Trans Eurasia travel

Your virtual guide to Eurasia! Let's travel together!

Konye-Urgench Museum

The museum is housed in the brick-built Dash Mosque, a former madrasa constructed in the early years of the 20th century, just before the main mausoleum complex. It is open 08.00-16.00, except Tuesday, though closed 13.00-14.00 for lunch. It includes some ancient Arabic texts and a few interestingly labelled artefacts from Old Urgench (eg ‘blue polished eight-cornered thing’). Note the Christian symbols carved onto some of the stone pieces. Off the medressa courtyard are several rooms containing ethnographic displays of Turkmen culture, including a pottery workshop and carpet looms.

The largest room is dedicated to the history and treasures of the old city. There is a useful model of Gurganj in the centre of the room, providing a good site orientation. Around it are displayed some beautiful artefacts, from fish-bone beads apparently dating to 6000BC, through children's toys, ceramic bowls and glazed tiles, to a fragment of the meteorite which landed near Konye-Urgench in 1998. The English-language labelling is charming, if not hugely informative: 'clayey cup'; 'many found artificial things belong to 4th century ad'; 'blue polished eight-cornered thing'. A display panel charts the career of Professor Sergey Tolstov, the archaeologist who led Soviet research into the sites of the Khorezm Oasis.

Another, smaller room offers a display about the madrasa, which was in use from 1905 until the arrival of the Bolsheviks. The building became a museum in 1980. Around the courtyard behind the main building, the bedrooms of the students at the madrasa have been imaginatively converted into 19 small displays, describing the traditional handicrafts and occupations of the region. So a bearded mannequin spins a pot in front of a large clay oven in the pottery room.

To the side of the Dash Mosque stands the domed Matkerim Ishan Mausoleum. This houses the graves of 19th-century religious teacher Matkerim Ishan and his son Madamin Ishan. The path past here leads to the Nejameddin Kubra Mausoleum on the left, and the Sultan Ali Mausoleum facing it across a shady little courtyard. Nejameddin Kubra (1145–1221) was a famous Khorezm Muslim teacher and poet who founded the Sufic Kubra order, with followers throughout the Islamic world. His tomb is believed to have healing properties and you may find pilgrims praying here. The building has three domes and a tiled portal that appears on the brink of forward collapse. The tombs inside – one for his body and one for his head (which were kindly separated by the Mongols) are quite extraordinarily colourful with floralpattern tiles.