Friday, 15 October 2010

Seeing Sauran

Tuesday 5th October

On our day off in Turkestan I was eager to visit the ancient ruined oasis city of Otrar, which lies about 50 miles to the south. In 1217 it was the somewhat ill considered decision of its governor Inalchuk to arrest merchants sent by Genghis Khan on spying charges, the situation being exacerbated when they were subsequently put to death - not good thinking. This suidical action precipitated Genghis Khan's swift conquest of the lands of the Korezmshahs which included this southern area of present day Kazakhstan - Inalchuk was executed and Otrar razed to the ground. Having recovered from this setback, it later achieved notoriety as the place where Timur died of fever.
But unfortunately due to our other activities we did not have time to make the 100 mile round trip there.

So after a day's riding across the flat desert steppe land of the Syr Darya valley it was a great excitement to see the crumbling walls of the old Silk Road city of Sauran rising up in the distance. Sauran escaped the fate of Otrar by wisely surrendering to the forces of Genghis Khan without resistance. At one point it was the largest city in the area that is now Kazakhstan, but with the rising prominence of Turkestan it was virtually abandoned by the 18th century.
It is now crawling with archaeologists excavating and developing the site. Restoration includes the controversial method of using new materials for partial reconstruction, as you can clearly see with these steps up to a madrassah at the centre of the site.

Apart from the madrassah, they are currently working on the remains of a mosque, which can be seen in the middle distance in the photo below. The city walls are on the horizon.

The workforce are a cheerful and friendly bunch and even invited me to join them for lunch. One of them is perusing a copy of my consulate letter on the right - I find it indispensable for quickly explaining who I am and what I am up to!

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