A bit of history
Penjikent is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia, whose venerable age is 5,500 years. The name of the city is translated into Russian as “Five villages”. There is a possibility that the history of this amazing city actually began from five settlements that once were located on this territory.
In 5 – 8 centuries AD. Penjikent was one of the most important cultural and craft centers of Zoroastrian Sogdiana. The city of that time was even called the “Central Asian Pompeii” – it was so amazing and unusual. Ancient Penjikent was a superbly fortified, well-developed city with a ruler’s palace, two temples, markets, rich dwellings of citizens, decorated with numerous paintings, wooden and clay sculpture of ancient gods. Penjikent was the last city on the Silk Road leading from Samarkand to the mountains of Kuhistan. And it was very profitable, since not a single caravan, not a single person, going down from the mountains to Samarkand and returning back, could not bypass Penjikent.
In the 8th century, the city was destroyed by the Arabs, who were victorious as a result of the decisive battle on Mount Mug. So, with the tremendous help of the Arabs who came from the territory of modern Iraq, the amazing Sogdian city was permanently wiped off the face of the earth.
The ruins of the ancient city were accidentally discovered only in the last century. Today, having arrived here, tourists can see the ruins of residential buildings and administrative buildings, the citadel with the palace, the house of craftsmen, the church of fire worshipers. Among the unique archaeological finds of Pendzhikent are monuments of the Stone Age (16th century BC): Aktanga canopy of the Bronze Age and the settlement of Sarazm. In the small mountain village of Mazori-Sharif, 20 kilometers from Penjikent, there is a remarkable monument of architecture and culture of the 11th century – the mausoleum of Muhammad Bashoro.
The surviving monuments of architecture, painting and sculpture of Sogd (5-7 centuries) in Penjikent are works of art that have no analogues anywhere else in Central Asia, they occupy very high positions on the stairs of the general cultural achievements of the East. Here archeologists found a medieval citadel with a palace, a necropolis with beautifully preserved elements of wall adhesive painting, public and residential buildings. And such finds as numerous graceful oriental sculptures made of wood and ceramics, glass and metal products, a collection of silver and bronze coins were transferred to the Museum of Local History. Rudaki. In addition, in order to preserve the most ancient cultural values of Penjikent, a museum-reserve was organized.
Ocean of Sogdian painting
Often, Penjikent is called the “ocean of Sogdian painting”. Here the ancient masters painted a variety of buildings: palaces, temples, houses of rich citizens.
The scene of mourning, which is one of the masterpieces not only of Sogdian, but also of all the eastern paintings of the early Middle Ages, deserves special attention here. Let’s take a closer look at this scene. So, in the center of the composition, the deceased young man, who was placed in some kind of funerary structure, is possibly a tent. Behind the deceased are the mourners beating on their heads; and below, at the base of the structure, are three figures in white robes. Two of them hold objects with a thick handle (it is possible that these are torches) and a vessel without handles. Below the artist placed four men and a woman, in front – two more figures. The author of the painting perfectly manages to convey the grief of those around him: there are sad faces, eyes full of grief, and loose hair, many have scratches and cuts on his body and faces. Two men are even sealed at the moment when the earlobes are cut with knives, and one as a sign of devotion to the deceased pierces his nose. Those who mourn torture themselves so that blood flows down to the ground in streams, forming a purple river.
On the left side of this fragment is an image of three female deities, one of which is multi-armed. They also mourn the deceased young man: they put their hands to their heads, as if repeating the gestures of mourners.
Some researchers believe that people in white clothes are Sogdians, and in red and yellow-brown with bony faces and slanting eyes – Turks. And if this assumption is true, it means that both the indigenous people of this region and the newcomers who have taken on local traditions and beliefs take part in the funeral procession.
Having examined the picture in detail, one can ask a completely natural question: so whom are all these people mourning – Sogdians and Turks, and multi-armed gods? Among scholars, there is no consensus on this issue. Some believe that this scene reflected the ideas of the Manichaeans about the afterlife, others see direct analogies with the epic tale of the death of Siyavush, a popular character in Central Asian literature; the tale is conveyed in the “Shahname” and the 10th century Bukhara historian Narshahi. Numerous ancient written sources tell about how strong the cult of Siyavush was in Sogdia. But to say that this scene is directly related to the plot of his death, about definitely not exactly. There is no evidence of this yet.
Sights of Penjikent
The outskirts of Penjikent are a piece of the past of this city, where you can find an ancient settlement with a medieval citadel surrounded by residential and public buildings, some of which have preserved wall paintings. Nearby is a necropolis. Clay and wooden sculptures found during archaeological excavations are kept in the Rudaki local history museum. And here, in the workplace of archaeologists, a museum-reserve was created. Not far from Penjikent, on the mountain Mug, an archive of documents of the Penjikent ruler, written in the Sogdian language, was also found. Deciphering these documents can allow us today to get an idea of the social, economic and political life of the population of Central Asia of the 18th century.
The site of ancient Penjikent. On the outskirts of modern Penjikent, a real picture of the past opens up to the tourist’s gaze: a medieval citadel surrounded by residential buildings with wall paintings, near the center of the settlement stands a necropolis.
Locals call this place “Kaynar”, by the name of a nearby source. In 1946, archaeological excavations began.
As a result, a citadel with the palace of Divashtich (the last ruler of Penjikent), two temples with extensive courtyards, streets, shops, workshops, bazaars, fortress walls, multi-room two- and even three-story dwellings, the richest of which were decorated with wall walls, were found separately on the hill. painting and wooden sculpture.
But most of all, the ancient settlement of Penjikent became famous for its picturesque and colorful wall paintings, which are fairly well preserved, despite being more than 1,300 years old in the rubble. The ancient settlement of Penjikent is an archaeological monument of 5-7 centuries and covers an area of 13.5 hectares. The mound consists of 3 belts of fortifications, a shakhristan with a defensive wall, suburban estates and a necropolis. The walls of many houses survived to the second floor. In total, 2 palace complexes, 2 temple complexes, 2 bazaar complexes, 8 streets, dozens of multi-room houses of nobility and ordinary citizens, city walls of the 5th and 8th centuries were excavated.
Rudaki Mausoleum. The mausoleum of the poet, the founder of the classical Tajik poetry of Abu Abdullo Rudaki, who lived in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, was built in 1958. This historical paradox is connected with the fact that the biography of the great figure has not been fully studied, and, accordingly, the place of his burial has not been traced. It is only known that Rudaki spent the last days of his life in poverty and died in 941 in his native village of Panjrud, near the city of Penjikent. There is evidence that the poet died blind.
The hard work of the famous Tajik writer Sadriddin Aini helped to shed light on many questions from Rudaki’s life. Having thoroughly studied the possible historical manuscripts, he managed to establish the burial place of the great poet, and the famous sculptor and anthropologist Mikhail Gerasimov restored his appearance on the remains.
In 1956, in the year of the 1100th anniversary of the birth of Rudaki, a grave was uncovered in the village of Panjrud – the alleged burial place of the poet. The skeleton bones were found in the burial, a thorough examination of which showed that they belong to a man who died at the age of about 85-87 years. Objects related to the poet’s life were also found in the crypt. In addition, a number of signs were discovered that allowed scientists to conclude that the remains found actually belong to Rudaki.
Settlement Sarazm. This settlement is 4 – 2 millennia BC, located near Penjikent, with well-preserved fire temples, public and residential buildings, religious and palace buildings.
It was found a lot of products from copper, bronze, lead, silver, gold, weapons, jewelry, relating to 4 – 2 millennia BC. The settlement is an elevation stretched from west to east on the left bank of the river Zarafshan. The total area of the settlement exceeds 100 hectares.
Sarazm was the center of ancient ore production. Its inhabitants, who discovered gold and silver in the Zaravshan valley, “exported” it to the countries of the Middle and Near East and Western India.
In addition, Sarazm was one of the largest centers of metallurgy in Central Asia. Fragments of casting molds, smelting furnaces, massive pestles and hammers for crushing ore, metal products in the form of axes, daggers, knives, spears, pins, fishing hooks and ornaments were found here.
During the excavations in Sarazm, a palace complex was discovered (its area is more than 250 square meters). This included a large corridor, an entrance hall, two or three rooms and several ancillary facilities. All buildings are interconnected by wide aisles. In one of the walls of the complex there are windows for lighting and ventilation. And the presence of round altars in the center of the two halls gives reason to think that it was not just a palace, but also a place for performing religious rites.
Mausoleum of Muhammad Bashoro (11-14 centuries). In the forge In the village of Mazori Sharif, among the picturesque groves, is the mausoleum of Muhammad Bashoro, an expert on Hadith (legends about the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions). Originally, the building was built without a portal. It was added in the 14th century. Moreover, it was notable for its special beauty: elegant and noble in proportions, decorated with carved terracotta of unique beauty and complexity. The two-color portal — the pink patterns of terracotta are framed by a double frame made of turquoise glazed bricks — and has an exact date that remains among the inscriptions (743 AH, which corresponds to 1342-1343 years). In the center of the building there is a spacious domed hall, to the left and to the right of which there is a row of vaulted rooms. The main facade of the mausoleum is facing the mountain river, from where the only road leads to it. In the center of the hall stands a clay mihrab (a niche in the wall of the mosque indicating the direction to the Kaaba – the main shrine of Islam) with elegant ornamental and calligraphic inscriptions. The presence of a mihrab indicates that, perhaps, at first the building was not a mausoleum, but simply a mosque. And this is not the only mystery of the Mausoleum of Muhammad Bashoro. To date, it has not yet been proved whether the remains of this religious leader are actually buried here.
The architectural complex Hazrati-Bobo. At some distance from Penjikent, but within the Sogd district, the architectural complex Hazrati-Bobo (Chorku village, Isfara) is located. Hence, another name of the complex is “Chorku Mausoleum”.
The complex includes religious buildings, different in construction time, but united by one feature: they are all located to the north facade. The main one is the mausoleum of a certain saint, which the local population calls differently “Khast-i-Podshokh”, “Khast-i-Amir”, “Amir Khamza Sohibkiron” (“Sohibkiron” means “Lord of the happy combination of stars”).
According to local legend, the mausoleum was erected overnight, and in it was supposedly buried holy Hazrati-Bobo, the legendary hero, commander and king Amir Hamza Sohibkiron (Amir Hamza Hasti Podshoh). The whole complex is a unique monument of medieval architecture and consists of two types of buildings.
The primary building (10th-12th centuries) is a wooden mausoleum (mazar), with an aivan (canopy) on carved columns decorated with kufic inscriptions and ornamental carvings. The total number of carved wooden columns supporting the building is seven. They are of unique shape, approximately 2.5 m high. Each column is made of a whole tree trunk and is covered with an ornament. The ornament on all wooden details is diverse, in nature – it is floral, geometric, zoomorphic figures and patterns. Moreover, wooden carriers are decorated with completely incomprehensible animals that resemble birds, snakes and fish at the same time. Perhaps this is due to the religious beliefs of the ancient Tajiks about the transmigration of souls. Two entrance doors lead to the mazar: one from the north, quotations from the Koran above are calligraphically inscribed above it, and the repair date is 1321 AH (1903-1904). The door was laid with a decorative grille, behind which the believers had to perform appropriate religious rites. Another door leading from the southwest was intended for the sheikh. In the center of the room is the tomb of the saint.
The second type of Hazrati-Bobo buildings is a later one. The room with a four-column aivan (to the left of the mazar) dates from the 18th to 19th centuries. The walls and ceiling are also painted and decorated with decor. This place, apparently, served as an overnight stay for pilgrims. Also, some rituals were performed here, for example – the evil (sacrifice). In the courtyard of the complex there is also a wooden minaret in the form of a three-tier tower. The complex of buildings is surrounded by a clay earthen fence. According to the oldest inhabitants, the yard of the Mazar was once a cemetery.
Penjikent is the place where the history of the ancient Sogdians was going on, one of the centers of Eastern civilization. Coming here, you can learn a lot about the life, customs and traditions of the people who once inhabited the Sogdiana shopping center, get acquainted with the results of their activities and feel the whole mysterious magic of an oriental Zoroastrian fairy tale.