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Shakpak-ata mosque.

Tours to Shakpak ata mosque on Mangistau. 

“I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers” 

Langston Hughes.

Sights of Shakpak ata mosque on Mangystau.

Located 90km north of Aktau, on the cliffs of the northwestern tip of the Mangyshlak Peninsula, this mosque is cut into the vertical slopes of limestone bedrock bordering a valley with a seasonal stream.
Necropolis ShakpakaAta (X - XIII c.c.) and the underground mosque are located at Tupkargan peninsula, 15 km from Sarytash bay. Shakpak-ata dates to the IX - X centuries AD, making it the oldest in Mangyshlak, and overlooks a huge necropolis.
The entrance consists of a portal flanked on both sides by artificial grottoes, each occupied by a burial place, including the later grave of Shakpak-ata. The inside of the cave has a complex cross-like shape, with a series of lateral niches and a central vaulted room which, supported by four columns and having a hole in the roof, clearly imitates a yurt.
The plan of Shakpak-ata is unique in Mangyshlak, and shows similarities with some early Persian mosques and with the mausoleum-mosque of Shir-Kabir in Dehistan (Turkmenistan), also dated to the same time.
Another unique aspect of this underground mosque is that large portions of its walls are covered with petroglyphs and graffiti. The oldest images, attributed to the Oguz people, represent handprints, and the later drawings, attributed to the Adai tradition, represent horses and scenes of battle executed with a very high aesthetic value.
Legend tells that Shakpak-ata was the grandson of Shopan-Ata. He was an ascetic dervish who took refuge in the cave with his disciples at a time when enemies were assaulting the region, and spent the last years of his life as a hermit, never leaving the cave.
It is also said that the ancient Sufi masters gave asylum to sick people in their underground shelters in order to heal them, and that even today a night spent in these caves in the company of benevolent spirits will cure most diseases.
Shakpak-ata mosque has  a shape of a Latin cross. It is cutout in the slope of the stone cape between two ravines going down the slope of Ungazy mountain. Cruciate shape of the mosque allowes to think of another intent of the mosque in pre-Islamic times.
Shakpak-ata mosque  shows bright fitures of nomadic stone work. Entrance to the mosque is  formed as a portal arch, several recesses for the deposition of passed away preachers are cutout nearby.
The mosque has a shape of a regular cross with the elongated southern beam. Corners of central square hall are decorated with massive columns as if they support the high arch with the round light opening in the middle.
The archs between the columns have traces of polychrome wall-painting. In the western flanker of the mosque there are small reclusories. Walls of the mosque halls, portal and deposition recesses are covered with paintings of different times – contour images of horses and riders, bulls, open palms, floral tracery. 
A Sufi poem of this world frailty and life fugacity stands out among the other inscriptions.   

Underground mosque Shakpak-ata.Underground mosque Shakpak-ata.Underground mosque Shakpak-ata.Underground mosque Shakpak-ata.Underground mosque Shakpak-ata.Underground mosque Shakpak-ata.Underground mosque Shakpak-ata.

Authority:
The guidebook across Kazakhstan . Authors Dagmar Schreiber and Jeremy Tredinnick.   Publishing house "Odyssey".2010. The information from this book is given by author Dagmar Schreiber. 

Alexander Petrov
 photos.