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A view of Koshoy Korgon from the inner northern corner, looking south-east. The on-site museum is visible in the background. Source: Firespeaker / CC BY-SA 3.0

Koshoy Korgon: The Alluring Silk Road Fortress

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The nation of Kyrgyzstan is little known outside Central Asia. However, this former Soviet republic has many historic remains, because it was located on the Silk Road . This was the trade route that linked the East and the West, and it played a pivotal role in world history. One of the most significant sites in the nation is Koshoy Korgon. This is the ruins of a once great fortress that was associated with the nomadic Turkish people known as the Kharkhanids.

The History of Koshoy Korgon

The earliest inhabitants of what is today Kyrgystan were the Scythians, these were Iranian-speaking people who were nomads and ruled a vast area of the Eurasian Steppe . They were later supplanted by a number of Turkish tribes, and Kyrgyzstan became part of the Uighur Khanate.  It is possible that the first fortress at Koshoy Korgon was built by the Uighurs, whose descendants live in the Chinese province, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The Kyrgyz, originally from Eastern Siberia moved into the area and overthrew the Uighurs, establishing a Khanate. These people are considered the founders of the modern Kyrgyzstan people and state. These Turks garrisoned the fortress at Koshoy Korgon.

Later, the Karakhanids came to dominate much of Central Asia between the 10 th and 13 th centuries. They appear to have greatly expanded the Koshoy Korgon, and to have controlled and protected their section of the Silk Road. The Kharakhanids changed the nature of Central Asian society. Their control of the area marked a decisive shift in the demographics of the region, and it became a Turkish majority area.

11th–12th-century Kharakhanid Khanate mausolea in Uzgen, Kyrgyzstan, which is one of the capitals of the Kharakhanids. (User:Doron / CC BY-SA 3.0)

11th–12th-century Kharakhanid Khanate mausolea in  UzgenKyrgyzstan, which is one of the capitals of the Kharakhanids. (User:Doron / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Koshoy Korgon, which means in the local language ‘Koshoy’s fortress’, is presumed to be named after Koshoy a powerful warlord in Kyrgyz mythology.  There are no records as to how the fortress came to be abandoned, which is typical of the period. It seems linked to a civil war in the Kharakhanid Khanate and the subsequent invasion of the Seljuks, followed by the Kara- Khitans. The fortress may have been abandoned because of a shift in the trade route along the Silk Road . There are many legends about the fortress, and it is believed to have been the site of several important conferences by Turkish leaders.

Discovering the Ancient Fortress

The ruins of the fortress are on an escarpment in a desolate plain. It is very difficult to imagine that this place was once a great fortress, and it is now largely in ruins. Only the great clay walls are still standing. Since the walls are made of clay, they have eroded badly and collapsed in sections. Many of the complex’s other buildings were made of clay bricks and therefore, they have long ago collapsed. However, a considerable part of the original clay walls are still standing.

The ramparts today are about 10 feet (3 m) high and many of their features have vanished. Once there was a tower every 60 feet (20 m) along the walls. Some commentators have described the site as a heap of clay in which gates and openings were carved.

A view of Koshoy Korgon from the northeast, looking south. (Firespeaker / CC BY-SA 3.0)

A view of Koshoy Korgon from the northeast, looking south. (Firespeaker / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

At the southwest of the complex are the remains of what was once a large residence. According to tradition, this was the mythical Koshoy’s home. In truth, it may have been the headquarters of a Turkish warlord or official. There was once a mosque in the fortress and the base of a minaret has been uncovered. Some of the remains of the fortress tower can still be seen.

The site is very extensive, and it is comprised of 8 hectares. The fortress of Koshoy Korgon had an L-shaped entrance and traces of this can still be seen. It was specifically designed to allow defenders to inflict as many casualties on the attackers as possible. There was once a moat surrounding the fortress, but it has now been filled in by sand and earth.

How to see Koshoy Korgon?

It is very difficult to access the fortress. There is a minibus from the city of Bishkek that will take you to the city of Naryn and from here you can get a minibus to the village of At-Bashy.  A private car can then be hired that will take you to the ruins.

View of the At-Bashy mountain range in Kyrgyzstan. (Thermokarst / Public domain)

View of the At-Bashy mountain range in Kyrgyzstan. (Thermokarst / Public domain )

There are also a number of tours available, which include the fortress in their itinerary. Additionally, there is a small museum at the site, and this is dedicated to nomadic culture and history. However, there is very little accommodation in the area.

Top image: A view of Koshoy Korgon from the inner northern corner, looking south-east. The on-site museum is visible in the background. Source: Firespeaker / CC BY-SA 3.0

By Ed Whelan

References

Batyrbaeva SD, Soltobaev OA, Tursunova ET - Virtual Reconstruction of the Medieval Settlement of Koshoy-Korgon - a Fortress of Nomads on the Great Silk Road // Historical Computer Science. - 2017. - No. 1. - P. 63 - 74. DOI: 10.7256 / 2306-0891.2017.1.22452 URL: https://nbpublish.com/library_read_article.php?id=22452

Moldobayev, K. (2004). The Turkic Civilization in the Context of History and Globalization. Kırgız-Turkish Manas University http://journals.manas.edu.kg/mjtc/oldarchives/2004/7_768-2029-1-PB.pdf

NA, N. (2016). The Role of Migration in the History of the Eurasian Steppe: Sedentary Civilization vs.'Barbarian'and Nomad. Springer  https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=upUYDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=history+of+kyrgyzstan+nomad&ots=4nKxh8bZcE&sig=RtMBSzO-sldrcZJ5DxS1y-EHd60&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=history%20of%20kyrgyzstan%20nomad&f=false

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