30km out of Dushanbe (4-5km from the town of Hisor) is one of Tajikistan’s most well-known sights – the Hisor historical and cultural reserve. Monuments from many historic eras cover an area of about 86 hectares and together are now known by the name of Hisor Reserve.(www.tdc.tj)
The reserve is located in the Hisor valley, a vast hollow formed by the Kofernihon, Karatag and Shirkent rivers. Life in this area dates back to the stone age in the 4th-3rd millennium B.C. The valley later became part of Bactria, then the Greco-Bactrian and Kushan states as evidenced by the remains of ancient settlements discovered by archaeologists. Today, all that remains to be seen is rounded Tepas (hills). In the Middle Ages, Hisor was known as a crafts and market centre. In the 18th-19th centuries the area became a ‘Bekgari’ (bekstvo/earldom), one of the 28 Bukharan Emirate possessions. The Hisor fortress has existed since these times and now forms an open-air museum.
In the late 1980s a historical and cultural reserve was formed in Hisor made up of:
1.Hisor fortress with its arched gate. It was built by hand about 2,500 years ago. The main arched gates were built in the 16th century, and have now been completely renovated.
2.Registan (the area in front of the castle).
3.Old Madrassa. This 2,250m2 medieval school was build in the 16th century.
5.Caravanserai (inn/motel). This brick caravanserai was built in 1808 during the Saidbi Atoliqo reign and used as a motel.
6.Chasmai Mohiyon (Fish Spring) Mosque. It was built in the 8th century, and two porches and a tower were added in the 16th century. It has now been fully restored.
7.Sangin (Stone) Mosque.
8.Makhdumi A’zam Mausoleum. This 609m2 monument from the 16th century was built on the site of Khoji Mohammed Hayvoqi’s tomb.
9.History Museum, located in the old madrassa. More than 3,200 unique artefacts found during excavations in and around the town of Hisor are housed here.
The former residence of the Bek (governor) of the Bukharan Emir is located 26km west of the capital. The fortress has 1m thick walls with loopholes for guns and cannons to guard it. The main entrance housed large staircases and terraces surrounded by brick which unfortunately have not been preserved. The only thing remaining of the fortress is the majestic baked-brick gates with two cylindrical towers and arch beneath like those which were built in Bukhara in the 18-19th centuries.
Opposite the fortress was a market square with a caravanserai and lots of shops. Opposite the entrance to the fortress is a 17th century madrassa where the Koran was studied. Nearby is the new madrassa and mausoleum built in the 18-19th century. (www.tdc.tj)
There are many legends and folktales told by the townsfolk associated with the Hisor fortress. According to one of them, the fortress was built by Afrosiyob to protect against Rustam, the famous hero of Firdausi’s ‘Shohnoma’ (Book of the Kings). Another legend says that the Righteous Caliph Ali came on his horse Dul-Dul to preach Islam and stood on a hill (west of Hisor) which is now called Poi-Dul-Dul (Dul-Dul’s leg). Pretending to be a tightrope walker, Ali made his way from the mountain into the castle, but was recognised and imprisoned there. His faithful horse, Dul-Dul, brought him a Zulfiqor sword with which he killed all his enemies, including the evil magician who controlled the fortress at that time. Two huge plane trees, about 500-700 years old, grow near the fortress.
The Old and New Madrassas
Madrassai-kuhna (the old madrassa) is a brick building with a portal entrance crowned with a dome. As you enter, you see a wide courtyard surrounded by khujras (cells or small rooms). At the beginning of the 20th century about 100-150 students studied there. Teaching only ended in 1921. The old library has been preserved in the madrassa building. Madrassai-nav (the new madrassa), built in the 17th-18th centuries has unfortunately been mostly destroyed. Only a two-storey façade remains.
The Makhdumi A’zam Mausoleum (16th-17th centuries) is located near the old madrassa. Makhdumi A’zam means ‘Great Master’ and is a title rather than a name. Interestingly, it is the same name as several complexes throughout Central Asia. The name is associated with real people such as government or religious figures. The identity of the person buried in this mausoleum remains something of a mystery, but the most popular theory is that it is Khoji Mohammed Hayvoqi.(www.tdc.tj)
Another significant building in the Hisor complex is the ‘Khistin’ (brick) Caravanserai. By the 20th century, the caravanserai was just scattered remnants of foundations and baked-brick walls more than 1m tall. The best information available about what it looked like is from photographs taken in 1913, and it has been restored according to that.
The Sangin (stone) Mosque is another interesting monument, so called because half of its walls were made from stone. Four bottomless ceramic pitchers had been embedded into the dome of the mosque. These resonators were a feature added to improve the room’s acoustics.
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