UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mausoleum of Turabeg Khanum

The Mausoleum of Turabeg Khanum has an imposing south facing portal, some 25m high. Behind this is a domed lobby, with a spiral staircase (locked to visitors) to the right. The main chamber beyond is hexagonal in plan, with tall arched niches on each wall. The mosaic on the underside of the dome is stunning, its design apparently involving 365 interlocking geometric figures, one for each day of the year. The preponderance of dark blue in the design, and the fact that most of the figures are star shapes, give the viewer the impression of looking up at a stylized night sky. There are 24 arches running along the drum below the dome, one for each hour of the day. A line of 12 larger arches running around the chamber below suggests the number of months in the year.

The overall message seems to be of the insignificance of humans when set against the great natural order. The building has a 12-sided external plan, its outside walls enlivened by tall niches. Little remains of the exterior dome, which some researchers believe may have been conical in shape, save for a small corner of turquoise tiling, offering a tantalizing hint of the beauty of the original roof. Turabeg Khanum was the daughter of Uzbek Khan, under whose rule the Golden Horde converted to Islam, and the wife of Gutlug Timur, a governor of Urgench in the early 14th century.

There is speculation among researchers as to whether the building had in fact anything to do with her. Some researchers believe that it was a mausoleum of the rulers of the Sufi dynasty, dating from the second half of the 14th century. Others point to the unusually well-illuminated interior, the presence of structures with a possible defence function (such as a small room opposite the staircase which has been described as a guard room), and the absence of cenotaphs to argue that the building may have been a palace, not a mausoleum.

Kutlug Timur Minaret

The Kutlug Timur Minaret, almost 60m, is the highest medieval structure in Central Asia. It was even higher before recent reconstruction work, aimed at stabilizing the structure, had the effect of reducing the height by a couple of meters. The minaret is an attractive, tapering column, some 12m in diameter at the base, but just 2m wide at the top, on which a long-vanished wooden balcony would once have stood. There are 18 horizontal bands of decoration, some incorporating blue majolica tiles. There are three bands of inscriptions in Kufic script, one of which links the minaret with Kutlug Timur and his father-in-law Uzbek Khan.

This led researchers to date the monument to 1320–30. But it is now believed that the minaret is much older, probably dating to the 11th or 12th century, and that Kutlug Timur had ordered to reconstruct the building after devastating Mongol invasion.

Kutlug Timur Minaret

Mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh

The Mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh dates from the end of the 12th or the beginning of the 13th century. Tekesh, who ruled from 1172–1200, turned the Khorezmshahs into a major power, his conquests include Khorasan in present-day northern Iran. The building is square in plan, with a distinctive double conical dome above a 24- sided drum. The beautiful turquoise tile-work that still adorns the dome explains one local name for the building, Gok Gummez (‘Blue Dome’). The ‘stalactite’ decoration adorning the arch above the main doorway is also particularly fine. The building is sometimes known as the Mausoleum of Sheikh Sheref, following a local tradition as to its occupant. The absence of a cenotaph here has led some researchers to speculate that it was not a mausoleum at all, but a temple complex or palace of the Khorezmshahs. But architectural and written evidence mostly supports the attribution of the building as the Mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh, which according to one contemporary source formed part of a large complex built by Tekesh, including a madrasa and a library.

Mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh

Il Arslan Mausoleum

The Mausoleum of Il-Arslan (Fahreddin Razi) is a medieval mausoleum located on the territory of the Kunya-Urgench National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve in the city of Kunya-Urgench in Turkmenistan. The mausoleum was built for the Shah of Khwarezm Il-Arslan, who ruled the State of Khorezm in the 12th century.

This is the oldest surviving building of Kunya-Urgench, the medieval capital of Khorezm. This mausoleum is one of the first in a long line of monumental buildings in Central Asia, whose height is artificially increased by the space between the inner dome and the outer tent. True, the first double domes appeared in northern Khorasan in the 11th century, but their inter-dome axils were small and were not designed for an external effect; the innovation, imprinted in the small Urgench mausoleum and giving it a resemblance to an obelisk, will later be embodied in the grandiose buildings of Timur and his descendants.

Built over the imaginary grave of Fakhreddin Razi or over the real Khorezmshah Il-Arslan, the mausoleum in Kunya-Urgench is one of the most outstanding buildings of pre-Mongolian Central Asia, combining unique features, technical and artistic, with ideas and images of a future, not yet embodied architecture.

Gate of the Caravanserai

Although commonly referred to as a “caravanserai” gate, the function of this entrance remains unknown. It could have served as the main gateway to a caravanserai, a lodging for caravans, or it might have been a component of a palace, madrasa, or another significant structure.

The surviving fragment is oriented towards the north, accompanied by a series of evenly spaced column footings discovered to the south, running parallel to the gate in an east-west direction. The arrangement of these column footings suggests the possibility of a covered colonnade facing inward, potentially opening up to a courtyard or atrium situated to the south.

The lower section of the gate showcases a well-preserved arrangement of glazed majolica tiles, forming a geometric pattern. These tiles, composed of numerous small fragments and not painted with colored underglaze, indicate, in the author’s perspective, a probable dating to the late 14th century or later.

During this period, the technique of employing mosaic tiles gained popularity, likely influenced by Timur’s (Tamurlane’s) capture of skilled artisans from Iran who possessed expertise in this particular method.

Kyrk Molla

To the northeast of the Tekesh Mausoleum stands a low hill, covering some 3ha and never much more than 12m in height. The hill has the curious name of Kyrk Molla (‘40 Mullahs’). Excavations along its western slope have revealed the inclined walls of a fortress, punctuated by square towers. This is believed to be the ancient heart of Gurganj: some finds here have been dated to the 5th century BC. Researchers believe that the fortress was destroyed during Arab invasion in the 8th century. Some modern scholars believe that this was a place where Kunay-Urgench’s famous Academy of Al’Mamun was founded here in the 10th century.