If a nation does not know its history, if the country loses its history, then its citizens have nowhere to go.
Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

Kazakhstan’s Silk Road cities


Let’s follow the section of the Silk Route, crossing the territory of Kazakhstan, eastwards. The road from Shash (Tashkent) led over the mountain pass to Tarbat and then to Ispidjab. Chinese road-books called Ispidjab “the town on the White river bank”; in the eleventh century Makhmud of Kashgar wrote: “Sairam is the name of White town (Al-medinat al-Baida), which is called Ispidjab. It is called Sariam as well”.

The name of the ancient town has retained till nowadays. Sairam is a name of a settlement not far from Chimkent. It is located at the site of ancient Ispidjab, which in the Middle Ages was a large trade centre, lying on the Silk Route. Here trade caravans from different countries paused for rest and refreshment. In its centre there were small shops and caravanserais, belonging to merchants from Bukhara and Samarkand, while Ispindjabian merchants, together with those from Merv, Balkh, Bukhara and Khoresm, had their own trading stations in Bagdad.

Leaving Ispidjab behind, caravans went eastwards to Taraz, passing through Sharab, Budukhent, Tamtadzh and Abardadzh.

Taraz is one of Kazakhstan’s most ancient cities, known since the sixth century A.D. Here, in 568 A.D. the Turkic kagan Dizabul received Byzantine embassy, headed by stratigus Zemarkhus. He was sent by Justinian II to conclude a military alliance against Iran and a commercial treaty for the silk-trading.

Judging by written sources, Taraz is known as a city of merchants. Besides, for a long time it was the capita! of Turgeshes and Karluks, then Karakhanids.

Informer times, near to Taraz, there was a town of Djamukat, founded by the Sogdians of Bukhara under the leadership of Djamuk, whose name was given to the town. It is also mentioned in the chronicles, pertaining to the sixth century A.D. Time has wiped out the traces of this town, but archaelogists managed to find Djamukat and dig out its ruins. The town was situated in the Talas valley, not far from Djambul, on the right bank of the river Talas. The site of this town is called now Kostobe - “the Double Hill”.

Besides these, in the Talas valley there existed such wellknown towns as Sheldji, Sas, Kul and Tekabket; the latter was located in mountaneous part of the valley, in the vicinity of silver mines. There was one more caravan road, connecting the Talas valley and Taraz with the Fergana valley; it ran over Chanach pass of the Chatkal ridge, starting from Kasan and Karabur. Leaving Taraz behind, caravans continued their way along the barren region via Kasribas, Kul- Shub and Djul-Shub to Kulan.

The Chinese called Kulan “Julan”; it was known as a “nice-looking small town on the Turkic lands border off Maveranakhr”. Judging by old road-books, it was situated 17 farsakhs (linear measure, equal to 7 km) to the east of Djambul. Kulan’s ancient site was discovered on the outskirts of the present-day town of Lugovoye. Moving away from Kulan, caravans passed the towns of Mirki and Aspara, standing at 4 farsakhs’ distance from each other. Then passing Djul and Sarig, they continued their way to the Turkic kagan’s settlement and Kirmirau. After Kirmirau the road led to one of the biggest towns of Semirechie Navaket, having Chinese name Xingcheng. Both Turkic and Chinese names are translated as “a new town”. Navaket was known as a residence of Turkic kagans and the town, where the Sogdians lived. The site, bearing name of Krasnaya Rechka (Red River), corresponds to ancient Navaket.

The next town on the road was Pendjikent (Bunzhiket) and further on — Suyab -the capital of western Turks, then Turgeshes and Karluks. Suyab was described by Chinese and Arabian travellers, but since the tenth century A. D., it had never been mentioned in the annals. When the capital removed from Suyab to Balasagun, it became the residence of Karakhanids, then it passed into the hands of Karachinese, who destroyed it in the early eighth century. Later, it was rebuilt, but as soon as the fourteenth century, it was brought to ruins again and only dilapidated palaces, mosques, minarets and vast cemeteries bore evidence of the town’s former bustling life.

Archaeologists discovered the locations of these towns situated not far from the present-day Tokmak; they correspond to well-known medieval monuments — Akbeshim and Burana sites. Leaving Suyab, the route branched into the northern — via the town of Upper Barsakhan — and the southern roads. The latter is marked by the remains of small caravanserais, whose names didn’t reach our days. After rejoining at the mountain pass Bedel, this road led to Kashgar and Aksu.

Karl Baipakov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.