The oldest cross–shaped temple of the I-II centuries in Kazakhstan and the citadel erected around it are one of the most valuable historical objects of the open-air archaeological park "Kultobe Settlement" being created in Turkestan. The research of the unique architectural and fortification complex is carried out by scientists of the Kazakh Research Institute of Culture (KazRIC) within the framework of the scientific project "Restoration of historical objects of the Kultobe settlement", carried out with the financial support of the Eurasian Group (ERG).
Of the almost 30 hectares allocated for the creation of the archaeological park, in more than two and a half years of the project's implementation more than 20 hectares have already been explored, where many interesting archaeological objects of residential, public and religious purposes have been discovered, dating from the II century BC to the XIX century AD. All of them are unique in their own way and, undoubtedly, are able to attract the attention of both Kazakhstani and foreign tourists. One of the first key objects was the ancient sanctuary and the citadel surrounding it.
Scientists first started talking about the unique find 10 years ago.
— The year 2011 in the archaeological science of Kazakhstan was marked by the discovery of a unique ancient architectural structure on the territory of the city of Turkestan, — informs KazRIC researcher Aisulu Yerzhigitova. — 300 meters from the famous mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, under the layers of the Kultobe hill, a horizon was discovered, the existence of which, according to stratigraphic data and a complex of various artifacts, archaeologists attributed to the II century BC-III century AD. This important discovery belongs to the famous Kazakh scientist Yerbulat Smagulov, who made a huge contribution to the study of archaeological sites of Southern Kazakhstan and, unfortunately, has already passed away.
The very first archaeological studies of ancient Turkestan were conducted by the patriarch of Central Asian archeology, Mikhail Masson, back in the 30s of the last century. He claimed that in the XII—XV centuries there was a cemetery of the ancient city of Yasy on the site of the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi and in the immediate vicinity of it, and suggested that the city itself could be located somewhere to the south of the mausoleum until the XV century. Over time, all these assumptions were confirmed. In the 80s of the last century, archaeologists already knew for sure that the ancient Yasy is located to the south of the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, and the Kultobe hill is the remains of its citadel.
According to experts, the discovered cruciform building with slit-like loopholes in the walls of the lower floor was the core of the city's development. This temple is the oldest evidence of urban culture in Kazakhstan. When studying the lowest layers of the citadel, historians came to the conclusion that the city could have arisen as a small cross-shaped mudbrick-pakhsa fortress. It had at least two floors, of which only the lower basement survived. Its layout was a long, up to 19 meters, narrow room, to the middle of which two small square rooms were attached on both sides. Between them, in the thickness of the walls, there are arched passages that were blocked by arches. The outer sides of the four rays formed were pierced by eight slit-like loopholes.
After some time, the fortress was significantly expanded. On the south-eastern side, a dozen rooms of various purposes were attached to it, which were arranged around an internal open courtyard. So a fortified castle was formed, over time it was surrounded by a pakhsa fortress wall, the thickness of which reached three meters, with angles of 120 degrees.
The castle and the fortress wall formed a powerful fortress-citadel, around which an ancient city appeared in the I—II centuries, which eventually became the most important point on the Great Silk Road, which was called Shavgar, then Yasy and finally Turkestan.
— The preservation of the walls discovered during the excavations of the premises was simply magnificent, — adds the historian, who at one time witnessed an important discovery. — Moreover, the walls of the first floor have not just survived, but the plaster has also been preserved, even such architectural details as ceiling cornices. The thoughtfulness of all the details and design solutions of the ancient architects and the skill of the builders are striking.
Russian science knows only three or four similar buildings in terms of layout. They are localized in the Zhambyl and Turkestan regions and belong to the first centuries of our era.
— Similar buildings were previously studied on the territory of the republic, — the archaeologist explains. — Direct analogies to the cruciform building found on Kultobe are the buildings that were opened in the 60s of the last century in the settlements of Chol-tobe and Kyzyl-Kainar-tobe in the Zhambyl region. The structures we have uncovered correspond to them surprisingly accurately both in terms of parameters and layout. Another analogy is the cruciform building studied at the citadel of the Aktobe-2 settlement in the Shardarinsky district of the Turkestan region. Similar buildings have also been studied on the territory of Uzbekistan.
According to archaeologists, these are the oldest monuments of civil architecture in Kazakhstan, and they can be associated with the culture of the ancient state of Kangyu. It is assumed that the unique archaeological site may well be a temple of one of the religions that spread throughout Central Asia in the first centuries of our era.
— We are not saying that it was a residential complex, since no stoves, tandoor and very little household ceramics were found on the site, — adds Aisulu Yerzhigitova. — Probably, the rites and rituals of a certain tribal association were performed here. The fact that this place was a cult place is also confirmed by the fact that, leaving it, the townspeople completely walled up all the internal rooms with mud bricks, thanks to which the complex is well preserved. It is clear that if the people who lived here many centuries ago had not made efforts, this unique complex would have been completely destroyed. This suggests that the place was sacred for the townspeople and they wanted to preserve it.
It is possible that the ancient temple could be a sanctuary of the Zoroastrians. According to another version, the powerful structure is the forerunner of the Tengrian temples. After all, the Kangyu were the very first Turkic-speaking communities that worshipped the Sun, Moon and Sky. It is assumed that the temple ceased to exist at the beginning of the IV century AD.
— In one of the complexes of attached structures, traces of a powerful fire were recorded — the archaeologist adds. — Based on the findings, it can be assumed that around this time the ancient citadel was destroyed and burned.
Archaeological surveys on the most ancient site of the settlement have not yet been fully completed. Archaeologists hope for their continuation, since the ancient fortress walls surrounding the citadel, which protected the inhabitants of the city, have not yet been fully uncovered. The seekers of antiquities did not reach the entrance gate to the ancient city either. But it's only a matter of time. And it is quite possible that in the coming years the work on the Kultobe hill will be continued and will present even more interesting discoveries.