Home » Uzbekistan » Kala (Citadels)

Kala (Qala) – Citadels (Antique settlements)

What is Kala (Qala)? – It is a translation of a “citadel” (a living area with defensive walls).

Khorezm and Karakalpakstan regions are full of amazing antique settlements. Throughout history, geographically favorable location – a fertile oasis in the lower reaches of the Amu Darya river caused the erection of such kind of settlements/citadels. No wonder why the Greek scientist Herodotus described the region “A land of thousand citadels!” more than 2500 years ago! Archaeologists are breaking their heads with the mystery of ancient cities in the waterless desert, calling Khorezm “the second Egypt”

The area is also mentioned as Iyron Veyjoh – homeland of Zoroastrian religion in holy Avesta book. Some of the citadels even had fire temples inside.

Archaeologists found around 50 ancient citadels in the area. We would like to describe some of them below:

Chilpyk-Kala (Shylpyk-Kala)

Chilpyk, the oldest monument of Zoroastrianism, is located near the outfall of Amu Darya river, 43 km from Nukus. Since the Silk Road times, it has looked like a volcano, extinct, but retaining majesty. The closer the archaeological site is, the clearer the shape. On the top of a natural conical hill about 35 meters high with the base of the round tower-pakhsa (mud wall). People believe that spirits inhabit this place. The oldest of them is more than 2200 years old – as much as the structure itself.

First time archeologists investigated Chilpyk in 1940. A well-known archeologist-Mr. Sergei Pavlovich Tolstov led the reconnaissance archaeological expedition. Fragments of clay ossuaries (vessels for burial of the deceased’s bones) and inscriptions were found on the top of the sandhill. Thus, those items helped the scientists to determine the nature of the hill and the structure itself. Soviet archaeologists attributed Chilpyk to the most ancient religious object – dahm (“towers of silence”), which functioned for ritual purposes throughout millennia. In the II-IV centuries AD Zoroastrians held funeral rites here. According to their beliefs, human flesh was decomposed due to dark forces subordinate to the evil spirit Ahriman. In order to prevent desecration of the earth, water and fire, which grant life, they left the bodies of the dead on the rock. Later people began to build special structures for this purpose on the high ground. Winged scavengers and sediments were involved in cleansing the bones from the flesh. Afterwards, they placed bones in clay ossuaries and put in necropolises. One can see shards of vessels and other interesting findings today in the museums of Nukus and Tashkent.

Over time, the appointment of Chilpyk changed – in the 9th-10th centuries, Khorezmians used it as a signal and defense tower. The role of the archaeological site in the life of the ancestors was appreciated by the descendants – Chilpyk is now on the state emblem of Karakalpakstan.

Soon a reconstruction work will begin in Chilpyk. A local administration is planning to build a staircase that will lead to the top of dahma – now tourists climb through the “faults” in the walls, which does not benefit either the structure itself or the guests – the slopes are rather slippery and sloping. According to some historical manuscripts, once upon a time a 20-meter staircase with steps in a hill led to Chilpyk, but time did not care it.


Toprak-Kala (Mud citadel)

The impression of the settlement of Toprak-kala is amazing! The size is also striking (the length of the city reached 500 m, width 350 m), and the scope – the complex structure included a huge palace with several rooms decorated with wall paintings and clay bas-reliefs, a fire temple, citadels, residential and office buildings, and the main street.

The history of research of the archaeological complex of Toprak-Kala began in October 1938. One evening, a well-known archeologist-Mr. Sergei Pavlovich Tolstov, who led a small reconnaissance group, looked away from the 60-meter wall of the Kushan fortress of Ayaz-kala. On the horizon, he noticed the outline of huge ruins and asked his guide what kind of fortress it was. “This is Toprak-kala. There is nothing special, ”was the answer. The next day, the group advanced towards an unknown fortress and at sunset reached its northern wall.

“Already the first acquaintance was enough to make sure that we have a first-class monument of the ancient culture of Khorezm, promising truly inexhaustible prospects for researchers. And this impression did not fail us. We returned to Toprak-Kala in 1940. Then we drew a detailed plan of the settlement, laid the stratigraphic pit on the city square, which helped to determine its time between the 1st century BC. e. and V, may be the beginning of the VI century. A.D. The numismatic collection has replenished with dozens of coins. It became clear that large excavations were necessary here. They scheduled it for the next, 1941, but did not take place in connection with the outbreak of the war. Only in 1945 we were able to return again to Toprak-kala and so far lay two small excavations on the central site of the castle, ”Sergei Pavlovich Tolstov describes the discovery and research of the archaeological complex of Toprak-kala in 1938, 1940, 1945- 1947 in the book “In the footsteps of the ancient Khorezm civilization”.

Excavations of 1945 were successful: archaeologists discovered a large number of thin-walled Kushan ceramics with a red engobed surface, Kushan and Khorezm coins. The most promising finding was monumental wall paintings, at that time a new kind of artistic culture of ancient Khorezm for specialists. They found documents (business records in ancient Khorezm language) in four rooms of the southeastern part. Some dated back to the 3rd century A.D

The fate of the palace is curious, which archaeologists have restored during excavations. At some point in history, luxurious chambers were abandoned by its owners and less noble inhabitants. No traces of capture by enemies, one-time destruction, the resettlement of residents from it from the city that continued to exist. Presumably, the rulers of Khorezm gradually moved from Toprak-Kala palace to another royal residence. Today, the ruin of the palace is a home for swallows and sparrows which used to wake up the kings with their singing.



Ayaz-kala (“Fortress in the wind”) refers to the II century BC. – the heyday of the Kushan Empire. Monumental structures are surrounded by salt-marsh and sand, in the velvet palms of which spring blooms with white and pale pink.

The desert is rich in legends. According to one of them, a soldier named Ayaz lived in this land in ancient times. When the Shah died in the years of troubles, the people gathered and decided that a man would be a Shah (king) on whose shoulder a falcon would land. The bird circled in the clouds and sat on Ayaz’s shoulder. He ruled for a long time wisely, defeated many enemies, and most importantly – he never forgot who he had been before coming to power. Until the end of his life, a ragged soldier’s boot hanging in the throne room reminded him about his past.

The hero of another legend was also called Ayaz. He was a shepherd. Once militant nomads appeared in his native lands. As soon as the rumor reached the palace, a Shah (king) decided to build a fortress around the city. As a reward to a builder, with the help of which he would be able to protect the city from raids, the royal daughter was promised. He called Ayaz to build the fortress, but in the midst of construction found out that the ruler violated his promise and engaged his daughter to a nobleman. The deceived shepherd quitted his job with frustration, and since then the fortress has been unfinished in the sands.

Archaeologists are considering Ayaz-Kala as a complex of structures, among which there are unreinforced rural settlements and impressive fortresses. The highest is Ayaz-Kala – 1. It is a border fort of the times of Ancient Khorezm, the area of which is 182×152 m. From a 60-meter height, a view of the small square fortress – Ayaz-kala – 2 opens.

At the foot of the complex there is a yurt camp, where guests are treated to ayran and crispy baursaks. The hostess categorically does not accept refusals, an exception is made only for those to whom medicine does not recommend dairy products.

Karakalpakstan is an amazing land where every hill promises exciting discoveries; an impressive story that makes travelers travel thousands of kilometers for a glance, a touch of bygone eras; beautiful people with kind eyes and an open heart – all this is Karakalpakstan, which it is impossible not to fall in love with if you happen to meet at least once.



Janbas-Kala ruin, dating back to IV-III centuries B.C., is located on the right bank of the Amu-Darya river, in the territory of Turtkul district.

Obviously, the Khorezm state, headed by Farasman, stabilized the political situation, entered into a military-political alliance with Macedonian in Bactria, and this, in turn, created the conditions for the construction of numerous cities. An example of such construction is the monument of Janbas-Kala. It was a military city on the eastern border of the Khorezm oasis, which served as a military-strategic, economic, cultural and religious center.

As there were a lot of bellicose nomadic tribes living nearby, Janbas-Kala had a high wall and a complicated entrance to protect itself.

The fortification was in the form of a regular quadrangle with a side of 200X170m and an area of 3-4 hectares. The fortress was surrounded by two walls, 10 m high, 5 m thick, the passageway between them is 2.5 m wide. At the beginning this passage was from mud, and later it was from unbaked brick. On one side of the brick there are different signs (two straight lines, a circle, a semicircle, different letter characters, etc.). The fortress has a single gate. In front of the gate there was a street 30m long. It led to the temple and divided the internal structure of the city into 2 parts (mahallas/streets). About two hundred families lived here (according to the well-known archeologist-Mr. S.P. Tolstov, the population of the fortress could reach up to1000 people). There were no corner towers, but there were numerous shelters (loopholes). Distances between shelters -1.20 -1.50 m. The inner part of the shelter wad plastered with clay with adobe (straw), the length of the side with shelters was 18-20m. There were three shelters at the corners of the wall, they faced directly and to the sides, this made it possible for the defenders to strike in three directions. One of the most important elements of the protective system of the architectural structure of Janbas-Kala was a complicated structure in front of the gate, one side of which protrudes 17 meters from the wall and has a separate entrance part 4 meters wide. Several circular corridors built inside the building did not allow the enemy to enter directly into the fortress, entering in a circular corridor, the enemy was repulsed by the shooters standing upstairs on the wall. Another important element in the protection of Janbas-Kala was the corridor (passage). The width of the corridor repeated the width of similar passages in all cities of the Khorezm oasis and helped the folks quickly to strengthen their defense in the weakest places. When defending a fortress from enemies, shelters (loopholes) were of great importance. The main building material in the construction of the fortress was a raw brick. Initially, local people used a layer of clay (butterfat) in the construction of the walls. During the second construction the used a brick wall of raw brick, on top of the clay layer. The raw bricks had different signs.

The topographic and architectural construction of Janbas-Kala was according to a carefully prepared plan.

Its perfect architectural and military style confirms the high level of development of the economy, politics, culture and plays a huge role in studying the pages of the history of Uzbek statehood.


Koy-Kyrylgan Kala

Koy-Kyrylgan Kala is the remarkable monument of Khorezm antiquity.

The temple of the funeral and astral cults of Koy-Kyrylgan Kala has a kocation-22 km north of Turtkul. It dates back from the 4th century. BC. up to 3rd-4th centuries AD.

The central building of Koy-Kyrylgan Kala is a round in plan, monumental structure, crowned by a gallery with a number of rifle loopholes. The diameter of the building at the base was 44.5 m, the thickness of the walls was from 7 to 6 m. The walls were from pasteboard and mud brick. Premises form a cross-shaped figure. All eight rooms of the lower floor were covered with double arches. They were, for special cult purposes, and in the upper rooms there were storage of temple food or sacrificial food, temple utensils, terracotta images of deities stored and, apparently, religious ceremonies venues. Small cult terracottas, miniature vessels, rhytons, ceramics decorated with mythological subjects – all these findings here, are characteristic of funerary equipment. The building itself had a double ring of surrounding fortress walls; towers were in the inter-wall corridor. Two towers had internal, almost square chambers, fenced from the corridor with dull adobe brick walls 1 m thickness, so that access to the towers was possible only with the help of ladders. Loopholes opened from the courtyard in the tower. As a result of excavations of Koy-Kyrylgan Kala, archeologists found out two main periods of its existence. Both differs from each other by significant intervals of time. The purpose of the monument in each period was different, which affected the nature of the finds, the use of premises, etc. At the beginning of the new era, this highly heaving palace was an observatory, a kind of astronomical center of Khorezm. They found an astrolabe, a goniometric instrument, with the help of which scientists had observed the sun and other luminaries. Basing on the findings of terracotta images of deities and statuary ossuaries (the Ossuary is a clay box, a church vault), as well as an analysis of the plan of the central building, we can conclude that Anahita was venerated here and Siyavush, the most popular deities of Ancient Khorezm.

In equal veneration of the sun and water elements personified by the ancient Khorezmians, researchers are looking for a solution to the layout of Koy-Kyrylgan Kala, which is based on solar symbols – a circle and a cross. The statuary ossuaries, depicting the figures of female and male deities, which embodied the veneration of the deceased ancestors by the population, are wonderful monuments of ancient Khorezm art. The figures, sometimes almost life-size, realistically convey the anthropological type of people, their clothes, hats. The appearance of ossuaries in the form of ancient statues in Khorezm testifies to the preservation of traditions. On Koy-Kyrylgan Kala, scientists found fragments of about 10 ceramic funerary statues, which, differing in size, conveyed an image of the same type. So, all female images are the appearance of a young woman sitting in a static, solemn pose. Sometimes the legs of the thrones are depicted on the ossuaries, devices are made for installing small canopies. Funeral sculptures are stylistically close to statuettes depicting, by all accounts, deities. Scientists believe that the statuary ossuaries depicted the dead, embodied in the form of a chthonic deity, most likely Ardvisura Anahita, convey an image that is included in the circle of ideas about the great goddess, mother of all living things, mistress of the kingdom of the dead. Among the findings there were statuary ossuaries depicting a seated man.

Perhaps they conveyed the image of Siyavush-god of the dying and resurrected nature, closely associated with the cult of the dead. There were ossuaries that reproduced monumental buildings. In the ruins of Koy-Kyrylgan Kala-2 (located several tens of meters from the main monument), they found an ossuary, resembling a building, rectangular, with slightly rounded, diverging upward walls imitating a tent. Perhaps the ossuary reproduced the appearance of the tent, which was built during the funeral rite at an earlier time. The direct prototype of this form could serve as crypt-buildings. The spread of this Zoroastrian funeral rite with the belief system of the Zoroastrian circle, the veneration of the cult of the ancestors was so widespread that the remains of statuary ossuaries were found on the ruins of many rural dwellings of the era under consideration. In almost every such dwelling there was a room such as a house chapel, designed to perform the rites of veneration of ancestors before the statuary ossuaries. Terracotta figures of gods and goddesses, worshiped by ancient Khorezmians, were full of art no less than ossuaries. Among them, the already mentioned Anahita is the Great Mother Goddess, usually portrayed dressed in a dress wide with many folds. Figures of horses symbolized the solar deity Mitru or Siyavush. Findings of the images of the god Dionysus in the form of a naked man with a grape brush in one hand and a crooked garden knife in the other remind of another cult – Bacchic, which also took place in those days. The idea of   the level of development of art in Khorezm IV-III centuries. BC. and some late times were supplemented by finds of magnificent ceramic flasks with relief images of hunting scenes, court life, characters of ancient Khorezm mythology or the epic “tree of life” with fallow deer. Plots of images on clay and stone seals echo the motifs of Scythian art of the same or somewhat earlier times. These include images of the neck, bird or deer in a flying gallop, etc. On the high level of Khorezm culture in the middle of the 1st millennium BC evidence of the development of writing using the Aramaic script. The earliest documents of this writing in the ancient Khorezmian language were found during excavations of Koy-Kyrylgan Kala and date back to the 3rd-4th- centuries. BC. The ancient inhabitants applied inscriptions with ink or sharp tools on vessels and terracotta. One of them, scratched on the wall of the hum, reads as “Aspabarak” or “Aspabadak” (“Riding a Horse”).



The fortress (II-I centuries BC – beginning of the XI century AD) is located 9 km north of Turtkul. The fortress has a rectangular (area 35 hectares) form. The adobe walls had 2 rows and used to have built-in loopholes. In the 5th century A.D for unknown reasons, the fortress turned into ruins. Around the first half of the XII century. Guldursun-kala again bloomed and turned into an important outpost of the state of Khorezmshahs on the steppe borders. However, in the 13th century the fortress was again destroyed by the Mongol invaders. During archaeological excavations, historians found a large number of antique and medieval ceramics, bronze crafts and decorations, antique and medieval coins inside the fortress. Judging by the findings of coins, one can determine that the last period of Guldursun-Kala dates back to 1220. , i.e. by the time of the reign of Muhammad Khorezmshah and the time of the invasion of the Mongol troops. The fortress had the excavations in 1937 by archaeologists Y. G. Gulyamov, and in 1940 S.P. Tolstov and in 1987-1994, O. T. Dospanov.

The Karakalpak folk epos “Guldursun” has the association with the history of the fortress. The text of this poem had a recording in 1957 by archaeologist S.P. Tolstov. The poem reflects the paintings of the struggle of the Khorezm people against the Mongol invaders. The poem says that the Mongol troops for a long time besieged the city. When the city ran out of food, the elders devised a plan to distract the enemy. The defenders of the fortress fed the remaining animals with grain and brought them outside the fortress. The invaders, cutting animals for cooking, found that their stomachs were full of grain and assumed as if there were still a lot of food in the city and the local people would be preparing for a retreat. However, the secret of the defenders reached to the enemy by the daughter of the ruler – Guldursun, who, watching the invaders from the walls of the fortress, fell in love with one of the soldiers. Concerned that she would no longer see the warrior she loved, she secretly sent him a letter in which she revealed the “secret” of the defenders of the fortress. The Mongols again undertook an assault on the fortress and completely destroyed it. And the warrior, having met with Guldursun, saying: “If you betrayed your homeland, how can you be faithful to me?”. Thus, he killed her. The epic “Guldursun” praises the courage of the Khorezmians in the fight against enemies, selflessness in battles to defend the homeland, their cleverness and curse traitors.