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Kyrk Molla

To the northeast of the Tekesh Mausoleum stands a low hill, covering some 3ha and never much more than 12m in height. The hill bears the curious name of Kyrk Molla ('40 Mullahs'). Excavations along its western slope have revealed the inclined walls of a fortress, punctuated by square towers. This is believed to be the ancient heart of Gurganj: some finds here have been dated to the 5th century bc. Researchers believe that the fortress was destroyed on the arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century. Local legends surrounding the name of the place are based around the 40 mullahs as wise teachers, leading to suggestions that this may have thereafter been the site of an important madrasa or even the fabled Academy of Ma'mun. One tale runs that, with the dreaded Mongols fast approaching, the 40 mullahs prayed that the rare and beautiful books of the Academy be spared. Their prayers were answered by the Academy suddenly turning upside down, so that its doors were underground, out of reach of the Mongols. And this, the tale concludes, is how the hill was formed. The great books remain below ground, waiting to be uncovered.

Kyrk Molla, which was later the site of a cemetery, is one of the most atmospheric places in Konye-Urgench, and an important pilgrimage destination. The branches of wizened trees are covered in strips of cloth. Crows caw. Human skulls stare out from the excavated western slope of the hill. Across the top of the hill are hundreds of little stone huts, and miniature cradles fashioned from pieces of cloth, the legacy of wishes made here. On the eastern side of the hill, you may see groups of girls rolling each other down the slope, an activity said to promote fertility, though it appears more likely to have the opposite effect.