Kunya-Urgench is located in the territory of Dashoguz velayat of Turkmenistan. It is situated in the north-western Turkmenistan, on the left bank of the Amu-Daria River. Urgench was the capital of the Khorezm region, which was part of the Achaemenid Empire.
The old town area contains series of monuments mainly from the 11th to 16th centuries. This area has remained a vast deserted land with some remains of ancient fortified settlements, including a mosque, the gates of a caravanserai, fortresses, mausoleums and a 60-m high minaret. In 2005, the ruins of Old Urgench were inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.
The overall integrity of Kunya-Urgench as an archaeological site results from its historical condition. Having been abandoned for more than three centuries, and then used as a graveyard, the area has remained relatively intact. Accordingly, Kunya-Urgench is considered to have retained its integrity better than most other sites in Central Asia as the attributes of the property are still present.
These are authentic and rich examples of fine architecture and building traditions existing for centuries. The level of conservation varies amongst the buildings, and the most substantial restoration work has been carried out in the past thirty years, during the soviet era, using traditional methods and materials.
This minaret is perhaps one of the most striking structures which remains standing at the site. It dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries, and it measures 60 meters in height, making it the highest monument in the park. Additionally, its diameter measures 12 meters at the base, and 2 at the top.
On the basis of its decorative brickwork, including Kufic inscriptions, the minaret is thought to be an earlier construction, only restored by Kutlug-Timur around 1330.
Named after Turabek-Khanum, the wife of Kutlug-Timur (ruled between 1321 and 1336), this structure is located at the northern part of ancient Gurgench. It is remarkable for its elegant design and stunning tile decoration, and it is a highly sophisticated work of architecture, both in its conceptualisation of spaces and in its engineering. Both are fully utilised in a conscious way to achieve a visual, aesthetic and spiritual effect.
The original building was composed of two chambers: a large domed hall and a smaller one behind it. The large chamber is twelve-sided on the exterior and hexagonal on the interior, being preceded by an entrance portal and a vestibule.
One of the most impressive architectural features of the mausoleum is the circular dome covering the main hall, whose surface is covered in colourful mosaic which forms intricate ornamental patterns consisting of flowers and stars, creating a visual metaphor for the heavens. No comparable contemporary parallels can be found at Urgench, as some of the architectural features, such as the decorations mentioned above, do not appear in other monuments built during the lifetime of Turabek-Khanum, around 1330. Thus, it is difficult to date the building so early. These features do, however, appear in Central Asia later, during the reign of Timur, a warlord of Turco-Mongol descent. New technologies, such as mosaic faience, show up in Timur's earliest buildings, such as the Aq Saray palace in Shahrisabz, in Uzbekistan, which was begun in 1379 but was still unfinished in 1404.
This structure is the presumed Tomb of Sultan Ala al-din Tekesh, the founder of the Khwarezm Empire and its ruler between 1172-1200. It has been identified as a mausoleum due to the tradition that each ancient Central Asian building is dedicated to a historical or mythical personage.
The building is made of bricks and consists of a square hall with walls which are 11,45 meters high, a massive round drum and a conical roof with an inner dome hidden under it. The dome is connected to the square walls it rests upon by an octagonal belt. The structure between the dome and the octagon is decorated with 16 shallow niches. Their form is not lancet-like as those commonly found in the Islamic architecture of Central Asia, but rather semicircular. This is a motif that can be found in the marble 8th-century mihrab at the Baghdad Museum, and has seldom been used in Central Asia: another comparable case that can be found in Turkmenistan is that of the mihrab of Muhammad Ibn Zayd's 11th-century mosque, from Merv. However, the two are located too far away to be considered prototypes.
The external conical roof is built of horizontal layers using the technique of a false vault. From the inside, it is strengthened with 12 buttresses standing upon the internal dome. Although this might seem like a risky construction technique, the roof is not in bad condition: only the top is destroyed, and the blue majolica[disambiguation needed] decoration slightly damaged.
One of the special features of the building's architecture is its façade. It presents a high portal niche with the main archway, which has now lost its original form. Interestingly, the lancet arch of the portal is filled by a complicated system of stalactite -like forms, which is a decorative motif made of terracotta and fixed on wooden sticks within the brickwork.
Research concerning this structure has given rise to speculations that the Mausoleum of Tekesh might have lied at the centre of some large construction that consisted of a multitude of buildings. Thus, certain scholars would argue that the building served a different purpose from that of a mausoleum, such as, for example, a House of Government or a Palace of the Great Khwarazm-shahs.
Kyrkmolla is a 12 meter high mound which used to constitute a fortress. It is located in the north-eastern outskirts of Gurgench. It is particularly significant as the earliest ceramics discovered at the site, dating back to the 5th century BC, were located here. It is protected by a thick mud-brick wall which dates back to the 10th to 14th centuries, and has been partially rebuilt after archaeological excavations.
Najm-ad-Din al-Kubra Mausoleum, Sultan Ali Mausoleum
and Piryar Vali Mausoleum Complex
This complex is situated in the centre of the new town of Kunya-Urgench, within a Muslim cemetery. The Najm-ad-Din al-Kubra Mausoleum was erected in the first half of the 14th century, and derives its name from the philosopher, painter, physician, chess master and general Ahmed Ibn Omar Najm-Ad-Din al-Kubra, the founder of the Kubrawiya Sufi order. This is one of the structures which was rebuilt during the Khorezm era of prosperity, and also after the Mongol invasion.
The Mausoleum of Sultan Ali, who ruled in the 16th century, is located across. It is a hexagonal monument, with a dome measuring 9.5 meters in diameter.
The Mausoleum of Piryar Vali, a contemporary of Najm-Ad-Din al-Kubra, is located to the west of the latter's mausoleum, and was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. It is 6.5 meters high and measures 7.5 meters in length.
Il Arslan Mausoleum
Il Arslan is a magnificent piece of architecture, also known among the people as the Mausoleum of Kho-Rezmshah II Arslan, who ruled from 1156 to 1172. The mausoleum, dating to the 12th century, is the oldest standing monument in Gurgench.
The building has a cuboidal structure of baked brick similar to the earliest existing Islamic mausoleum in Central Asia, the early 10th-century mausoleum of the Samanids in Bukhara, but instead of a hemispherical dome it has a faceted conical roof. The structure is decorated with a motif carved in relief into brick panels, a frieze containing an aphorism written in beautiful script, and with carved vegetal motifs displaying variations of an arabesque pattern. The decorative scheme of the dome presents a tiling technique executed in turquoise glazed brick tiles, forming a geometric pattern.
According to some of the latest scientific discoveries, one of the structure's functions, at a certain point, was that of storing water.
Ibn Khajib Complex
This monument is dedicated to Inb Khajib, one of Najm-ad-Din al-Kubra's talented disciples. It is located in the western part of ancient Urgench and it consists of a complex of monuments, all constructed in different periods of time, from the 14th to the 19th centuries.
Ak-Kala is a fortress located southwest of the ruins of medieval Urgench. Its walls, whose height ranges from 6 to 8 meters, and which measure approximately 2 meters at the top, stretch on more than a kilometre. They were built with sun dried mud-bricks and their corners are decorated with semi-circular towers, whilst the inner side of the fortress wall is sustained by buttresses.