Ruins of Dehistan


Looking at the smooth, barren plain of the Misrian plateau, which is part of the South-East Caspian Sea, it is difficult to imagine that once it was the blooming, fertile oasis. But when viewed from the above, in the light of rays of the rising sun, on the relief of this area there will be clearly seen traces of ancient irrigation: channels' beds, squares of irrigated fields, where, according to researchers, a variety of crops - from wheat to rice - were grown. The researchers have already gathered sufficient evidence proving that the lands of Dehistan were used for about three thousand years. But it was not a continuous process: there were times when the fields were abandoned, and centuries later cultivated again.

Archaeologists have identified three historical periods of existence of this oasis. The earliest one is the Bronze Age (II millennium B.C.) that continues until the end of antiquity, that is, before the fall of the Parthian state, when this territory was called Hyrcania. The second epoch is associated with the state of the Sassanids and covers the III-VII centuries AD. It was a time when various pastoral tribes, including the ancient Turks settled here. The remains of their settlements in the form of huge slipped down barrows can be found even now in the spaces of the Misrian plateau. And, finally, the third era - from the VIII to XIV century - left the most impressive traces. The numerous ruins of medieval Dehistan remind one of what the urbanized area was like before the water sources that had fed it ran dry.

The caravan route from Khorezm to Persia along the Amudarya River's ancient bed - Uzboy, which flowed into the Caspian Sea, ran through Dehistan. The medieval Arab historian, Al-Makdisi, mentioned twenty-four Dehistan settlements, but archaeologists have discovered about forty of them with some of them not yielding to medieval cities by their size. The highly developed fortification, artistic merits, performance technique and the number of monumental sites of Dehistan put this provincial area on a par with such recognized centers of ancient cultures as Merv, Gurganj, Samarkand. Moreover, unlike the cities of Khorasan with its predominantly raw structures, burnt brick was widely used not only in public buildings, but also in dwellings of citizens while erecting the walls about thousand years ago. According to art critics, acquaintance even with the limited number of Mashad-Misrian monuments shows that Dehistan's architecture, as a major historical and cultural district with the rich past, undoubtedly had its own distinctive appearance, peculiarities and style.

The settlement of Mashad-Misrian is the largest monument of medieval Dehistan. According to Arabic manuscripts that have reached our times, the capital city of Misrian was also called Dehistan since the IX century. Its central part surrounded with a double defense wall with semicircular towers and a moat occupies about 200 hectares. It is the classic fortification, to which the extensive suburban area (rabad) consisting of artisan quarters, where one can still see many remains of pottery shops and foundations of several mosques and caravanserais, adjoined from four sides. Gardens and parks and the marketplace were located in the southern rabad, and the traces of the dense residential buildings are seen in the western part. The eastern and southern rabads were most densely populated. There ran irrigation canals and the main canal, which provided the town with water. There was also a madrasah, the only known in Turkmenistan, which dates back to the pre-Mongol period. The abundance of earthenware products with ornamental and scenic painting is the distinctive feature of archaeological finds in Dehistan. Bronze pots, lamps and other metal products with artistic treatment, and a number of glass articles were also found here.

Improvements made in the city demonstrate the high level of development of Dehistan's urban culture. There were found the water supply and sewerage systems, bathhouses, brick-paved roads. This city had a boom period under the rule of Khorezm shahs, then suffered from the Mongols, but soon revived again and was finally deserted by the inhabitants about six centuries ago. From its architecture there remained the ruins of only a few impressive buildings having a considerable artistic value today as the vivid examples of Islamic culture. First, it is a mosque of Mohammed II, Shah of Khorezm, and two minarets next to it. There are also several medieval mausoleums in the ancient cemetery seven kilometers away from the settlement. Standing on a high platform, the funeral mosque Mashad-ata with the magnificent décor of very fine work dating from the IX-X centuries stands out among them. This truly unique monument often called Shir-Kabir, along with the Samanids' Mausoleum in Bukhara built in the same period, marks the beginning of the classical period in the architecture of the whole Central Asia.

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