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Destination Details

Otrar, Kazakhstan

The ancient city of Otrar has had many names: Tarban, Turaband, Turar and Farab as well as Otrar. It was the birthplace of the great scholar known as Al-Farabi (meaning "from Farab»). Otrar was among the most celebrated cities along the Silk Road during its golden era. It is thought that it was first founded as early as the 2nd Century ВС, at the time of the Kang-yu confederation of states, located in the middle reaches of the Syr Darya. Also known as Kangu Tarban or Kangly in subsequent centuries, this tribe was able to retain control for a relatively long time by mingling with various Turkmen communities. Its influence only waned with the coming of Islam into Central Asia. It was during this period, from the 10th to 12th centuries, that the city, then known as Otrar, reached its zenith as a centre of trade and manufacturing. It struck its own coins, and the city's library attracted scholars from all parts of Central Asia.

In 1219, Otrar was the first city to fall victim to a horrifying campaign of revenge and conquest by Genghis Khan against the Central Asian oases. The town fell in February 1220, when the Mongol hordes burst into its alleys, murdering, ransacking and setting property on fire. The city, once so rich and beautiful, was left into ruin. However, Otrar did not take long to flourish once more - its conquerors soon recognized its strategic location and used it to their advantage.

Today, at the city's excavation site numerous walls remain (though in poor condition), showing the layout of large parts of the city. They clearly demonstrate that Otrar was built according to a coherent construction plan, based both on social order and hygienic principles. To see vases and wall carpets found during the initial excavation of Otrar, you will have to visit the Presidential Cultural Centre in Astana.

Otrar is situated off the main roads of the modern world. In its halcyon days, it was ideally located in an oasis at the foot of a chain of hills, close to the point where the Arys flows into the Syr Darya. To get there, follow the road from Shymkent to Turkistan, turn left beyond Tortkol, cross the Tashkent-Orenburg-Moscow railway line and drive to the village of Shaulder.
Here, there is a museum dedicated to the history and archaeological works of Otrar. The actual excavation site is located some 20 kilometres to the north of Shaulder, beyond Kogam aul and 1.5 kilometres off the road. The road from Otrar to Shymkent through Arys and Badam provides many minor spots worth stopping to explore. As in so many parts of South Kazakhstan, every aul has something special to offer: a mosque, group of barrows or the ruins of old settlements.

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