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Shasenem Fortress

From Konye-Urgench, a road heads south to Ashgabat across the very centre of the Kara Kum Desert. There are several sights of interest along or close to the road in its northern journey across Dashoguz Region.

Mausoleum of Ashyk Aydyn Pir

70km south of Konye-Urgench a turning to the west is highlighted by a monument featuring an upright dutar, on which stands a bird, and a slim arch over the road. The tree-lined side road leads to the Mausoleum of Ashyk Aydyn Pir. The patron of singers and musicians, the character of Ashyk Aydyn Pir appears in many Turkmen legendary tales, often helping the young hero attain great musicianship. An overnight pilgrimage to this symbolic double-domed mausoleum is believed to help the faithful in their quest to master the musician's craft. What looks like an upturned colander is set in concrete behind the mausoleum: peer into the well beneath this, visitors are told, and behold your future. The well stands in a graveyard. A statue of Ashyk Aydyn Pir in prayer dominates the car park, which is also decorated by quotations from President Niyazov, praising Ashyk Aydyn Pir as a symbol of song, talent and justice.

Diyarbekir Fortress

Just to the north of Ashyk Aydyn Pir, and visible from the side road leading to it, stands the ruined fortress of Diyarbekir. Rectangular in plan, the medieval walls preserve semicircular towers and battlements. The walls of one interior building are still standing, and the ground inside the fortress is studded with so many fragments of brick as to take on a reddish hue. Diyarbekir is believed to have been first settled as early as the 4th century BC. It was later abandoned, but seems to have been resettled around the 10th century, before being abandoned for good by the 15th.

Shasenem Fortress

Shasenem_fortressThe rectangular fortress on sloping ground sighted 6km further south along the main road is Akdzhagelin Kala. After another 22km, a side road to the east is marked with a sign for the village of Tuniderya. Drive through the village and turn right onto an unmetalled track after a kilometre. This requires a 4x4, and the track may nonetheless be impassable following rain. You reach the fortress of Shasenem some 9km on.'The fortress, which stands among low-lying ground, makes a fine sight from the upland to the north traversed by the track. Shasenem, which stood at the southern limit of the areas irrigated from the Amu Darya, was probably occupied from around the 4th century bc. Known as Suburna in medieval times, it was sacked by the Mongols and again by the Timurids, and eventually abandoned to the encroaching desert. The present name probably derives from a later association of the ruined settlement with the popular Turkmen legend of Shasenem and Garip, a Romeo and Juliet-style tale of doomed young love.

The fortress itself lies on an artificial mound, its mud-brick walls standing like scattered teeth in a rough L-shaped plan. Some of these still preserve crenellations, slit holes and battlements. Running water has exposed a slice through the walls, demonstrating how they were gradually built up into increasingly elaborate defensive structures in response to advances in military technology. This section also reveals an alarming number of pieces of human bone. A few hundred metres to the south of the fortress stand four outbuildings, believed to have formed part of an extensive park complex of the 12th and 13 th centuries. The northernmost of these buildings is focused on an octagonal corner tower, preserved to a height of around 4m and constructed of large mud bricks. An intact mud-brick arch straddles an adjacent room. A rusted metal sign, which has been used in the past as target practice, now succeeds in informing the visitor only that this is an 'archaeological monument'. Taking a line southwestwards from this corner tower, you reach first a gate building and then another corner tower, almost a mirror-image of the first. Making a line with the gate building, to its southeast, is a further structure, with four large rooms each opening to the exterior of the building, which would have stood at the centre of the park complex.