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

Towns of the Great Silk Road - Sairam

In the time of caravan trade there was another very important ancient town — Ispidzhab or Sairam. No guide-book omitted the description of that town and its treasures.

In the time of caravan trade there was another very important ancient town — Ispidzhab or Sairam. No guide-book omitted the description of that town and its treasures.

In the historical chronicles of the 9th-10th centuries Ispidzhab was called a first class military fortress. When fighting against the Arab invasion the town defended it bravely and recognized the rule of the conqueror only formally. The caliphate that spread its rule over the Pyrenees, North Africa, Near and Middle East imposed upon the conquered peoples a big land tax-haradzh. The only exception was made for Ispidzhab. The Arabs had to agree to the fact that Ispidzhab would confine itself to a symbolic contribution to Bagdad. The Arabs named Ispidzhab one of the best towns of the East for its independence and dignity, attaching the name of White town to it.

A lot of disasters fell upon Ispidzhab’s lot after the devastating wars against Khorezm shah Mohammed and Kara-Chinese. There is nothing left from fine gardens and fortifications but ruined walls, spoiled or broken trees.

In the 15th century the town was restored to life under the name of Sairam and once more it was surrounded by strong fortified walls and trenches.

In order to strengthen the main citadel a number of field fortifications were erected. One of them was named Chimkent, which means a fortress built from turf. The exact date of the construction of the fortress is unknown, but from the “Book of Victories” by great Timur we know that in 1366 the emir joined his string of carts at Chimkent when he was on the way from Tashkent to Sairam. This is the first record of the town that shielded the southern approaches to the town of Sairam.

During its one thousand-year-old history Ispidzhab — Sairam more than once faced enemy and each time it fought bravely, stood to the last man. That is how it was in the years of the Dzungar invasion in the days of Tauke Khan. The walls of Semirechye fortresses fell down one by one before the superior forces of the enemy. It was Sairam that stood as an insurmountable barrier on the way of the conquerors. For three years the besieged garrison of Sairam repelled fierce attacks of the Dzungars. Its defenders did not lay down their arms when the enemy managed to burst into the town. They died fighting in the streets.

The conquerors’ revenge was cruel. The town was set on fire and the inhabitants were put to death. After the destruction in 1684 Sairam was not able to recover its former fame. Now there are very few remains of the past fame of White town such as ruins of walls, bastions, the minaret of the destroyed Bazalakata (the 12th century) mosque with a spiral staircase and a half destroyed entrance to the basement leading no one knows where.

Some cult structures remind you of the past of Sairam, such as two monuments connected with the name of Hodja Ahmed Yasavi which were built after the Dzungar destruction. As is known his parents were buried in Ispidzhab. After the erection of the tomb to Hodja Ahmed Yasavi in Sairam monuments were erected to his parents in Sairam. If one can believe the legend the graves of his two sons are also in Sairam. Ispidzhab — Sairam was one of the most important economic, cultural and political centres for a number of centuries and it left a deep trace in the history of Kazakhstan. It promoted, to a large extent, the consolidation of nomadic and farming Turkic tribes, the formation of the Kazakh ethnos. But the Dzungar massacre, the years of great disaster, the Kokand rule left their traces. Sairam turned into an ordinary Kokand fortress which in September 1864 was won by Russian troops and joined to Russia.


Rakip Nasyrov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.