Trans Eurasia travel

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

Kirk Kiz fortress

The unique "Kirk Kiz" building ("forty girls”) which has attracted the attention of researchers for a long time , has been variously considered as a palace, an abbey, a caravansarai, Hanaqoh, or just simply a civil construction. The complex "Kirk Kiz" is situated 3 km from the ancient city of Termez, just past the airport to the northeast of Termez. The story behind the name has sadly been lost in the mists of time, but the options include 40 daughters, 40 virgins or 40 girls in a harem variously abstaining, avenging or procreating depending on the fantasy of the particular storyteller. Let your imagination run wild. The most popular of the legends connects it with the well-known national legend in which the princess Gulaim and her forty girls bravely struggled against raiding nomads.

Throughout Central Asia legends based around a shadowy '40 girls' are endemic. Whether describing the 40 Amazonian daughters of a local Mongol warlord, the exploits of the poor Central Asian soul held captive in his fortress by his 40 nubile young serving girls or even the original 40 girls held responsible for the progeneration of the entire Kyrgyz race, the kernel of truth at the core of the legend of the 40 girls, or Kyrk Kyz, lias long since passed into popular imagination and been lost.

Subsequently, clues to the origins of the Kyrk Kyz fortress are easier to find in the region's local name, the Shakhri Saman or Town of the Samanids. For it is now believed that this fascinating, self-contained bastion of 50 rooms was the country residence of the ruling Samanid dynasty in the ninth and tenth centuries. The fortress is a typical example of the type of kushk, or castle, that came to dominate the Sogdian and post-Sogdian feudal periods as a fusion of both pre- and post-Islamic architectural styles.

Regardless of quite what they were up to, the Kyr Kyz dates from the 9th century, and the fortress is typical of the style of such structures built just prior to the Arab invasion. Thick, mud-brick walls ran 55m on each side of a square and encompassed some 50 rooms over two floors. Enough remains that you can wander from one obvious room to the next, and if you take a guide they will be able to explain the likely function of each space.

The building of "Kirk Kiz" is a square of about 54m each side of raw brick construction. At all corners of the building were protected by strong towers. There is an inside arched aperture, and also some large windows cut through each facade. There are two in intersections in the hallways placed on the two axes of the building dividing it into four equal parts. There is a little square courtyard in the centre of the building (11.5x11.5m), covered by a dome (to the mind some scholars, but according to another there was no overhead cover.

The two northern quadrants of the building have identical floor plans. They consist of a group of five rooms that exit onto a three-sided Russian 'П' letter shaped hallway. The southwest quadrant of the building is almost identical. The largest three-pillar room was used as a sitting room in the southwest quadrant of the building. The different system of its roofing and style, the design of the bay walls, window frames and doorways are examples of raw brick architecture.

The 55-metre long square walls of the fortified castle rise out of the dusty ground like bleached bones and envelop a maze of twisting hallways, arched corridors and individually shaped rooms. The rooms included bedrooms, storage rooms and a large six-domed guest room or mosque, all arranged on two floors around the food and water of a central domed courtyard. The two floors have melted into one in places and the roof has long since disappeared, but in general the dwelling has survived in excellent condition and offers a unique chance to wander around the inside of a Central Asian feudal castle. Kyrk Kyz is situated only a few hundred metres away from the Kokil Dara. Its main entrance faces north.

Kampyr Tepe, 35 kilometres northwest of Termez on the banks of the Amu Darya near Gagarin Kolkhoz, has long marked an important crossing point over the Amu Darya and thus a vital transport link between Bactria and India. Along with Ai Khanoum on the Tajik-Afghan border, the city is one possible location for Alexandria-on-the-Oxus and thus the site of Alexander's crossing of the Oxus in 329BC. The 2nd century ВС settlement was abandoned after the Amu Darya flooded and was never subsequently built upon, thus revealing much to archaeologists about Kushan-era town structure. The 2500-year-old ruins consist of Hellenistic style fortifications, a residential area, trade suburbs and a port. Over 35kg of gold was excavated from the site, along with some of the oldest chess pieces on earth.