Kyrgyzstan, due to its location in the heart of Central Asia, was once a very important country on the the Great Silk Road. The Silk Road was a system of caravan trade routes that ran through Central Asia, linking countries from the West of the Mediterranean to China and India.
It was a very important time in history in the development of cultural exchange for the people living on the trade routes. The origin of many cities and historical monuments that you can still visit today in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, was closely connected with the Silk Road, one of them was the city of Balasagun.
“ I was transfixed – as I was when I found out about an important Turkish map in Istanbul that had at its heart a city called Balasaghun, which I had never even heard of, which did not appear on any maps, and whose very location was uncertain until recently, and yet was once considered the centre of the world.”
I also had never heard about Balasagun and had no idea of the importance of this city until the day I went to visit the Burana Tower, located about 80 km from Kyrgyzstan’s capital city Bishkek. If you ever plan to visit Kyrgyzstan, you’ll definitely come across photos of this tower in guidebooks and tourism offices.
This 25m high tower, a once 40 meters tall minaret, is all that remains of the ancient city of Balasagun. It is one of Kyrgyzstan’s most famous historical sites.
Balasagun was founded in the 10th century by the Karakhanids, “the black khans”, who ruled over the Karakhanid Empire, that stretched from China to the Aral Sea (which is now known as the Lost Sea of Central Asia). Balasagun was once the capital of this empire and used to be a large city, containing many public institutions, mosques, cathedrals and a fortress.
In 1218 the city got overrun by the Mongol troops, which also meant the end of the Karakhanid Empire. By the 14th century, the city was left in disrepair and over the years, numerous earthquakes wiped out almost everything that was left of it.
It’s quite surreal and sad that there are now only a few mausoleum remains, some remnants of a fortification and a minaret – the Burana Tower – left from a once flourishing city that welcomed thousands of Silk Road caravans.
The name of the tower – Burana – comes from the Arabic word “monar”, which means minaret. A minaret is part of a mosque, a high tower which is used for the call for prayer. There are a lot of legends about the construction of the tower, one of them reminding me of the fairy-tale of Sleeping Beauty:
Once upon a time there was a powerful khan who had a beautiful daughter. To celebrate her birth, he invited all the fortune tellers and wise men of the land.