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Ak-kala ancient settlemen.

Trip on ancient settlement of Ak-kala to Kunya-Urgench.

Turkmenistan tours.

The north of Turkmenistan fascinates with harsh and contrasting landscapes, where the Ustyurt's steppe plain unexpectedly ends with steep breaks and the boundless expanse of the Karakum desert stretches all the way to the horizon.
One can cove a long distance without encountering any trace of man: nothing violates the virgin nature, except, perhaps, a track of earth road.  Being today in this picturesque, in its own way, part of the desert, one could think that there is absolutely nothing to do for archaeologists.
The Amudarya Rivers' Sarykamysh delta is almost devoid of vegetation cut by the countless dry riverbeds of ancient channels of the great Central Asian River. They wind like narrow or wide ribbons representing steep and deep canyons, and even get lost in the sand dunes in some places. 
Yet, everything was different 500 years ago. Here, in the lower part of the stream of the Daryalyk oases, the old bed of the Amudarya, with several city-fortresses, many small villages and thousands of hectares of cultivated land flourished.
It would be hard to believe it, if there were no impressive ruins and hardly visible trenches left by the irrigation canals lost in the desert. The Daryalyk, the main artery of the region, was formed in the XIII century. Paradoxically, it was the result of the damage caused to Khorezm by the Mongol conquerors.
They destroyed a dam on the Amudarya, and gushed out water flooded, first, the capital city - Gurgandzh (present Kunya Urgench), and then filled the Sarykamysh hollow and the Uzboy, the Amudarya's ancient bed through which it used to flow into the Caspian Sea.
In the late XIV century, the Turkmen tribes took advantage of this water influx by creating here a vast irrigation network. Perhaps, it was then that the city-fortress of Ak-Kala appeared on the shore of one of the Daryalyk's ducts. 
The terrain is well explored by archeologists. They found three very old towns, a cave city, Sultan Ibrahim Muslim religious complex with a necropolis, mosque and tower, as well as the mentioned medieval city, Ak-Kala, at the foot of the plateau.
All these monuments were discovered in 1947 during the air reconnaissance organized by famous archaeologist Sergei Tolstov, Head of the Khorezm Expedition of Soviet Union's Academy of Sciences. Then, there followed a team of archeologists.
Upon reaching Ak-Kala, the researchers made up a schematic plan, collected ceramics from the fortress and surrounding takyrs but carried out no excavations. No digging was made afterwards as well. In this respect, the fortress is still waiting for its chance.
However, even a superficial examination can tell us a lot about the time of its construction and the nature of architecture. We must pay tribute to its builders: they planned the urban core in the form of a regular square with absolutely right angles facing the cardinal points.
The length of each side is 280 meters. In addition to the towers in the corners, there are five intermediate ones with a horseshoe-shaped plan in each wall.  The city walls built of mud bricks rise by almost 6 meters, and their thickness at the base is more than 2 meters.
To strengthen the defense along the perimeter of the walls, there is a rifle gallery protected from the outside with the parapet and loopholes. There are two rows of shooting platforms and two rows of loopholes in the towers accordingly.
The firing was carried out in lying position and kneeled. For an enemy it was hard to get closer to these walls because of the wide moat around the fortress. Inside, the city walls were often reinforced by buttresses.
False towers were built at the broad gate in the north-west wall. From here, the main eight-meter-wide street stretched straightly all the way to a small pool (howuz) at the opposite wall. Side streets crossed this axis and formed blocks of clay houses, often with foundations of stone slabs. It is hard to make out the whole topography under the layer of ruins almost smoothed by wind and rain, but on the satellite images it oozes quite clearly. 
When the population became cramped within the old walls, another fortress was built in the north-western part increasing the area of the city almost by a third. Around Ak-Kala, for several kilometers there stretched traces of fields and gardens that were once surrounded with mud fences, beds of small and large channels, remains of dams and reservoirs, and pits from wooden water-wheels, pieces of which are scattered in abundance nearby. 
The fortress was named Ak-Kala after its population had abandoned it. With the retreat of water the whole oasis dried up and turned into a desert. How was this city called in the Middle Ages then? Eminent Orientals Vasily Bartold pointed to a place named "Adak", often mentioned by medieval authors and located to the west of Khorezm.
Bartold found the first mentioning of this city in the ancient chronicles dated from the middle of the XV century, when the grandson of Tamerlane, Sultan Hussein Bayqara, was not yet a powerful ruler of the Timurid state, but fought for the throne, building alliances or quarrelling with the rulers of Khorezm and the Golden Horde.
In Turkmen folklore, he is known as Soltansoyun. His court historian, Mirhond, left us "The Universal History" in seven volumes, describing the efforts of his ruler in the struggle for power. He wrote that in 1460, Hussein Bayqara, hiding from the troops of Sultan Abu Said of Samarkand, his close relative and, at the same time, sworn enemy, escaped from Astrabad, a city at the Caspian Sea, to Khorezm, and he chose the town of Adak as his temporary headquarters.
From here, he made raids on the enemy, returned here for rest and every time "was joyfully welcomed by the people."  Adak reappears a few decades later in the book by Hondemir, Mirhond's grandson, in the anonymous Turkic treatise "Nusrat-name" and in the Persian heroic poem "Fatkh-name".
They narrate about the actions of Sheibani Khan, the founder of the Khanate of Khiva. It is this future ruler of Khorezm that in 1486, according to his contemporary, "conquered, by the power of his weapons, Adak, which until then was defeated by no king". 
Until the XVI century, Adak was known among such cities as neighboring Wazir (Devkesen), Tersek (Shemakha-kala), Urgench (Kunya Urgench), as well as Durun, Nisa, Sarahs, Merv, Amul, Dargan and other places of historical events of those times.
Later, this name disappeared and was forgotten for as long as four hundred years, before Bartold reanimated it. Of course, he could not determine the precise location of Adak: at that time this area was absolutely unexplored.
However, he came to the conclusion that in the XV century one of the main routes from Iran to Khorezm ran via Adak, and the local Turkmens submitted neither to Khorasan nor Khorezm. And only in the middle of the XX century Sergei Tolstov, having personally explored the whole Sarykamysh delta, concluded that Ak-Kala was Adak.
Everything matched both in the description of the chronicles and the real situation on the map of the area. As for the name of Ak-Kala, or Akja-kala, as sometimes the fortress is referred to, historian Sahat Ovezberdyev explained it by the bright color of the adobe walls, which turn white.
There is another interpretation, in which the word "white" has a figurative meaning: "noble", "gentle", "clean"... In other words, all numerous Ak-Depe (white hill), Ak-Kala (white fortress), Ak-Rabat (white fort or white monastery), Ak-Saray (white palace) owe their names to the hereditary memory of their former owners - aristocrats, large landowners, military or religious leaders. 
One can find cities with such names almost in every region of Turkmenistan, and in neighboring countries. There are many of them in Dashoguz region too, even Kunya Urgench has its own Ak-Kala. However, there is a purely geographical interpretation of the word "ak", which in some archaic Turkic dialects means the cardinal point - the West.
In this sense, Ak-Kala is just a western fort, which is understandable, given that further to the west there is only Sarykamysh and no visible settlements. In fact, it is a distant edge of the oasis, a periphery of Khorezm, beyond which there always lay the desolate steppe.
Anyway, in the modern perception this toponym, first of all, indicates the color.  Speaking about the age of Ak-Kala, all the historical data point to the XIV - XVI centuries. It has been established that the fortress was completely abandoned already in the XVII century.
Now Ak-Kala, the White Fortress, is an impressive site on the route from Kunya Urgench to the local shrine, Ibrahim Sultan, and no matter how distant it is from other places of interest in this area, a visiting tourist will never regret it.
It is still out of the attention of travelers seeking, above all, to see colorful Khiva and glittering mausoleums of Kunya Urgench, but the most "advanced" tourists, of course, know about it. Recently, Ak-Kala, for the first time, was listed in a serious guide to Turkmenistan published in the UK.
Unlike many medieval cities of the East, the time has spared this fortress. And now, it is possible to explore methods of fortification and assess the mastery of builders of the distant past, and to feel the breath of the past centuries, touch the true evidence of history, to which nothing has been added during the last five centuries. 

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Authority:
Ruslan Muradov.  “White Fortress”ttp://www.turkmenistaninfo.ru/?page_id=6&type=article&elem_id=page_6/magazine_...

Photos
Alexander Petrov.