LocationIt takes roughly an hour to drive from Khiva to Biruniy and a further hour to get to Ayaz qala via Bostan.
However if you are making a round trip it is better to visit Topraq qala first. It's then just 20km from Topraq qala to Ayaz qala as the crow flies, although it takes about 32km by road. Leave on the main road running in front of Topraq qala in a south-east direction. After 10.5km, just as the main road bends to the right, take a left side road which crosses a small canal. After a while the road heads in a straight north-easterly direction running parallel to a narrow canal on its left side. 15km from the turn the road bends towards the north. After a further 4.2km you cross another canal and continue for a further 1km. As the road bends to the right, you continue straight ahead on a rough mud track with good views of the sites of Ayaz qala 1 and 2 ahead. After another 1.2km up the escarpment you arrive at the Ayaz qala yurt camp.
The 6th to 8th century medieval fort of Ayaz qala 2 overlooked by
All three were surveyed in 1937 during the early days of the Khorezm Archaeological Expedition and excavations were carried out at Ayaz qala 3 in 1939. Ayaz qala 1 was investigated in more detail by Yuri Manilov in the late 1960's.
The fort is rectangular in layout and extends for about 180m by 150m over the flat top of a limestone hill, which despite its low elevation still provides extensive views over the surrounding plains. The refuge is enclosed by two parallel walls, separated by about two metres. They had a maximum height of 10m. The inner and outer walls had a vaulted corridor running between – some of which can still be seen - supporting an upper rampart. Arrow slits in the outer wall provided archers with good views of potential attackers.
The outer walls were reinforced during the 3rd century BC by the addition of 45 regularly spaced semi-elliptical watch towers, the towers on the eastern and western sides being shorter than those on the northern side. We know they are additions because they were not bonded into the outer wall.
Access to the fort was gained by means of a labyrinth entrance, located on the southern flank of the fort. Visitors approached the fort along this flank, overlooked by defenders. They first passed through a massive gateway supported by two projecting rectangular towers and entered a small rectangular holding chamber, where they could be inspected while being covered by surrounding archers. Once accepted they were forced to turn right to enter the gate of the main refuge. The inside of the fort was completely devoid of permanent buildings although there may have been a central cistern for storing rain water.
The fortress is thought to have continued in use up to around the 1st century AD, although it might have provided refuge for local inhabitants well into the early medieval period.
The site is best viewed from the top of Ayaz qala 1.
In the absence of any serious excavations, archaeologists suspect that the fort was built at some time between the 6th to the 8th centuries AD, a period when Khorezm was ruled by the Afrigid dynasty of Khorezmshahs. As Khorezm had expanded and grown prosperous, a new class of feudal landowners had emerged. They were the offspring of the ancient nobility, senior courtiers, or those who had been rewarded for loyal military service. They were known as dihqans and their agricultural estates were called rustaq. Most lived in small square-shaped forts (called donjons) surrounded by a defensive wall, generally located at the head of the canal that watered their agricultural lands. From there they ruled over their individual fiefdoms, composed of the families of feudal serfs who worked and managed their lands and the craftsmen who produced their necessities. Most of these feudal donjons have disappeared during the past seventy years as a result of widescale agricultural development, but an important example known as Yakke Parsan still stands only 10km due south of Ayaz qala.
In this respect the architecture of Ayaz qala 2 is quite unique. It was built of rectangular mud bricks on a foundation of compacted clay known as paqsa. The upper parts of the outer walls appear to have been crenulated. The building was fortified with low battlements and a single row of arrow slits running around the entire perimeter. The almost square entrance chamber is on a lower level than the main fort, the latter containing a number of rooms including one with a vaulted ceiling at the north eastern end.
Another unusual feature is the 50 metre-long sloping man-made staircase that rises up to the entrance of the fort on the southern side. At the foot of the ramp are the remains of a large square building, which is thought to have been a palace. It contained residential quarters along with numerous ceremonial halls with ceilings supported by multiple columns, one of which seems to have been a fire temple. It was lavishly decorated with wall paintings and must have been the residence of an important and wealthy feudal lord, loyal to the Khorezmian throne.
The palace was built in the 4th century AD but was destroyed at a later date by two separate fires. Given the palace's location one wonders if there was an associated defensive building on the conical hill predating Ayaz qala 2. The palace seems to have been re-used as a domestic dwelling during the 6th to 7th centuries, possibly by the same feudal family who built the fortress.
It also seems that Ayaz qala 2 stood in the centre of a small rural agricultural community since there are traces of many residential buildings surrounding the foot of the conical hill on which it sits. It is possible that Ayaz qala 2 continued to be used up until the Mongol invasion in the early 13th century.
Ayaz qala 2 was used as a backdrop for a Central Asian movie about Chinggis Khan. Amazingly the film crew were permitted to repair some of the walls and to rebuild the entry gate prior to filming.
Ayaz qala 1 and 2 are best photographed at sunset.
Much of the interior was empty apart from a rectangular fortified building set against the northern wall in the north east corner. The building contained 40 small rooms divided into four groups by two cross-shaped central corridors. Additional corridors run around the sides of three of the outer walls.
The enclosure is surrounded by the remains of many farmsteads and the boundaries of fields.
Excavations conducted in 1939 concluded that the whole site dated from the 1st to the 2nd centuries AD - the time of the Kushan Empire. Interestingly several other skew-shaped Kushan buildings are known from this time. However more recent work suggests that the fortified building within the perimeter wall is earlier, dating from the 5th to 4th centuries BC, almost contemporary with Ayaz qala 1. When the later parallelogram-shaped enclosure was constructed the earlier fortified building was incorporated into the perimeter wall, creating a kink in the construction.
It seems that Ayaz qala 3 may have been a more convenient garrison than Ayaz Qala 1 during the Kushan period, offering a closer refuge for the local agricultural population. However Ayaz qala 1 may have still been manned as a lookout post. The earlier monumental building may have been the residence of a local ruler or senior military commander.
|Google Earth Coordinates|
|Place||Latitude North||Longitude East|
|Ayaz qala 1||42º 0.854||61º 1.746|
|Ayaz qala 2||42º 0.654||61º 1.630|
|Ayaz qala 3||42º 0.320||61º 1.830|
This page was first published on 3 September 2008. It was last updated on 8 March 2012.
© David and Sue Richardson 2005 - 2014. Unless stated otherwise, all of the material on this website is the copyright of David and Sue Richardson.