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Nukus, Karakalpakstan

Nukus – the capital of Karakalpakstan

Nukus was officially established in 1932 and nowadays Nukus, with 316 300 populations and a 221 sq km territory, is the capital of the Karakalpakstan region.

It is situated close to the Aral Sea in northern Uzbekistan. It has 3 deserts covering it – Karakum, Kyzylkum, and Ustyurt. The history of Nukus territory dates back to the 4th c BC – 4th c AD. Once there was an ancient city with the name Shurcha in the territory of the modern Nukus. This holy city is now in the northwest of Nukus.

The earliest mentions of the Nukus citadel date back to the 12th century. It functioned as a military fortress. Its construction finished in 1874, after the current Turtkul, and in the past Petro-Aleksandrovsk, became the central point of the Amudarya department. This fortress did not last long, and in 1907 a new building was erected on this territory, which has remained till today. Also in 1874, a hydro-meteorological station was founded here. It was the first and only station built in the lower reaches of the Amudarya River.

To create new enterprises in the processing industry in Nukus city, the government is giving preference to the following industries: leather processing; marble; granite; road construction; metallurgy; lime production; brick production (using sand); cleaning of alfalfa seeds and recycling of resources.

In general, the Republic of Karakalpakstan is the largest licorice producer, specializing in cotton and rice growing, karakul, and melon growing. At the same time, there are cotton ginning and cotton processing plants here, producing cotton oil.

Etymology of Nukus

In general, Nukus (or Nukis) is the common name of the entire Karakalpak clan. In historical literature, this name is rarely mentioned. According to some researchers, the word “Nokis” comes from the Persian root “Nukus”, which means “Nine people”. Then the question arises, how did the word “Nukus” (ie “Nine people”) become the name of the tribe? To understand this, we need to recall a well-known folk legend. Once the shah of the Khorezm state was angry with nine court maidens and forbade them to communicate with men and get married. He ordered to send them to a place where there were no people. So they ended up on the territory of the current city of Khojeyli, where there was no population at that time. And the girls began to live near the road along which the trade caravans followed. So there were merchants who secretly met the exiles and temporarily married them. Soon the girls became mothers from them, nine sons were born, who later became heroes. Defending their possessions from enemies, they set out on a campaign and returned victoriously. They were named “Nukes” (“nine people” – togyz batyr). Subsequently, they became the ancestors of the Karakalpak clan called “Nukis” or “Nukus”.

Savitskiy Museum in Nukus

The business card of Nukus city is Savitskiy Museum with approximately 50000 artworks, once forbidden by the USSR government.

The avant-garde and post-avant-garde history and culture of Russia were rescued from complete termination by efforts of Russian artist and archeologist – Igor Savitskiy. The Museum got his name in 1991 after Uzbekistan’s gaining independence. Savitskiy and his collection inspired film directors-Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiy to shoot a film calledThe Desert of Forbidden Artin 2010. Currently, anyone can enjoy “once banned” art by visiting Savitskiy Museum in Nukus.

Amet & Ayimkhan Shamuratovs’ House Museum in Nukus

Launched in 1999, the house museum exhibits family items of Amet & Ayimkhan. It contains the rich collection of Amet Shamuratov (1912-1953)-writer, poet, playwright, statesman, and his wife Ayimkhan Shamuratova (1917-1993), the first Karakalpak theatre actress with a nice voice.  The couples had a strong influence on the blooming of culture, enlightenment, literature, and art of Karakalpakstan. A visitor gets into the atmosphere of the ex-Soviet era….

Mizdakhan complex in Nukus

Another grandiose ancient architecture near Nukus (25 km) is the Mizdakhan complex (IV c. B.C. – XIV c A.C., XVII – XX c) with a 200 hectare of area.

Mizdakhan complex belongs to different stages of history and it has one of the one of prehistoric cemeteries of Central Asia (including the mausoleums of Shamun Nabi, Mazlumkhan sulu, Caliph Erejep, and a hillock of Jumart kassab), and also ruined cities, caravanserai, palaces, and remaining of irrigations.

Nowadays Mizdakhan is a popular pilgrimage place among Muslims. Moreover, Mizdakhan is the combination of both religions: Zoroastrism/Mazdaismand Islam: ancient burials, remaining of medieval architectures, whose top can be seen currently. Because their lower parts are already covered by soil.


List of places to visit in and around Nukus:

  • Aul Topi village;
  • Berdakh Museum;
  • Chimbay village;
  • Mizdakhan necropolis (IV BC – AD XIV centuries);
  • “Ships’ cemetery” (Muynak);
  • Savitskiy Museum;
  • Shamuratovs House museum


Some extension tours from Nukus:

  • A day trip to Kunya Urgench from Nukus (1 day)
  • A day trip to Chimbay and Aul Topi from Nukus (1 day)
  • Tour of “Ships cemetery” from Nukus (1 day)
  • Tour of Aral Sea Discovery from Nukus (2 days / 1 night)
  • Two days trip to Chimbay and Aul Topi from Nukus (2 days / 1 night)
  • Tour of Aral Sea Area from Nukus (3 days / 2 nights)