, and temperatures fluctuate between -40̊C and +40̊C throughout the year. The shareholders have reportedly splashed over $50 billion on the development of the field but according to CNN Money, Kashagan is the world’s most expensive energy project valued at $116 billion. [Source: Offshore Energy Today, June 17, 2015 ==]

The Kashagan field was initially developed by Agip KCO, a consortium led by the Italian company by Agip, .which was expected to become a leader in Kazakhstan’s oil industry. It controlled a concession area consisting of five prospective blocks, whose reserves were assessed in 2004 as having 28 billion barrels of oil. Production was supposed to start in 2004 but was delayed until 2007 and delayed again several times after that. The field was predicted inexpect to produce about 1 million barrels of oil a day.

Saraychik Settlement: Cradle of the Kazakh Horde

Saraishyk Settlement (75 kilometers north of Atyrau) is one of the most extensive and well-preserved medieval sites of Kazakhstan. Regarded as the cradle of the Kazakh Horde, it was a stop on the Silk Road and was occupied from the 10th to 16th centuries by Golden Horde, the Nogay and Kazakhs. The site is located near the Ural River between the Ural Mountains and the Sarachinka channel. A part of a site of ancient settlement is built up near Saraychik village. The south and the north sides were protected by walls. The ruins extend along the river for on one and a half kilometers. A new mosque and museum are located at the site. . Saraishyk Ancient Settlement is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Saraychik settlement has an area of 100 hectares. It is a plain steppe area with low rolling hills. In the southeastern part of the monument Saraychik is partially built upwith “aul”, and from the west and southwestern part by the burials, southern part is washed by the river. Behind the burial and aul there is Ural River flow, formerly the main channel of the river Ural was held here, and the town was located on the east coast. The thickness of the cultural layer in the coastal area, 1.5 — 2 meters, excluding household pits and hills — rolled off the remnants of houses. [Source: UNESCO]

“According to the historical version, Saraychik was founded in the middle of the 13th century by Batu Khan (1227-1256) in a convenient location, and most importantly — on the host site of junction of Europe and Asia. Through it ran the Silk Road from European countries and the capital of the Golden Horde Sarai Berke on the Volga River to the cities of Khorezm, Kazakhstan, India, Iran and China. Now we have descriptions of many merchants and travelers about the direction of this road. In "Dorozhnik" Hamdallaha Qazwini, written around 1339, shows the transition points on the way indicating the distance. Same we can meet in the writings of Arab geographer al-Omari (XIVcentury). Trade route of the road from Saraichik to Urgench in length of "month road" was supplied by wells and caravanserais. Saraychik was an important political center. Here was carried out a procedure of the accession to the khan throne of the Golden Horde Zhanibek (1341-1357), Berdibek (1357-1359 ) and other members of the dynasty of Dzhuchids. The rapid development of the city was connected with the adoption of Islam by Khan Berke (1257-1266) and his brother-Tukai Timur, and later — as the official state religion of the Golden Horde by Uzbek Khan (1290-1312). These events occurred exactly in the Saraychik, which emphasizes its special role as the spiritual center of all the Golden Horde. In Saraychik were buried several khans of the Golden Horde, and other historical figures, including Mengu-Timur (1266-1281), Toktay (1280-1312), Zhanibek (1342-1357), Berdibek (1357-1359), as well as Kazakh khan Kasim (1511-1518). After the collapse of the Golden Horde since 1391 Saraychik became the center of Mangyt Yurt which had finally formed into an independent state — Nogai Horde in the 40th years of the 16th century, that was former political union of the tribes of the steppe. Around 1580 Saraychik was taken by storm and destroyed by the Cossack troops. Soon the city was rebuilt, but it was the beginning of a gradual and irreversible process of its total desolation. This contributed to the economic, social and political upheavals within the Nogai Horde and other unfavorable external factors.

“Saraychik excavations have revealed residential districts of ordinary population.They consisted of houses built of mudbrick. There were two to three rooms, heated by chimney channels laid under the floor. During excavations baths, a mosque and other cult buildings were revealed and dug out and pottery — including glazed which was made on a place, and also products from the Syrian glass, the Chinese porcelain, the Khorezm bowls, bronze jugs and dishes from Iran — were found. The fact that the city was one of the centers on the Silk Road is proved by findings of imported Chinese and Iranian ceramics, bronze products and glass from Central Asia and Iran. Findings of coins minted in Golden Horde of Khoresm, Samarkand and Iran testify the commercial relations. The mint functioned in the Saraychik in 14th-XV centuries.


Aktau (on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, 900 kilometers south of Atyrau by road) is the main port of Kazakhstan. Its current name means "white mountain" in Kazakh, which may be due to its cliffs that overlook the Caspian. From 1964 to 1991 city was known as Shevchenko. It is located on the Mangyshlak Peninsula and is the capital of Mangystau Region.

Aktau is a strange town with 190,000 people built around a large deposit of uranium. It gets all of its water from salinization plant powered by a nuclear power plant powered by uranium from nearby mines. The Soviet tried to develop the place into a resort. There is a seafront promenade, aqua park with water slides and pools, and a regional history museum. Because of the presence of oil and gas, the town and region is fairly affluent. In the city there is a wide selection of hotels, from three to five stars, including the “Renaissance Aktau”, part of the “Marriott” chain and the hotel "Grand Hotel Victory". Beach season in the city lasted from May to September, the average water temperature is 21 degrees C.

The settlement of Aktau received town status in 1963. It is a major oil and gas production center, and is known for its unique heated oil pipeline and unique block address system. Almost no streets in Aktau have names; instead, addresses generally consist of three numbers: the district number (also known as micro-region/micro-district/block), the building number, and the apartment number. This is because Aktau was originally planned as a camp for the workers of the oil industry.

Near Aktau

Interesting places near Aktau include: 1) 10th-12thcentury underground mosques; 2) 9th-19th century necropolis with are many stone statues; 3) the Beket-Ata necropolis; 4) the, mausoleums, excavations of the ancient settlement of Kuskuduk; 5) the 10th-12th century town of Kzyl-Kalda; 6) Karagie Hollow, 132 meters below sea level, 3rd deepest depression in the world; 7) Mangystau desert; and 8) of course the Caspian Sea.

About 130 kilometers to the north is Fort Shevchenko, a 19th century ghost town. The 900-kilometers Aktau to Atyrau Road is a a toll road that is being improved..The road is key to upgrading the international transport corridor linking Atyrau with Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan and Astrakhan. Improving this corridor is also important for countries in Central Asia and Russia.

Underground Mosque of Shakpak-Ata (on Tjub-Karagan peninsula, 20 kilometers to the northeast of the Shevchenko Fort) is considered the most ancient architectural monument in the Western Kazakhstan. The mosque layout as well as its other architectural details, present evidence of a structure belonging to 9th-10th centuries. The mosque is strictly oriented to the parts of the world, cut down in chalk rock and consists of four chambers, thus being the original example of a cross-dome temple having four columns with capitals. The dome arch of the structure, and round window is cut through in its centre, makes for a yurt type of arrangement.A great number of inscriptions, images of animals and symbolic signs are on the portal and internal walls of the underground mosque.

Karagie Hollow (also known the Karaghiye Depression, 50 kilometers from Aktau) is third deepest place in the world at 132 meters below sea level. It is located in the Eastern part of the Mangyshlak plateau, around and stretches for about 80 kilometers from the northwest to the southeast. Collapsing and karstic processes cause the depression as evidenced by the cliffs, benches split by wide and deep canyons such as sayami. Kazakhstan scientists still are trying to understand how this almost waterless hollow seems to generate rain clouds measuring several kilometers. The hollow also has a reputation for abnormalities such as UFO sightings and other paranormal occurrences.

Balls Valley (100 kilometers north of Aktau is a place where groups of stone balls about as tall as humans are scattered along a valley floor. The area features many spherical sedimentary rock formations — as well as sort of round rocks — which have formed naturally across the landscape through a concretion process. A concretion is a hard, compact mass of matter formed by the precipitation of mineral cement within the spaces between particles, and is found in sedimentary rock or soil. Concretions are often ovoid or spherical in shape, although irregular shapes also occur. Similar concretions can be found at Bowling Ball Beach in Mendocino County, California,

Where have fallen or who rolled up on the Mangyshlak Peninsula these stone balls? Overseas giant Atlanta or brave batyr Ersary Baba fired from a gun, and the core-stones rained down on the ground, forming a valley Sharov? For 250 years scientists have been racking their brains, plunged into speculation, but never agreed. One thing is clear, that these stone balls, or as they are called, stone concretions represent a mineral formation of rounded, filled with some special energy, the scientists studied men. And we are also quite enjoy the unusually fascinating phenomenon of nature — boulders scattered along the Mangistau land and be glad that these nodules are the most spherical sight edge.

Mangistau Region

Mangistau region is located in southwestern Kazakhstan, east of the Caspian Sea on the Mangyshlak (Mangystau) plateau. It borders Atyrau Region to the north, Aktobe region to the northeast, Turkmenistan to the south and Uzbekistan to the east.

The Mangistau region contains large amounts of petroleum and natural gas. Gas extraction in the region is carried the companies: Ozenmunaygaz, KMG, Kazpolmunai, Tolkynneftegas. The oil produced is shipped by pipeline at both the domestic market (Aterausky refinery), and for export (via pipeline Aktau-Samara and the sea through the port of Aktau).

Covering 165.6,000 square kilometers and divided by two parallel ridges — Aktau and Karatau — . Mangystau is situated in the Southwest of Kazakhstan between the Caspian Sea and great desert that is lower than the sea level. The Northern part of the region is the pre-Caspian depression. In the center is the Mangyshlak peninsula and the third deepest depression the world, the Karaghi Hollow. In the Southwest, the Kendirli-Koyassan plateau drops down to another gigantic depression, Karyn-Zharyk. To the East is Usturt Plateau.

Mangistau is also home to ancient civilization and Silk Road towns. More than 11,000 historical monuments are under state protection. The climate of Mangystau is highly continental and dry. Average January temperature is 7 temperature C. The annual precipitation is only 150 millimeters. Most of the landscape is desert with alkali and bush vegetation, with a few islands of greenery around oases.

Mangyshlak Peninsula

For casual visitors at first glance may seem Mangistau colorless withered, tired and sun burnt by the wind. For people with roots here: it is a blessed land. Each stone carries a history of the peoples who once inhabited the Mangistau. Since ancient times, the peninsula was called Mangyshlak. The first mention of it is in the annals of 9th century Arab geographer, Al-Istahri, who it Siyah-Kuh (Black Mountain). In sovereign Kazakhstan adopted a different name — Mangistau. Although the right-word, the old-timers today with love and tenderness is called paternal land still "Mangyshlak. Some linguistic scholars argue that "Mangyshlak" means "edge of thousands of wintering, others -" big village ".

The peninsula is famous for its natural diversity: a desert landscape is replaced by mountain ranges, plateaus with steep escarpment adjacent to seascapes, oasis and rocky gorges — with the deepest depression of the CIS countries, Karagiye. Its barren landscape was described by Professor BA Fedorovich "as in the reserved box, assembled the entire arsenal of different manifestations of the nature of the desert".

In medieval times Mangistau was called “Edge 360 of the Saints.” Why? Because a total of 360 murids and students Khoja Ahmed Yassaui — Shopan-ata, Shakpak-Ata, Koshkar-Ata, Masato Ata, Sultan-EPE, Kent-Baba, and others — were sent to Mangyshlak spread the philosophical doctrine Sufism. Sufis have left a deep imprint on the history of this land. There are underground mosques carved into the rock. Pilgrims from different cities of Kazakhsta and other parts of the globe come here to check out the unique religious buildings and mosques.

Different tribes and peoples have left their mark on the history of the region, leaving a trail of rock paintings, tribal marks (tanba), settlements, stelae and monuments. Two-thirds of all monuments of Kazakhstan are situated on the Mangyshlak Peninsula . The Silk Road passed through the desert region of Mangistau. In the Middle Ages Mangyshlak served as a gateway for trade between East and West. In recent times Aktau sea port, which is also called "the eastern gate of Kazakhstan", is an important transportation artery between Asia and Europe.

Mangyshlak is also rich in natural resources. One third of all oil produced in Kazakhstan come from the Mangyshlak area. In addition, the peninsula is rich in copper, manganese, phosphate, rock crystal, rare ores and uranium. The world's first industrial fast nuclear reactor was launched here.

Underground Mosques at Becket-Ata

The underground mosque Sufi Becket-Ata Here is an amazing building built in an area of steep cliffs, spurs and chalk escarpment where the steppe meets the Ustyurt plateau. Becket-ata Myrzagul uly was a respected Sufi saint, who dressed in a hair shirt and lived as recluse in the deserts of the Mangyshlak Peninsula. But he didn’t spend all of his time praying and studying the Koran, He also built four mosques. The first in Kulsary — it is called Ak-Mosque. The second was carved on Cretaceous rocks, 20 kilometers from the village of Beineu, and the third and fourth, the Tobykty underground mosque, carved out of rock in a rocky promontory in the Oglandy tract.

Becket-Ata was born in the second half of 18th century near the village of Kulsary in the Atyrau region. When he was 14 years old he bowed to ashes of the revered sage Shopan-Ata, and received his blessing and mandate to study. In distant Khiva Madrassah he studied the science. At the age of 40 he became a Sufi and taught children to read, healed people and mediated disputes. If that wasn’t enough he is also remembered as a brave soldier who performed made heroic deeds in battles with the Kalmyks.

The Underground mosque Becket-Ata in the Oglandy area was the saint’s last refuge. Even though it is difficult to reach many pilgrims come here. It is said that after visiting the grave of this saint, and his mosques believers will be cured of their illnesses. It has been said that the room carved into the rock mosque replicates a room in the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, and some go a step further the unusual similarity of the two room mirror the similarities between the symbolism of Sufism and the mystical symbols of antiquity, including the Egyptian priests.

The the underground mosques and the Necropolis Becket-Ata are said to have extraordinary acoustics and is regarded as an ideal place to read prayers. When the doors are open, there is no outlet draft. It seems that a Sufi, in fact intuitively grasped the laws of science. Scientists have put forward a bold hypothesis that the Becket-ata mosque was like an observatory, in which the saint was watching the movement of celestial bodies. This allowed him to accurately predict harsh winter, scorching heat, rainfall, determine the time at otkochevok dzhaylyau. At the top of the tract is Oglandy pilgrim house, which is also called "house with blue domes.” Many legends can be heard in this house on the miraculous abilities Becket-Pir.

Kyzyl Kala Medieval Settlement

Kyzyl Kala Settlement (18 kilometers on SSV, in Shetpe settlement, Mangistau region) dates to the 10th to 13th centuries and was occupied by Turks and Sogdians. The basic part of a site of ancient settlement stretched along two mouth channels which merged in a single channel. The site is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The site of ancient settlement consists of the remains of the central fortification and numerous of manors around. Fortification can be distinctly read on a high roll (height of a roll is 3 meters) and viewed central, square fortification in the plan surrounded by a stone wall in width of 1.2-2 meters. The medium part of a northwest wall has a main gate arranged. Structurally these are formed by two towers. Projecting elements of stone layings from outer side of walls of a fortress show angular and two intermediate towers with a total number of 13. Buildings round a fortress are seen on the bases of constructions, places of mass distribution of elevating materials − crocks of pottery, fragments of “plinfa”, and fragments of bones of animals. The total area of a site of ancient settlement makes 50 hectares. [Source: UNESCO]

“The town was founded on the northern branch of the Silk Road as a trading settlement. Initially it was the centre of attraction of local population as well as nomads, merchants, who came not only from Central Asia, but Europe. After sometime the settlement was seized by the nomads. Appeared the first record that here Khoresm fought with Kipchaks. After that there was a reconstruction, the settlement was enclosed with thick stronghold wall of 2 meters thickness. There were numerous buildings made from mudbrick. Kyzyl-Kala town did not last long. Life here has faded in the first half of the 13th century. During excavations, archaeologists have not found any Golden Horde materials. We can assume that at this time caravans did not pass here.

“The ancient settlement of Kyzylkala was a large fortified settlement and trading centre in Southern Prikaspiy. Occupying the important geographical position and being located on the western branch of a caravan track passing along Caspian sea, the city controlled an important caravan trading artery through which the caravans went to cities of the Volga region, to Caucasus, in Russian princedoms the Volga Bulgaria and the Western Europe. The city has reached its prosperity due to transit trade, having existed for more than two centuries. The city has been destroyed in the end of 14th century by Timur's armies.

“The site of ancient settlement of Kyzylkala is a typical caravansary, around which a large settlement gradually has formed, with the developed craft and agriculture. The caravansary served the caravans passing, and also victualed them with food and necessary products. Inhabitants of settling down settlement traded with nomads and supplied them with bread, fabrics and craft products. The site of ancient settlement is well studied by archeologists. The richest material was received during excavations: ceramics, metal wares and coins. Specific item of the settlement is its geographical location, determining it as a point on the Silk Road route, oriented for sea trade in Caspian basin.”

Oral (Uralsk)

Oral (on the border of Russia in West Kazakhstan Region) is a city in northwestern Kazakhstan, at the confluence of the Ural and Chogan rivers. As it is located on the western bank of the Ural river, it is considered geographically in Europe. The capital of the West Kazakhstan Region, it is home to about 300,000 people, of which most are Kazakhs (60 percent) and Russians. The ice-hockey-like sport of bandy is very popular.

Oral (also known as Uralsk or Ural’sk) is an agricultural and industrial centre, and has long been an important trade stop for barges traveling up and down the Ural River between the Caspian Sea and the Ural Mountains. Today it is one of the major entry points for rail traffic from Europe to Siberia, servicing the many new oil fields in the Caspian basin and the industrial cities of the southern Urals. Oral is served by Oral Ak Zhol Airport and well connected by train to destinations all over Central Asia and the former Soviet Union.

Oral was founded in 1613 on the right bank of the Ural River. Founders of the city became free Cossacks, which were Russian royal expeditionary and cavalry forces. A large part of the history of this place is connected with them. The Ural River (Yaik River) and the Oral (Yaitsk) were originally named after the Yaik Cossacks In 1773, the first Cossack rebellion, led by Yemelyan Pugachyo, against the local Russian commander occurred here. The commander was murdered along with several other officers. Tsarist troops eventually recaptured. As a punishment for the Yaik Cossacks siding with the insurrectionists, Catherine the Great declared in 1775 that the Yaik river would henceforth be renamed the Ural River and Yaitsk would be known as Ural'sk. Alexander Pushkin visited the city with his friend Vladimir Dahl in September 1833 while doing research for his book The History of Pugachev (1834), about a Cossak leaderm and his novel The Captain's Daughter (1836).

Sights in Oral (Uralsk)

Today Oral is well known for the diversity of the it architecture. The Cathedral of Michael the Archangel now sits on the city's original location. This area is now called Kurens, meaning Cossack house. To the north of Kuren there are buildings of the old city: mostly merchant houses and administrative and cultural facilities. The most famous buildings are the house of the merchant Kareev, the drama theater, and the house of Cossack’s ataman. The temple of Jesus Christ became a symbol of the city, as synonymous with Kazakhstan, some say, as The Eiffel Tower is with France. It’s construction began in 1891 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Ural Cossack’s Army joining the “Tsar and Motherland.”

West Kazahstan “know-your-country” museum is one of the oldest museums in Kazakhstan. The museum was formed in 1832 by G. Karelin and L. Berg, famous scientists of that time. Nowadays the museum is placed in a historical building, which was built in 1879 in the “east style” for Russian-Kazakh school. Addresse: Uralsk, Dostyk-Druzhba av., 184, Tel: 8 (7112) 50 65 28, 50 51 65, 51 19 52

The museum has a rich collection with over 100,000 thousand artifacts, including items of applied art, armours of batyrs, horse harnesses, khan’s scepter, copy of camisole of khanness Fatima, wife of Zhangir khan, picturesque portraits of khans of the Younger Zhuz and domestic stuff of Priuralie’s people. Halls in the museum are devoted to archeology, history of middle ages, Zolotaya Orda period and history of the beginning of the Yaik town, history of Younger Zhuz, history of Bokey Khanate, history of the Soviet period, history of art, literature, science and education of West Kazakhstan region, ethnography of Kazakh people, and history of independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The museum also has the following branches: the house-museum of Manshuk Mametova, the hero of the Soviet Union; the house-museum of E. Pugachev; house-museum of the artist Saken Gumarov; nature and ecology museum in Uralsk, museum complex of the famous writer meters. Sholohov in the village of Daryinsk of Zelyonovskiy region; the Syrym regional know-your-country museum after S. Datuly.

One place worth a visit is the house-museum of Yemelyan Pugachyov, the leader of the great peasant war of 1773-1775. Since 1991 the unique monument of history has been placed under control of the oblast historical-regional museum. The house now contains a museum devoted to Cossack life, with armament, banners, cannons and valuable presents of the tsar.

In November 2005 in Oral opened a new three-tiered mosque built with the participation of several countries. The majestic dome over the main hall of the mosque is built stained glass, brought from Italy, using German technology. Carpets, which were covered with almost all rooms, were imported from France. A white marble, widely used in the decoration of the main fragments, comes from China. Arch's main entrance is decorated with ornaments of silver and gold. Financing for construction were provided by the natural gas companies KazMunaiGaz, "MangistauMunaiGas”. Address: Uralsk, pr.Evraziya, Tel.: 8 (7112) 54 12 20

Ice Sports Palace in Uralsk was in 2001. It covers a total area of 4635 square meters, and has a 1,300-seats, 60x30 meters ice arena where bandy and hockey are played. There is also a gym, dance hall, 4 locker rooms with showers, saunas, an infirmary, a café and some a tennis courts. The Regional philharmonic named after G.Kurmangaliev plays at the Karev House, built in 1990.

Golden Horde Settlement of Zhaiyk

The settlement Zhaiyk (10 kilometers south of of Oral) is a medieval monument: settlement on a a terrace right above-flood level on Ural river, dating from the 13th to 14th centuries was mainly inhabited by the Golden Horde. It is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The city on the site of Zhaiyk was at its height in in the first half of 14th century, during the period of reign of khan Uzbek (1313-1339) and Dzhanibek (1312-1357) characterized in the history of the Golden Horde as the years of greatest stability and prosperity of urban culture. The settlement is a monument of the urban culture of Zhoshy khan period reign perfectly conveys the image of medieval city, life, culture, economy of the population. The monument represents the important historical and cultural centre, located in the Uralo-Caspian sector of the Silk Road. Archeological excavations have shown close trade and economic and cultural communication of a city with the cities of Semirechyr, Central Asia and Iran. Zhaiyk was repeatedly mentioned by medieval historians and travelers. [Source: UNESCO]

In 2001-2004 explorations organized by the Institute of archeology of A.N. Margulan were conducted on a site of ancient settlement of Zhajyk, under the program “Cultural heritage”. Excavation of three closest hills has revealed the ruins of separate manors under them. Constructions have been made of mudbrick. Premises were heated with “kanns” – heating system. Economic holes-storehouses, garbage holes, sanitary-and-hygienic devices were located in premises. The thickness of the basic walls is 70-80 centimeters.

Comparison of plans, techniques of housing construction of Volga region cities and a site of ancient settlement of “Zhajyk” show that prevailing influence on building culture of cities in Ural river basin were made by traditions of housing construction of Khoresm and near-The Syr Darya oases. Plans of the dwellings explored on a site of ancient settlement coincide with plans of dwellings of after-Mongolian Urgench, Otrar and Turkestan. The difference is observed in some details of an interior and heating system. The fact that in 13th-14th centuries there was enough developed city on a place of the Ural ancient settlement is testified by the ruins of a bath. For example, the bath revealed in Otrar ancient settlement of 13th-14th centuries and similar baths of the city of Kayalyk and cities of the Volga region are constructed according to a coherent plan with some insignificant variations.

Excavations the Zhaiyk Golden Horde Site

The settlement at Zhaiyk was discovered in 2001 during a survey of the Aksai — Bolshoi Chagan — Atyrau pipeline route. In 2005, the settlement was given the name "Zhayik". Research is carried out by the center of history and archeology in conjunction with the Institute of Archeology. Margulana (Almaty). On the territory of the settlement several residential, public and economic facilities were identified. This is a brick kiln, a bathhouse, residential estates, mausoleums.

The excavation at the site has revealed the remains of the furnace that was 10 x 10 meters. As a result of the clearing, it turned out that only the combustion chamber (fire) chamber of the rectangular kiln was preserved. Its internal dimensions: length 490 centimeters, width 325 centimeters, height 180 centimeters. The walls are made of adobe bricks measuring 30 x 30 x 8 centimeters. A similar design of brick kilns in the Golden Horde cities of the Volga and Urals was brought from Central Asia along with other construction technologies and traditions, and was common in all regions, throughout the Middle Ages and the new era.. The furnace was intended for firing bricks, terracotta and glazed tiles, as well as large vessels (humas).

One of the public buildings was the “eastern bathhouse — hammam”, which was located almost in the center of the settlement. Its remains were found at a depth of 1.5-1.7 meters from the level of the modern day surface. At the same time, a layer of black soot of 10-15 centimeters was fixed on board the trench. Above, to the level of the day surface, there was an obstruction with an abundance of fragments of square burnt bricks, pieces of ganch lining, fragments of ceramic pipes — cubes.. Bath sizes are determined in 110-120 square meters. The central hall had eight coal layouts. From the east and west, small washrooms adjoined it. The bath was heated underfloor heating system. Heat-conducting channels were arranged under the floors and sufas of all the interior spaces. The basement of the entire building was at least 1.4 meters deep under the ground. Water was supplied to the washing facilities through an extensive system of ceramic pipelines. In the rooms under the exits of the pipes from the wall there were small stone containers. Public baths in the Muslim city were perhaps the most important, after the mosque, structures and were often lavishly decorated in accordance with the architectural style of the era.

The results of clearing the dwelling of the “small estate” can be interpreted as follows. The residential part of the estate is a separate building, consisting of two residential complexes (compartments), symmetrical in layout, separated by a main wall (wall thickness 0.8 meters.). Entrances from the courtyard to the dwellings were arranged in the northern wall.. Further, through the doors arranged along the central wall, they entered the living quarters with heated sufas. Small rooms of obviously economic purpose, obviously, pantries, closed the suite of rooms. The estate had an extensive courtyard with outbuildings to the north, west or east of the residential part.

At a distance of 1.5 kilometers from the settlement is a necropolis. The largest known monuments are two mausoleums. The first — a two-chamber, or "small", mausoleum belongs to a representative of the nobility. Production of building and cladding material was local. For all the Golden Horde structures of the 13th-14th centuries. a square burnt brick with dimensions of 24x24x5 centimeters is typical. Similar irrigation tiles with floral ornaments were found in the cities of the Golden Horde. Excavations showed that the structures of the building, the walls and even partially the floors, were once thoroughly disassembled and destroyed. Outside, the mausoleum looked like a rectangular volume, measuring 9x12 meters., Crowned with two domes. The long axis of the building is oriented SW-NE. with a deviation of 30 degrees . The southwest wall was designed as a portal.

Kyryk Oba Complex of Royal Burial Mounds

Kyryk Oba Complex of Royal Burial Mounds (along the Uralsk-Aksai highway) is a chain of 40 barrows that date to the mid first millenneum B.C.. They are said be royal based on their height. The interpretation of this culture remains a matter of debate. Some scholars connect the site with the Sauromatian (Blumenfeld) culture, which existed from the 6th to the early 4th century B.C., which was followed by the Early Sarmatian culture in the 4th – 2nd century B.C.. Others link it to refer to a single Prokhorov culture which supposedly spanned the whole period from the 6th to the 1st century B.C..

The Tsar’s Kurgan complex Kyryk-Oba is located on the territory of the Burlinsky district of the West Kazakhstan region, 5 kilometers from the settlement of Algabas, on a watershed plateau. The Kyryk-Oba burial ground is divided into complexes Kyryk-Oba I and Kyryk-Oba II, located 10 kilometers from one another. In 2002-03 The Great Mausoleum was excavated. It is a two-chamber facade mausoleum of longitudinal-axial layout and has very impressive dimensions — 12.85x19.5 meters. Apparently, two different-sized domes mounted on the corresponding drums and transitional structures towered above it. The domes were covered with blue glazed tiles. The main facade of the mausoleum was decorated in the form of a monumental portal with a wide central niche. The interior of the mausoleum was decorated with blue tiles with gilding, polychrome painting. The first room had a size of 4.4x4.4 meters. In it, visitors most likely read the surahs of the Koran. The main room, in which 11 burials were found, had dimensions of 8.8x8.8 meters. The mausoleum most likely served as a family tomb, since two burials were the main ones, and the rest were buried later.

Kırık-Oba I is a group of 6 large royal mounds that accompany mounds of an elongated shape. Archaeological excavations were not carried out here. The Kyryk-Oba 2nd complex is an extensive necropolis with numerous mounds located on both sides of the Uralsk-Burlin highway. The burial ground includes more than forty mounds of various sizes. Their chain is stretched along the west-east axis for five kilometers. Archaeologists conventionally divided it into two groups. The largest mound in the chain is 7 meters high and 80 meters in diameter. In the eastern part of the chain, the largest mound does not exceed 2 meters in height and 30 meters in diameter. Archaeological excavations at the monument began in 2001 by the Institute of Archeology of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan and since 2002. held by the West Kazakhstan Regional Center for History and Archeology.

The funeral rite and grave structures of the investigated mounds of the ancient nomads Kırık-Oba 2nd are diverse: in the presence of common features (complex crypts built from adobe bricks, ritual burials of horses at the edge of the grave pit), burials differ from each other in a number of elements. So, the wooden structures erected over the graves looked like a tent, resting on wooden poles. A grave with a dromos, i.e., a passage to the crypt, was also recorded, a collective burial of people in an open area was discovered; the deceased laid their heads south and southeast. In addition, in 2001, the so-called “fire sanctuary” was opened on the necropolis, a structure where sacrifices were made to pagan gods, including human ones.

A search for analogies to these features of funeral rites unexpectedly led to remote regions. It turned out that the Kyryk-Oba mounds both in rites and in inventory have the greatest resemblance to the funerary monuments of nomads of the Aral Sea region of the 7th – 6th centuries. B.C. e., and, first of all, from the Uygarak burial ground in the Kyzylorda region. This similarity is manifested in the presence of wooden pillar structures on the burial site and in the graves, in the spread of “fire sanctuaries”, in the existence of collective burial practices on the surface, and, finally, in the prevalence of the southern orientation of the bodies of the deceased during burial. The Aral parallels to the Kırık-Obin finds are also among the objects accompanying the dead: the grand sword, the wreckage of which was found on Kırık-Oba in the collective burial of barrow No. 18, has an analogy in the Tagisken burial ground in the lower Syr-Darya.

At the same time, in the archaeological complex of the Kırık-Oba necropolis, there is a Scythian trend in the cultural ties of the ancient nomads of the Urals. This can be seen both in the funeral ritual (southern orientation of the dead, the presence of dromos), and in sets of objects, including bronze cheekbones from horse reins sets, which are widespread only in Scythia, and were first encountered in the Urals.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Kazakhstan Tourism website (visitkazakhstan.kz), Kazakhstan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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