Burana Tower, Kyrgyzstan

Apr 16, 2022 1 comments

Set against the backdrop of lofty, snow-covered peaks of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too mountain range in northern Kyrgyzstan, stands a tall isolated minaret. A thousand years ago what is now a deserted valley was once the ancient city of Balasagun, founded by the Karakhanids in the 9th century, and the Burana tower was part of a mosque. Balasagun was a flourishing city of the Karakhanid Dynasty with a citadel, mausoleums, mosque, church, and a bath-house, until it was destroyed by the Mongols in 1218. The minaret is all that remains of Balasagun today.

Photo: Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr

Legend has it that there was once a powerful khan to whom a daughter was born. The khan celebrated the occasion by inviting all the fortune tellers and wise man from the country to tell him the future of his daughter. One old man said that his daughter would die from a spider bite on her sixteenth birthday. To protect her, the khan built a tall tower and kept her daughter in it alone. Servants of the khan brought her food, delivering it in a basket via climbing a ladder that was put against the tower. Everything was inspected thoroughly to make sure no spider would be able to get in the tower.

On her sixteenth birthday, the khan rushed to her with a basket of fruits. In his haste, the khan failed to notice a poisonous spider that had concealed itself in the basket. As his daughter reached for a fruit, the poisonous spider bit her and killed her. The khan was distraught and cried so loudly, that part of the tower went to shambles.

The Burana tower was originally 45 meters tall. It was one of the largest towers to be built in Central Asia, and it has been suggested that it was used as a template to build other similar towers like the ones in Uzgen and Sayram in Kazakhstan and later in Bukhara. The distinctive feature of the minaret is the distinctive geometric pattern made with bricks, rather than the more common painted tilework. Inside of the tower there is a small staircase that winds around the walls till the top. In the grounds around the Burana tower is a collection of ancient balbals—stone stelae cut in the figure of men and women and usually found near cemeteries.

Over the centuries a number of earthquakes caused significant damage to the structure. The last major earthquake in the 15th century destroyed the top half of the tower, reducing it to its current height of 25 meters. Many of the fallen bricks were taken away by Russian immigrants to the area in the early 1900s to build houses. The tower was repaired and restored in the 1970s.

Burana tower before restoration works. Photo: kyrgyzstan-tourism.com

Photo: G Travels/Flickr

Staircase inside the tower. Photo: Matthias Buehler/Flickr

Photo: Matthias Buehler/Flickr

Photo: Allan Grey/Flickr

Photo: Ninara/Flickr


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