The Ruins of Konye Urgench in Turkmenistan

Inside of the dome of the Turabek-Khanum Mausoleum

In eastern Turkmenistan, not far from the Uzbekistan border, lies the ruins Konye-Urgench. The city dates all the way back to the 4/5th century but today only a few buildings constructed between the 11th and16th centuries remain.

The city was the capital of the Iranian Khwarazmian civilisation and sat at one of the cross roads of the Silk Road – the network of trading routes that connected China with the Mediterranean – which enriched it over the centuries.

The entrance of the Turabek-Khanum Mausoleum
The Turabek-Khanum Mausoleum
Inside of the dome of the Turabek-Khanum Mausoleum. The surface is covered in colourful mosaic which forms intricate ornamental patterns consisting of flowers and stars, creating a visual metaphor for the heavens.
The Turabek-Khanum Mausoleum from a distance

In 1221, Genghis Khan destroyed the city in the Mongol invasion of Central Asia. Despite the devastating effects of the invasion, the city was revived and it regained its previous status.

Visiting in the 14th century, the great Berber traveller Ibn Battuta desctibed it as “the largest, greatest, most beautiful and most important city of the Turks.”

Shortly after that though, Amir Timur, the founder of the Timurid dynasty, razed the city to the ground after a Sufi uprising and massacred the population. The city never really recovered after that. In 1700, it was finally abandoned.

The Kutlug-Timur Minaret
The impressive 60 metre tall Kutlug-Timur Minaret dates to the 11th and 12th centuries

Only the ruins of a few mosques, mausoleums and a minaret remain but elements of the city’s art and architectural style live on through the civilisations they influenced.

Examples of this style can be found across the Muslim world and beyond in Uzbekistan, Iran, Afghanistan and later in the Mughul Empire of 16th century India and Pakistan.

Some of the few remaining structures at Konye Urgench
The Il-Arslan mausoleum. The architectural style developed in Konye Urgench influenced numerous other Muslim civilisations including the Timurids in modern day Uzbekistan. A multitude of buildings in Samarkand were erected by builders and architects employed from Kunya Urgench in the 14th century.
A nearby dromedary of the Arabian variety