Penjikent – the modern Pompeii of Central Asia

When you walked through the town square,

Beautiful, dressed in silk,

As I caught arrogant eyes of yours,

 I was offended because of your insolence... >.

<... I discovered the secret doors in this town,

Because, you are the only one to me.

I fell in love hundred times from the bottom of my heart,

Finally to fall in love, eternally... >.

Loik Sherali


It is possible to find everything in this city without exaggeration - the romantic flair of the East, modern streets covered with greenery, international conferences and the famous Tajik hospitality. A portion of plov is calculated in kilograms here, you can see the real Central Asian Pompeii in this city and special rice of their own is planted on the banks of the Zarafshan River.

It is located at an altitude of 900 meters above sea level in Zarafshan Valley and its name is Penjikent!

The word "Panjakent" consists of two words "panj" (the Tajik pronunciation "panҷ.") and "kent" which means five villages. Possibly many centuries ago there were five villages in its place and later those villages merged into one in the county.

Officially Penjikent obtained the status of a city only in 1953. Today it is the only populated center with the status of the city with regional subordination.

From east to west of Pendjikent crosses the main avenue named after Abuabdullo Rudaki - the founder of the Persian-Tajik poetry, poet, scholar and scientist, whose roots come from the village of Panjrud, 60 kilometers to the east of the city, Pejikent district of Sughd province.

The Republican Local History Museum of Rudaki which was founded in 1958 in honor of the 1100th anniversary of the birth of the poet is located here, on the avenue. The museum has one of the largest collections among the Tajik museums. Its collection includes more than 98,000 items, most of which are archaeological collections. The exposition is located in seven halls and covers almost all periods of the formation of the Tajik state to the present day. The doors of the museum (carved out by the masters of Istravshan) open daily except Friday. There are regular tours and master classes in Tajik, Russian and English languages.

The facade of the museum is designed based on the frescoes of ancient Penjikent with the famous dictum of Rudaki, "No joy in the world is stronger than the sight of relatives and friends". The ceiling of the lobby is painted by Mirzo Hashim Khujandi and alabaster carving of the doors and windows were performed by Asadov brothers from Khujand. There are so many things to see and admire. Also a number of historical monuments are included as the branches of the museum: the mausoleum of Rudaki in the village of Panjrud (renamed Rudaki), Mohammad Bashoro mausoleum in the village of Mazar-i-Sharif (VIII-XII centuries.), the mosque-madrasa and the house-museum of N. Sharipova in the Rudaki village.

In 2018 a new cultural and creative Complex named after the National poet of Tajikistan Loic Sherali, who was born in the Mazari Sharif village of Penjikent was built here. The monument of the poet which is made of nonferrous metal is 6.3 m high crowning the place. And its territory and the pedestal are decorated with granite. The authors of this steel work are Tajik sculptors Rustam Majidov and Mansur Hojibaev. The building of the complex consists of a basement and five floors and there is a large hall with 436 seats, a library, assembly and sports halls, cafes, a cinema and an office for local television, newspapers and magazines. Special round table and clubs are organized at the Complex for studying and improvement of skills for young people and adolescents.

The modern Penjikent alternates with old and this alternation can be found in the eastern part of Penjikent - it is a mosque-madrasa of the XIX century of Olim Dodkho. Despite its relatively small size 22,60x18 m the architectural monument looks thrilling with pointed arch, decorated alabaster, broad eastern mehrab, high dome, a massive and sturdy door, covered with medieval carved archways create a sense of strength and reliability. One can breathe and dissolve into the past here and there's no rush, just peace and tranquility.

Central Asian Penjikent is fascinating in details: here one can walk in the streets of poets and generals, see the amazing mosaic on houses, look into the teahouse, visit the colorful market with an abundance of fruits and vegetables, match the products made of satin and adras, order pilaf for the friends or a company (pilaf is measured in kilograms), try to swim in the Zeravshan river and drink tea with apricots. And then organize a trip to the ancient Penjikent, located 1.5 km towards the southeast of the modern city, above the left bank of the Zerafshan River, on a low ridge of a hill.


Ancient Pendjikent 

"There is no anywhere else, so obvious the

value of archaeological discoveries and research,

 as in the study of early medieval history of Sogd."

Bobojon Ghafurov "Tajiks"


The investigation of Soghd - the country between the river Chu in the northeast and Baysun to the southwest has perhaps the major importance for the understanding of the historical process in the whole of Central Asia, as in Soghd of VI-VIII centuries. It is the most developed part of the whole fairly extensive region, and Sogdians themselves can be seen as the representatives of urban population.

According to a number of scientists and researchers the name of "Sughd" can be found from the Iranian root meaning "shine", "burn" (Tajik "sukhtan" - "burn"). However, the Tajik-Persian Dictionary often gives a different interpretation like "lowlands, where the water gathers" (Taj. "sugud."- swamp).

Despite the fact that the Sogdian script was previously found in the East Turkestan, however the documents which were found by a shepherd Jura Mamadali in the village of Qalai-Mug, better known as "the castle on the Mug Mountain", diverted the attention of archeologists and later led to the archaeological excavations which is continuing to these days.

On the outskirts of modern Penjikent there is a fort of early medieval era V-VIII centuries, which is known with variety of discoveries and numerous works of art. The walls of buildings built of clay and mud brick are hidden gently in the hills. Before the excavation the inhabitants of Khayrabad village often visited this place, however, it gained fame by a shepherd Juraali, who found a straw basket and a sheet of silky paper unknown to him “greetings from the past”  in the early 1930s of the XX century. The find was carefully studied, but neither the locals nor the Urateppa (Istravshan) literate people understood a word. The rumors about the strange discovery came up to the then Secretary of the District Party Committee Abdulhamid Pulotov who realized the value of this find in the world of history and archaeology and immediately sent the basket to Dushanbe. At that time the resolution of the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences was established by the Tajik base of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the find came to their hands. The experts and orientalists have pointed that the document is written in Uighur or Sogdian language and in the spring of 1933 the outstanding Soviet orientalist A.A. Freiman determined from the photos that the document is written in the Sogdian language, the Sogdian italic script - a monument of the Sogdiana!

Freiman as one of the inquisitive scholar wondered whether there are more manuscripts there and advised to send a group of coworkers there. Already in July of 1933 there were found more than two dozen documents and artifacts. The autumn has brought 21 manuscripts and there were needed more expeditions to carry on. The excavation of the castle on Mugh Mount started in November and later in 1947 it was fully accomplished.

The mount with the ruins of the castle is 80 meters above the hill on the left bank of the Zarafshan River; three sides are surrounded by the river and a steep wall in the fourth part. The upper area was encircled by a wall, which made the castle untouchable. There was once the second floor on it.

The further investigation until our days revealed not only written sources, but also numerous artifacts, the collection of which reached 400 copies. Here you can see a variety of pottery, basketry (covers, baskets), the art of weaving of Pamir Tajiks, wooden spoons, dishes, buttons, shovels, fragments of cloths, the iron weapons, etc.

For the first time all this historical richness gave an idea of ​​ the material culture of the Soghdians, and after deciphering the documents a lot of valuable data on the history and culture of Soghdians were revealed.

In 1946 a group of scientists of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR led by A.Y. Yakubovski visited Penjikent. Having carefully inspected the ancient city on the outskirts of the modern Penjikent brought A.Y. Yakubovski to a large excavation here. Subsequently, this expedition became a new school for the training of national personnel for the historical and archaeological needs of Tajikistan.

The archaeological works revealed that the city emerged in the V century and experienced a lot of ups and downs in VII-VIII centuries.  In 770-780 Arabs repeatedly attacked Penjikent and as a result lost its ruler Devashtich and became completely empty and later was reborn already in another territory.

The name of Ancient Penjikent city despite its small area which is about 13.5 hectares within the city walls (without the citadel), gives a typical urban development of its territory for example the  quarters, two and three-storied  houses adjacent to each other and the rows of shopping artisan established along the narrow (3-5 meters) streets, multi-room houses belonging to the ancient Penjikent dwellers, staterooms with paintings and sculpture in the homes of the wealthy and the aristocrat people.

The majority murals of Old Penjikent refers to the end or the beginning of VII to VIII centuries. Although some of them date back to the V-VI centuries. And some others refer to the beginning of the second third of the VIII century.

In addition, the excavations have revealed a widespread monumental art, which nobody could expect not only the temples (there are two), or the excavation of the King`s Palace, but also dozens of private houses of ordinary people of the town which was a real "museum" of Soghdian painting and sculpture.

Ancient Penjikent is known among the local population as "Kaynar", the title of which is taken from a nearby source, standing on a hill and divided into two parts by a ravine. The citadel was on the left side and the residential houses on the right. The houses were so close to each other that many of the streets were covered and the only trees grew in the yards of two city churches - Zoroastrian and pagan - local cult of natural elements.

Shahristan (terminology of the later sources) is the main area of the city. It is 19 hectares and 1750 meters long. Shakhristan walls were straight only in the north and east, and in other places were terrain. A single fortification system the citadel-the residence of the governor was erected to the west of Shahristan. It was on a hill of 30 meters high and was separated from Shakhristan by a ravine. To the east and southeast of Shakhristan there were suburban estates - rabad (trade and craft suburb) developed city of the Middle Ages. To the south of Shakhristan There were small hills, which after the excavations have shown that this was Zoroastrian Nausses, the necropolis of Soghdian people.

It is worth noting that there was the freedom of religion in the ancient city: Zoroastrianism gradually replaced the local cults without destroying them, so the pagan temple of Penjikent was empty for hundred years before the Arab invasion. And Arab soldiers deliberately destroyed the pre-Islamic heritage which seemed a piece of clay to them, so the fragments of the ancient decoration could wait for archeologists.

Nowadays one can call Ancient Penjikent a kind of laboratory for the study of the history, ideology, culture and architecture of the early medieval cities of Central Asia. The excavations are continuing. This means that the archaeological world is waiting for new interesting discoveries. In 2016 the scientists have been able to find the image of the scene of Buddhist subjects for the first time in last 30 years - a rarity and the proof: Penjikent was a multinational city where the representatives of different religions and cults lived.

 The final resting place of Soviet, Russian and the Tajik archaeologist, historian, orientalist, Doctor of Historical Sciences Boris Marshak – the nephew of the famous children's writer, poet and translator Samuil Marshak is on the wall of the fortification. Perhaps he was the most loyal Sogdiana researcher.

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