The Qırq Qız qalas
LocationThe two Qırq Qız qalas are designated Big and Little (or in Karakalpak U'lken and Kishkene). They both lie roughly due east of Ayaz qala in the Ellikqala tuman of Karakalpakstan. Little Qırq Qız qala is 6km to the east of Ayaz qala 1 and Big Qırq Qız qala is just under 5km further on.
To reach the two fortresses from the Ayaz qala Yurt Camp, return on the rough track that runs south from Ayaz qala 2 until you reach the metalled road. Continue south for a further 1.4km, crossing the canal and taking the first left. Drive east for 6.3km and turn left at the t-junction. After a further 2km this new road bends sharply to the right - the ruins of Little Qırq Qız qala can be seen to the north of the road on the left. To reach the site you have to scramble through several fields of rough vegetation on foot.
The view of Little Qırq Qız qala from across the fields.
Overview of the northern part of Big Qırq Qız qala from the west.
Rectangular towers on the western wall of Big Qırq Qız qala.
ExcavationsBoth sites were investigated by Sergey Tolstov and his colleagues from the Khorezm Archaeological Expedition in 1938. Both sites were examined again by Xojaniyazov in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Little Qırq Qız qala was excavated by Gertman in 1987.
Big Qırq Qız qalaBig Qırq Qız qala is a dramatic looking ruin, especially when viewed in the early morning or late evening light. It almost appears as though the qala is dissolving into the desert in front of your eyes. Some of remaining sections of walls and towers look like the rock formations of Cappadocia.
The eroded rectangular towers on the southern corner of Big Qırq Qız qala.
Schematic plan of Big Qırq Qız qala.
The walls were constructed on a high and rugged plinth, technically known as a socle, made of paqsa blocks and contained a protective layer of reeds to control salinization. Today the remains of these walls are preserved in a few places up to 10 to 12 metres tall.
The outer walls were reinforced with rows of impressive rectangular towers, which might have been up to three storeys high. There were two such towers on each corner arranged in a so-called dove-tail layout. The entrance was in the middle of the north-east wall and was protected by a rectangular labyrinth.
The whole citadel had gained extra protection by the construction of a low outer defensive wall known as a proteichisma, placed about 10 metres out from the face of the external wall.
The original citadel was constructed in the 4th to the 3rd centuries BC and formed part of the line of defensive forts protecting the northern frontier of Khorezm. It was a citadel not a refuge, with its interior containing a small town. It guarded one of the main canals feeding the local agricultural oasis.
The citadel was also active during the Kushan period, between the 1st to the 4th centuries AD, and later during the Afrigid period of the 7th to 8th centuries AD. It must have been the seat of a local lord during this latter period, since a living tower was constructed just outside the old citadel located next to the central part of the eastern curtain wall. At some time later another fortified house was built nearby. The region became a major ceramics and metal producing area during the Afrigid period and the remains of pottery kilns and the slag left over from metal foundries can still be seen outside the city walls, especially along the western side. The whole interior of the qala is filled with shards of pottery from different historical periods.
It seems that the region became uninhabited after the 8th century, possibly because of the loss of water for irrigation or perhaps because of the impact of secondary salinization, which occurs when continued agricultural use eventually raises the water table and makes the soil too saline for any further plant growth.
The western part is some 70 to 80 metres in diameter and is encircled by double walls, separated by a two metre wide corridor containing upper and lower archers' galleries. These extended around the entire curtain wall since the outside is punctuated by two tiers of arrow-shaped loopholes.
All that remains of the eastern part is the base of a thick wall made from blocks of compacted clay or paqsa. There was a tower on the south east corner the wall and an adjacent exit with a long external downward sloping ramp.
The two halves of the site appear to have been linked by an interconnecting gateway, positioned about 10 metres inside the western oval section.
It seems that the fan-shaped eastern half was the original fort, constructed in the 4th to 3rd centuries BC. It was just one of a line of defensive frontier fortresses guarding the northern flank of Khorezm from external attack. At some time around the 1st century AD the fort was restored and strengthened and the oval western section was added. The fort seems to have been abandoned at the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 4th century AD.
|Google Earth Coordinates|
|Place||Latitude North||Longitude East|
|Big Qırq Qız qala||42º 0.450||61º 9.470|
|Little Qırq Qız qala||42º 1.090||61º 6.075|
This page was first published on 3 September 2008. It was last updated on 8 March 2012.
© David and Sue Richardson 2005 - 2015. Unless stated otherwise, all of the material on this website is the copyright of David and Sue Richardson.