Burana Tower


   From Bishkek to Issyk-Kul, the Burana Tower, east of Kegeti, is the remnant of a huge brick minaret, 24 meters high. According to legend, it was built in the 11th century, but some of it can now be traced back to the Soviet Revival in the 1950s. You can climb the tower, or head northwest from the alpine meadow, and use the distant mountains as the curtain to appreciate its slightly inclined structure. This is an ancient castle left by Balasagun, built by the Sogdians. It later became the capital of the Karakhanids and was excavated by Soviet archaeologists in the 1970s.

   The tower was originally 45 m (148 ft) high; the upper part of it was adorned with a lantern dome with four doorways looking out the four cardinal points. However, over the centuries many number of earthquakes caused significant damage to the structure. The last major earthquake in the 15th century destroyed the top half of the tower, reducing it to its current height of 25 m (82 ft). In the early 1900s, Russian immigrants to the area used some of the bricks from the tower for new building projects. A renovation project was carried out in the 1970s to restore its foundation and repair the west-facing side of the tower, which was in danger of collapse. The renovations sought to restore the structure to its original appearance, rather than spiff it up unnecessarily. A close inspection of the tower reveals neat architectural details, like the intricate brick patterning. Like many monumental brick constructions from this era, the minaret leans ever so slightly to one side. That it has survived  destruction in one of the most seismically active regions in the world testifies to its structural soundness, however.

The Legend of Burana

   A legend connected with the tower says that a witch warned a local king that his newly-born daughter would die once she reached the age of sixteen by a deadly spider. To protect her, he built a tall tower where he sequestered his daughter. No one entered the tower, except the daughter’s servant who brought her food. The daughter grew up alone and became a beautiful young lady. One day, however, a poisonous spider was hiding in the food brought by the servant. The spider bit the girl, and she died in the tower, at the age of 16.


   The Karakhanid kaganate (who built Burana) in the 10-12th centuries was a great feudal state in Central Asia. One of the capital cities of the state was the city of Balasagun, founded by the Karakhanids in the middle of the l0th century in the eastern part of the Chu valley. The history of the town was a short one. In 1218 Balasagun yielded to the front line troops of the myriad Mongol horde and by the middle of the XIV century ceased to exist. Archaeologists discovered that the town had a complicated layout covering some 25-30 square kilometers. They discovered ruins of a central fortress, some handicraft shops, bazaars, four religious buildings, domestic dwellings, a bathhouse, a plot of arable land and a water main (pipes delivering water from a nearby canyon) despite no other structures remaining. Two rings of walls surrounded the town in which you can see the remnants from the top of the tower. Gravestone texts, of local Christians – Nestorians, as well as those with Arabic texts suggest that residents of Balasagyn died from the plague, which raged here in the XIV century.

   Today, the entire site covers about 36 hectares, including the mausoleums, castle foundations, and grave markers. A very small museum on the site contains historical information as well as artifacts found at the site and in the surrounding region (ancient jars, coins, a board game, 3D topographical map of Kyrgyzstan, etc.) The grounds include the tower itself, reconstructions of mausoleums found on the site, a 100 square meter & 10-meter high mound (all that remains of an original palace/citadel from the 10th century), and a field of petroglyphs.

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