The sights of the Gissar valley

The history and architectural reserve of Gissar

About 25 km from Dushanbe and near the city of Gissar there is an artificial hill. This is an old citadel around which formed the history and architectural reserve of Gissar, including the Gissar fortress (the citadel with gates and the remnant of the fortified walls), the fragments of caravanserai, Madrassai Kuhna (Old Madrassa), and Madrassai Nav (New Madrassa), the base of taharatkhana (the building for washing), the mausoleum of Mahmudi Azam and the stone built mosque Masjidi Sangin. The location of the monuments which preserved compactly allowed creating the architectural atmosphere of the medieval and late feudal periods of XV-XVII centuries.

The archeological investigations of the citadel found out that the existence life on the hill belongs to the Bronze Age and the exploration of dwelling houses of oval shapes is belonging to the first century BC. However the intensive settling and fortification of the territory started in the XV-XVI centuries. In the written sources the name of it was mentioned as Hissori Shodmon and it is identified with medieval city Shuman (the name of Gissar in the medieval). Gissar or Hissar was mentioned as a city in the sources of the XV century. During the Temurids here was functioning the mint, and also the nuclear molding and arsenal workshops were founded. The development of the architectural activity of the Gissar citadel took place from the early XIX century as the administrative center of the southern regions of the Bukharian Khanate. The Bukharian emir Muzaffar decided to relocate his residence to the citadel in 1970s XIX century. Unfortunately the great number of the Gissar buildings was ruined during the hard earthquake of 1907 and 1927.

The Gissar fortress

The Gissar fortress is one part of the history and architectural reserve of Gissar which consists of a gate and a citadel and fortified walls occupying the hill spreading from the west to the east and a small elevation at the eastern part where according to the excavations it was the residence of the beks and servants and the opposite western part of it was given under the construction of the aristocratic family. The outline of the hill was erected by the powerful and fortified walls with  clay made blocks making it of no prestige. Nowadays it is possible to see half parts of the walls and the main gate of the XVI century restored in 2014.

                       The fortified gates were not only the presentation of the late feudal architecture (two strong towers based with stone and burnt bricks and the top of them roofed with small domes), but played an important role for the formation of the medieval city – defensive and trade – administrative centers, palaces, caravanserais and markets were formed at the gate.   

Inside the towers of the fortress there are Military barracks, arsenals, a small jail and a platform for observing from which it is possible to see the panorama of the Gissat gorge. During the restoration in 1980 a dead wall was built above the main entrance gate making the construction heavier and also disappeared the gallery with portico built under the entrance gate from which the observation took place.

There was a palace on the top of the Gissar hill which was destroyed in 1930.      

Madrassai Kuhna (XVII c.)

One part of the complex is located beneath the citadel of the Gissar fortress, a trailing square of the Gissar arch. The building is ractange 50x45 m built with the burnt bricks (25x25x5 cm) and there are one storied small hujras (rooms) with a large yard from three sides similar to arcades. The rooms were covered by domes which often were built on the rectangle buildings.

As the hujras were used for students of madrassa (for instance, in the early XX century about 100-150 students were studied here, the classes were stopped in 1921), there were small fireplaces at the front walls and several niches for books and other studying belongings. This ascetic atmosphere supposed to be enough for gaining knowledge. There is a corridor in the south and western part of the madrassa and against it there is a stair-case which leads upwards to the roof.

The territory of madrassa is paved with burnt bricks with a slope towards the center where there is a deep sewage well. There is a square library at the northern part which is covered with a vault “vault”. There is a hall at the western part. The dome of the madrassa is cut with eight arched windows for illuminating the hall.

Madrassai Nav (the end of XVIII-XIX c.)

Madrassai Nav encloses the square from the western part. The architecture reminds us the madrassas of Bukhara and Samarkand. The rectangle construction of the madrassa is organized by the traditional sketch and based upon the court like composition – two storied facade is looking towards the square and the rest of the building is one storied, surrounded the yard by perimeter. The corners of the main facade is formed by round and short massive towers-guldasta, without any decorative tiles and bulbs. The portal of the towers does not ascend higher than the main building, creating an equal composition. Carefully polished burnt bricks of the facade show the artistic expressiveness of the solidity of the building.     

The planning of the first and the second floors of madrassa is separated and the location of halls, hujras, and galleries are good to see. According to the sources the Madrassai Nav was built half century later than the Old Madrassa and that’s why the construction of it seems more modern and belongs to the end of the XVIII  and the early XIX centuries.

The mausoleum of Mahmudi Azam (XVI c.)

The mausoleum is located 150 m to the south of the Old madrassa. It is one of the oldest constructions of Gissar which preserved till today and is visible from the citadel. Mahmudi Azam means “the greatest master” and it is not somebody`s name but a title or a nick-name. It was built on the fictitious tomb of Nakhshbandi Ahmadi Kasani, who lived in the XVI century. The historian A. Mukhtarov could identify the initial date of the building – XVI c.

The construction of the mausoleum has two periods. The first period it consisted of two buildings standing on one axis: ziyoratkhona and grave – gurkhona, and its entrance was from the south with a small portal. On entering the building one could find itself inside a square ziyoratkhona the dome of which props on octagonal cylinder. Two other entrances are from the west and the east. The cross-shaped contours are visible from inside which are formed by the deep internal niches at the walls of ziyoratkhona. From which it is possible to enter into another small gurkhona which has short domes propping on arches in the corners. Such big and small construction of premises are known in the XV – XVI architecture. Besides the mausoleum of Mahmudi Azam such construction is possible to see in the mausoleum of Mir Said Alii Hamadani in Kulab (XV c.), Sheikh Muslihiddin in Khujand (XIV – XVII c.).

The second period of the mausoleum construction there was built another domed building propping from the west to the corners of the axis which served also as a grave and it also repeated the cross-shaped planning of ziyoratkhona. There are small decorative bars at the windows of the building.           

The mosque of Masjidi Sangin (the stone mosque) XVI c.

It is located a little aside from the main complex of the history and architectural reserve of Gissar, not far from the arch. The building dates back to the XVI century and considered rare in Central Asia because of the stone which was used in the base. The planning of the mosque is based on the classical layout of Central Asian quarter mosques and consists of a square hall and two sided G-like avian is adjoined to it. The similarities are a bit changes as the size of the Masjidi Sangin is more monumental than the ordinary quarter mosque – the hall is roofed with dome and the aivan is designed in the form of stone pillars which are carrying an impressive arcade with domes. The walls in the lower part are lined with reddish local,  roughly cut stones and the upper parts of the walls are vaults of arches and domes of various – format burnt bricks.

The praying hall is square and widen by four vaulted niches and in one of it there is a cut mehrab in the western part. The interior is white pasted with small grey gaj (gypsum). The dome is propped on eight sailing arches and the small domes are five also propping on arches connected to the walls of the mosque.

The planning of the Sangin mosque is similar to the layout of the Olim Dodkho mosque XVII c. in Penjikent.

The caravanserai “Khishtin” (bricks) (XV c.)       

The caravanserais are the indispensible attributes of all Eastern cities, particularly those in which the trade routes crossed by. The Gissar valley was no exception in this case and it took the ancient cultural centers of Merv, Termez with Eastern Turkestan through itself and created numerous branches via Varzob gorge to the North, the Kafirnigan gorge and the upper inflow of Vakhsh to the South of Kobadian, Khutal, Badakhshan, Balkh and so on. So the construction of caravanserai was initial and in great demand in all routes.    

One of them is the caravanserai “khishtin” under the Gissar arch near the Kuhna madrassa which existed till 1927.  The photos of which were taken in the early XX the portal-entrance and arcade on both sides seems perfect. The excavations allowed us to explore the remnants of the base and a yard with 36 premises around it. The main axis of the caravanserai is carefully laid out pavement starting from the northern portal to the southern exit and dividing the yard into two parts.   

The northern part of the caravanserai was looking at the living market and consisted of a numerous trade stalls connected with each other creating a steady arcade.

The walls of the caravanserai are made of burnt bricks (24x24x4 cm) and that’s why it was given the name of “Khishtin”. In order not to be ruined by earthquakes there were fixed thick woods under the walls and in the corners were fixed metallic bolts and there were built “sandali” (the stress is in the end letter) in the floors of each rooms for winter heating.

The archeologists are intending to recreate the image of the caravanserai entirely. According to the reconstruction planning 1 m of the walls are recreated.

Architectural complex of Khoja Nakhshron (XI-XII c.)

Two portal mausoleums of Khoja Nakhshron (XI-XII c.) are located 11 m from each other on the slope of a high terrace, overlooking the Karatagdarya valley, near the city of Tursunzade, animated by figured brickwork with carved terracotta inserts and calligraphic inscriptions. Both of the mausoleums came to our days with different levels of preservation. At that time this building was not the only one in the territory and the fragments of burnt bricks and the spots of the artificial hills are the best testimony of them.    

Both of the mausoleums are built with the high quality burnt bricks (24-25x4,5,6, cm) and surrounded by short walls with the same material. The brick laying itself is decorated with variety of carved terracotta fragments.

The western mausoleum preserved better from both (11x16, 35 m), which is a square domed hall with the one entrance formed by portals (4,4x8,8 m) opening a small corridor in front of the yard with arches. The brick works are varied and there were used different ways of brick lying. The construction finishes with the dome which was destructed creating a crack in the middle of the hall.    

The eastern mausoleum badly preserved till today. The walls of it are less than 22,60 m. The splendid square building (6, 70x11, 30) was formed with a fascinating portal almost with width of the facade with deep niches. The rest of the walls like the walls of the neighboring mausoleum were almost blank and the bricklaying were combined. Here were also found some bricklaying patterns similar to the walls of the neighboring mausoleum.

The constructions of the mausoleum have a lot of legends and myths. Some them were narrated by the archeologist and the investigator B.A. Litvinski. The mausoleums are associated by the locals with something divine and they were erected in one night. The others had believed quite another legend, that Khoja Nakhshron – one of the seventh brothers had lived in these areas and that’s why the names of Khoja Obigarm, Akastona, Hazrati Mavlono, Mavlono Yusuf are given. The third legend is about a woman who was buried here, and who lived on by the mountain goats` milk (nakhchir – possibly the name of “nakhshron” is taken from it) and lived “long before Alisher”, here implies Alisher Navoi (1441-1501).          

The history and Natural Park “Shirkent” and the footprints of dinosaurs

The Shirkent gorge and the history and natural park is located not far from the Tursunzade city. The first inflow of Kafarnigan streams among the picturesque rocks and the juniper trees which is a perfect place for those who love to have a rest in the nature and here one can`t find many cafes like in the Varzob gorge on the contrary there is something more interesting than that, all of a sudden among the bushes and vegetation one can find the footprints of dinosaurs. Not only in one place. One of it is located at the right inflows of Shirkent, a little higher at the Shirkent village, the second is located approximately five kilometer from the ravine, almost at the left part of the river, the third is in the district of Pashmi – Kuhna. The first footprints are three palmed, two types and the sizes 50 cm long and 30 cm wide and 60 cm to 45 cm. They belong to a two legged theropodas and auropodas and the third footprint was left by a real giant the foot is almost 70x60 and its depth is 10 cm.

Besides that there is a haunted settlement of Pashmi-Kuhna (behind the settlement  with the same name) which is famous with its archeological excavations of ancient metallurgical stoves, also it has a fascinating scenery, glaciers, Alpine pastures and evergreen plateau among the mountains. 

The “Melon” teahouse and the center of Gissar plov

There is a building along the road to Gissar which one can`t drive by not seeing it. It was built in 2015 as a gigantic chaikhana  with 43 m height, 100 length and 55 m width. The building has a shape of a melon and its analogy in Tajik language is “Kharbuza”. The territory of Kharbuza is 4,7 hectar and was built to the honor of 3000 years anniversary of Gissar. Inside the building there is the center of plov which can admit more than 2 thousand guests.     

 Also, variety of gastronomic events is held in the center acquainting the inhabitants of the country and its guests with the national cuisine.

The Karatag gorge and settlement, the Timur-dara Lake and Pairon

The Karatag settlement (in Tajik a black rock) is located at the southern slope of the Gissar ridges, on both sides of the Karatag River, about 45 km to the western part of Dushanbe.

The settlement was founded 300 years ago by the Sufi order Nakshbandi, ishan Mahmad-Reza-Khoja who settled here with some of his apprentices. On his tombstone was written rubai (four line of verse) in Persian which shows the chronogram of the exact foundation of the Karatag settlement – the first quarter of the XVIII century.  

Karatag was annexed to the Bukharin Emirate before 1870 and had about 12 thousand population and was ruled by the patrimonial aristocracy. In 1907 due to a harsh earthquake 19 buildings and 23 mosques were destroyed. So Karatag was totally reconstructed.   

In ancient times the settlement was divided into two parts – one part was busy with cultivating lands and the second part was engaged in different crafts. But also there were families who did this and that occupation in order to earn enough money or to develop their employment activities. The handicraft art Karatagins` was so popular that in the early XX century its fame became known even abroad and there were 30 handicrafts professions which the people of the settlement were busy with them. The silk manufacture and woodworking is popular in Karatag. According to the Russian orientalists of the late XIX and the early XX century the woodwork of the Karatagin masters became so popular that their wooden furniture was bought even in Russia and in Europe either.        

Nowadays the blacksmith`s work, the production of artistic ceramics and the miniature of sculptures, whistles and toys for kids are revived.

Karatag is fabulous with its mountainous landscape, lakes, rivers and springs. Particularly its mountainous lake Timurdara is famous with its beauty and it is possible to reach from Dushanbe through Shahrinav, Hakimi village. It is 2000 m above sea level. The Hakimi district is the zone of the border control and not far from it there is Uzbek-Tajik border, so in order to walk through Temur dara one needs a civilian passport and the foreigners need a foreign passport. A little upwards there is a Pairon lake – which is translated as the lake of spirits or fairies. This district is gaining fame with its mysticism – the anomalous zone of Gissar was discovered exactly here and at the end of 1980s of the last century they were looking for the Bigfoot here and the UFOs more than once.    

Nowadays the stories about the unidentified objects came to the second plan weather it became out of date or these stories created by local chabans (shepherds) became obvious. However this spot at the lake is still in great demand – in fact it is really interesting and pleasing.    Though everyone secretly wants to be the eyewitness to whom the Secrets of the Universe were revealed. 

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