SEMIRECHYE SECTION OF THE SILK ROAD IN KAZAKHSTAN
1) The Silk Road Semirechye section is located in the historical and geographical region known as Zhetysu (Semirechye). A diversity of ecosystem zones ate found here: wormwood-steppe, cereal-steppe, motely grass-steppe, forest or meadow and high-altitude. The general route is from Shasha (Tashkent) to Turbat, then to Ispidzhab (Sairam, Saryam, “White city” or “Al-medinat al-Baida”), then east to Taraz, then to Dzhamukat, then to Kulan (Chinese Tszjuj-lan’), then east to the cities Mirki and Aspara after which it lead to Issukkul kettle. From Issykkul kettle the route went through Santash pass and Karkary river valley run through the Ili valley and right bank of Ili river to Usek and Khorgos, then to Almalyk. It was possible to reach Ili valley another way from Kulan: 1) from Aspara to the towns of middle and lower reaches of the Chu river, to the north slope of the Chuili mountains and down to the north Pribalkhashye; or 2) through Chu Valley and towns on the north slopes of Karatau.
In the Ili valley, the Silk Road went though small towns, located in place occupied by present-day Kastek, Kaskelen and Almaty and reached Talkhiza (Talgar) town. In Talkhiza the Silk Road forked to the south and north. Through Issyk, Turgen, Chilik, the south road lead to Ili pass – through Khorgos to Almalyk. The North road from Talkhiza went along the Talgar river to Ili pass, which is now located in the Kapchagay reservoir. After Ili the road lead to Chingeldy, then through Altyn-Emel pass and then down to Koksu valley and reached Iki-Oguz (Equius), located at the place of present-day Kirovskoye village. From Iki-Oguz the road led to Kayalyk (Koylak) – capital of Karluk dzhabgu. Further on the road went to Tentek valley, passing Alakol lake, and then went through Dzhungar gates and came to Shikho valley.
Ili valley connected to the Central Kazakhstan by the road, which went along the north slopes of the Chuili mountains, then along Chu in its lower reaches and then – to the banks of Sarysu. One more important path was from the north Ili line in Chingildy region and through Koktal and Boyauly passes – in Pribalkhashye, then – along Ortasu channel (Ili river), where there are residues of Karamergen, Aktam and Agashayak towns, to Balkhash shore, then on Uzun-Aral peninsula, which almost connect south and north shores of the lake, leaving strait in width more than 8 kilometers. Here in the cape, there were found rests of the town, the biggest part of which was floud. Probably the caravans passed wade the strait and went to outfall of Tokrau river and then along its banks went to Ulutau foothills.
I. Semirechye sector of the Silk Road include the following objects on this nomination: 1) Antonovka Ancient Settlement — Medieval Kayalyk (Kaylak); 2) Talgar Ancient Settlement; 3) Karamergen Ancient Settlement; 4) Aktobe Stepninskoye Ancient Settlement; 5) Akyrtas Archeological Complex; 6) Ornek Encient Settlement; 7) Kulan Ancient Settlement; 8) Kostobe Ancient Settlement
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Beginning its existence from the 2nd century B.C. and till the end of 15th century of A.D. this network of roads starting from Chan’an (modern Xian) and spreading from East Asia to Mediterranean to West and Southwest and down to Indian subcontinent, was contributing and creating conditions for intercontinental trade. [Source: UNESCO]
“In its turnover there were cultural and material values of different nations and countries. Chinese silk was one of the most valuable goods, but also there were many other goods distributed by these roads: precious metals and stones, ceramics, perfumery, incense and spices, goods made of cotton and wool, glass, wine, amber, carpets and thoroughbred horses. This trade, connecting various civilizations, existed during centuries and was supported by system of caravanserais, commercial centers, trading towns and fortresses extending for more than 10 thousand kilometers, which probably makes the most long cultural route in the history of humanity.
“However, The Silk Road transported not only goods.The Silk Road transported Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Zoroastrism and Manichaeism. Scientific and technological achievements also spread by this route, for example such ones from China: paper, powder, magnetic compass and porcelain, whereas engineering achievements (particularly, bridge construction) and growing of cotton, cultivation of grape vine were spread from Central Asia, Middle East, Mediterranean and West. The exchange of medical knowledge and medicine also was happening. The same road went diplomatic missions, establishing international contacts.”
Silk Road in Kazakhstan
The northern spur of the Silk Road runs through part of southern Kazakhstan. The Silk Road is a network of routes linked Europe and Asia, passing through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. In Kazakhstan one of the main, the route went through the Tien Shan Mountains, Otrar, Taraz and Chimkent (Shykment). The Silk Road in Kazakhstan was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.
Scientists have divided the Silk Road in Kazakhstan into four sections:According to a report submitted to UNESCO: 1) Semirechye, 2) The Syr Darya, 3) Saryarka and 4) Mangyshlak (Uralo-Prikaspiyskiy). Each of these parts is characterized by its natural- geographical conditions and historical development, including urban with clear influence on process of formation, development and stagnation of historical and cultural monuments, situated in these regions of Silk Road routes. These complicated processes of indissoluble connections of culture, natural, historical process, influence with communications show not only means of human adaptation to different kind of climate conditions, but also ways of mutual enrichment by exchange of human values and cultural traditions, which reflected in preserved cultural monuments which in present mark the important human communications. [Source: UNESCO]
The routes of the Silk Road were not static. Over the centuries different routes and branches opened up. Some routes died died out totally, and towns and trade stations that served them also died out. In the 6th-8th centuries the main line was Syria – Iran – Central Asia – Southern Kazakhstan – Talas valley – Chu valley – Issykkul kettle – Eastern Turkestan. A branch of this road lead to the places mentioned above from the Byzantine area through Derbent in Prikapispiyskiy steppe, and Mangyshlak, in Priaralye, in Southern Kazakhstan (in Sasanid Iran, after concluding trade-diplomatic union between the Western Turk Khanate and Byzantium). In 9th-12th century this route was used but there was less traffic. In the 13th-16th centuries activity picked up again when it was part of the Mongol Empire).
Antonovka Settlement — Medieval Kayalyk (Kaylak)
Antonovka Settlement (190 kilometers northeast of Taldykorgan) was the home of Kayalyk (also spelled Kojlyk), a medieval Silk Road town dating to the 8th to the end of 13th centuries. Located in the Sarkand area of Almaty region on the banks of Ashi-Bulak river, it is part of the Silk Road in Kazakhstan, nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Medieval Kayalyk (Kaylak) is the biggest settlement of Ili valley. Outwalls made of cob represent slipped down shaft with 11-13 meters of width, and preserved height to 2-3.5 meters, they surround a square area with length of 1290 meters, depth of 840 meters. Behind the wall there is a clearly seen ditch with width of 1017 meters, depth of 1-2 meters. Entries into ancient settlements were organized in the northwest, northeast and southeast parts. Inside the settlement the whole vast ground territory of the settlement is covered by numerous hillocks and hollows – these are traits of previous development. In the center of the above-mentioned quadrangle the central part is standing out, with the size of 241x225 meters, angles oriented to the four winds. [Source: UNESCO]
“The city was known in the sources of 11th to-beginning of 13th centuries as the capital of Karluk dzhabgu – this is an independent property of Turks-Karluks in Karahanids’ Kaganate. In the middle of 13th century the city has been visited by Guillaume de Rubrouck, an ambassador of Louis 9th while he was going to Mongol Khan Munke. He described the city as a big trade center. According to him, there were temples of “idolaters”, a mosque and Christian church nearby.
Talgar Medieval Settlement
Talgar ancient settlement (25 kilometers to the east of Almaty) is a monument: settlement of medieval Talhir that dates to the 8th century to the beginning of the 13th century. It is situated at the foot of Zailiyskoe Ala Tau, in the outskirts of Talgar city and is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.
Talgar for sure corresponds to Talhir which is mentioned in anonymous Persian geographical writing of the end of 10th century, called “Hudud al-Alem”. “Its citizens are warlike, brave and valorous” — mentioned the medieval geographer.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The central part of the ancient settlement has a square section surrounded by fortifications with some remains of towers. The wall now looks like a slide down bank with a height of three up to five meters, with hilly towers at the corners and around the perimeter. An ancient build-up can be noticed around the central part. It is preserved best in the southern part. The total area of the ancient city was 28 hectares. [Source: UNESCO]
Karamergen Medieval Settlement
Karamergen (southern Balkhash lake, 200 kilometers northeast of the village Bakanas) is a Oghuz Turk settlement dated to 8th to 13th century beautiful three kilometers north of the confluence of the dry riverbed of Ortasu. It is part of the Silk Road in Kazakhstan, nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Karamergen ancient settlement can be referred to as a “tortkol” type monuments widely known in Zhetysu, South Kazakhstan, Tuva, Mongolia and in Tien Shan. These are remains of towns, towns-shelters, settlements and caravanserais. Karamergen is a city on the route of the Silk Road and this is evidenced by findings of imported beads made of lazurite; and the main proof is that it is situated on the section of The Silk Road going from the main line across Pribalkhashye to Sary-Arka.
Aktobe Stepninskoye Medieval Site
Aktobe Stepninskoye (south of Lake Balkash) is a medieval settlement dated to the 7th-13th centuries and occupied by Karluk, Chigili and Yagma. The site is situated at both sides of Aksu river, not far from its falling into Chu river, in the steppe zone of Semirechye and 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: “Central ruins that gave the name to the whole monument are situated on the left bank of Aksu river. Citadel looks like high subdirect square hill with height of 15 meters. Sizes of the hillock are 120x100 meters at the base. Citadel is attached by shakhristan having subdirect square contours with 240x210 meters in size. Citadel and shakhristan are surrounded with walls which are now look like slid down rolls. The territory of handicraft and agricultural areas is close to central ruins, it is surrounded by two rows of rolls. The length of the area downstream the river from southeast to northwest is 9.5-10 kilometers at the external circle of the walls and 5.5 kilometers at the internal circle of the walls. [Source: UNESCO]
“The settlement is defined as big centre of trade and craft in compound of western turk Kaganate. Starting from 1974, ancient settlement is being excavated by expedition of Kazakh State National University of Al-Farabi. From 2008 the works are being conducted on the program of “Cultural Heritage of Kazakhstan”. During excavations at the ancient settlement the residential communities, separate farmsteads were found, fortification was explored. Crafts made of ceramics and glass, metal crafts and jewelry, bronze vessels and big amount of coins were gathered during excavations.
Ornek Medieval Settlement
Ornek Medieval Settlement (75 kilometers southwest of Petropavlovsk) dates to the 8th-13th centuries and was in inhabited by Karluk, Chigil and Yagma. It is situated six kilometers south of settlement called Ornek on the Altynsu river, in Solutor gorge, and 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 central part of the ancient settlement represents the quadrangular platform oriented by corners to the four winds. The sizes of an area on a crest of a roll surrounding it are 155x160 meters. The roll was preserved with the height to 5 meters with width of the basis of 11-15 meters. On corners and on perimeter of walls the hillocks can be noticed, where the towers were supposed to be located: there were 7 of them on the northeast wall (angular also), 6 of them on the northwest wall, 9 on the southeast wall, and 9 on the southwest wall. Each of the four sides has gate (entry) with the shape of ruptures in a roll. Entrances were connected by the roads crossing in the center. [Source: UNESCO]
In the center of an ancient settlement, closer to a northwest wall there are round foundation pits for three water reservoirs connected with each other. Diameters of two of them are 30 meters and the third is 15 meters in diameter. The central ruins are adjoined by the territory surrounded with the roll with towers. The roll is at a distance of 90 meters from a southwest wall, in 40 meters – from the southeast wall, in 90 meters — from northeast wall and in 100 meters – from northwest wall.
The external roll looks like a rectangle with length of the sides: southwest side is 330 m; northwest side is 290 meters, northeast side is 300 meters, and the southeast side consists of two sectors closed at an obtuse angle with a length of 200 and 160 meters. In the middle of a northeast part of a roll a rupture can be seen – the remains of a former pass.
Akyrtas – Medieval Archeological Complex
Akyrtas (40 kilometers east of Taraz, 6 kilometers south of Akchulak railway station) is an archeological complex with various kinds of features situated at the foot of Kyrgyz Ala Tau. The features cover wide chronological range and were occupied mainly by Karluk Turks and Arabs. Part of the Silk Road in Kazakhstan, nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012, the site is occupied by dry foothills, some of them archaeological ruins. In regards to site’s so-called palace, there is no exact data about the history of its creation or builder. The unfinished project, massive, grand and bold in design, consists of a number of rooms arranged around a spacious internal yard.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The complex includes several archeological and archeological-architectural monuments of different times. A “palace” features monumental construction, is rectangular and is made of massive stone blocks of red sandstone, with a height from 1 to 1.5 meters. The size of construction is 169x145 meters. The long sides of construction are oriented at a north-south line. The plan of construction can be read easily: the main street connects north and south entries. One more street which is perpendicular to it goes from east to west and rests against deep “aivans”. Streets divide the construction into four parts, three of them consist of facilities situated round the yards and one (northwest one) is free from development. [Source: UNESCO]
Kulan Medieval Settlement
Kulan Settlement (100 kilometers east of Taraz) dates to the 7th to 13th centuries. 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 Kulan town is known from the written sources relating to 8th-13th centuries. In routing guide by the Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim Sjuan Tszjaija mentioned it under the name "Tszjuj-lan’". In 9th-10th IХ-Х centuries Kulan was mentioned by the Arabian authors describing cities located on a line of the Silk Road. Ibhn-Khordadbekh and Kudama geographers locate Kulan fourteen “pharsakh” (unit of measure) to the west of Taraz. Here what Kudama told: “... there is sand between Taraz and Kulan from the north side, and behind it there is a desert of sand and pebble, and in this desert there are echidnas, [it stretches] to Kimaks’ border“. The Arabian geographer of X century al-Makdisi describes Kulan as “the fortified city” which has “a cathedral mosque” and which “has already become empty, it is located on big Taraz road”. The author of the geographical dictionary, Yakut who created his work in 20-ies of 13th century, mentions: “Kulan is a pleasant small town on border of the country of Turks, from the side of Maverannakhr”. A number of famous historical events is connected with Kulan: in year 740 the last west-Turkic kagan Ashaina Syn’ has been killed by Turgesh prince Kursul’.[Source: UNESCO]
“Degree of research: Explorations of remains of this city were facilitated by the fact that according to the sources it was located between two medieval cities the location of which was well-known. In the west, fourteen “pharsakhs” from Kulan the Taraz was located at the place of an ancient settlement in the centre of present Taraz city; in the east, on distance of four “pharsakhs”, there was Mirki town which nowadays has the same name. Therefore, identification of Kulan with ruins close Lugovoye village Meadow, suggested by V.V. Bartold, does not leave any doubts. The data received by archeologists allow assuming that originally in 7th-8th centuries there was a construction with “pakhsa” walls in the place of citadel. Probably, it was a construction of a castle type.
Kostobe Medieval Settlement
Kostobe Medieval Settlement (10 kilometers northeast of Taraz) is an ancient settlement dated to the 6th to 12th centuries. Located in Dzhamukat town on the eastern side of the Sarykemer settlement, it was occupied by Oghuz and Karluk Turks and Sogdians and 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 central part of Kostobe occupies a quadrangular elevated area with the size of 420 х 450 meters surrounded by a double wall. Height of the external rolls is 3.5 meters; internal roll is to 5 meters. The corners and perimeter of the walls had round towers fixed on them. Four entrances can be seen in the middle of each of the sides. The citadel is in the middle of the western wall. Now it looks like a pyramidal hill with a flat platform at the top. The sizes of a hill in the basis — 70x80 meters, height of the hill is12-15 meters. Shakhristan is attached to the citadel and occupies all southwest corner of the ancient settlement with sizes of 150x150 meters. The entrance is located in northern wall. 200 meters to the north of shakhristan there is a dome-shaped hillock with diameter of 80 meters and height of 15 meters. Probably, it was the fire tower. [Source: UNESCO]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Kazakhstan Tourism website, 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