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Ancient Panjikent

Ancient Panjikent is unique in that none of the area has been built over or destroyed to make room for farming.  Its buildings, dwellings, temples, streets and lanes have been preserved to this day.(

Ancient Panjikent could be compared with internationally-famed archaeological sites such as Afrasiyab, Varahsha, Paikent (Uzbekistan), Niso, Merv (Turkmenistan), Ak-tyube, Taraz, Otrar (Kazakhstan), Ustrushan, Kafir-kala, Hulbuk (Tajikistan) and Chakalak-Tepa (Afghanistan).

Archaeological excavations cover about half the area.  A governor’s citadel located on a separate hill and cemeteries have been excavated.  Ancient Panjikent is a monument from the pre-Islamic era.  The Sogdians lived there in the 5th-8th century.  They were the ancestors of the modern Tajiks living in the Zaravshon valley.(

The main elements remaining of the ancient city are the settlements (an area of 13.5 hectares), a governor’s citadel (2.5 hectares), Rabad (country estates and the surrounding area of 70 hectares) and a cemetery.  Shahristan is actually a city surrounded by fortifications.  Two Zoroastrian temples, estates with wall paintings, eight streets, a market, shops, craft workshops and defence works have been uncovered within the city.  Prosperous Sogdian houses in ancient Panjikent had formal main halls with wall paintings made of glutinous paints applied to dry plaster, and carved wooden reliefs.(  

Sogdians incorporated the developments of other great civilizations of that time.  Byzantine, Iranian and Indian influences can be seen in their artwork, but Sogdian art had its own unique style within which there were many variations.  Sogdian painting reflected the literature, folklore, ceremonies and customs of the people about which almost nothing was known about them before the beginning of excavations in Panjikent began.(

Merchants who traded along the Great Silk Road, which stretched from Rome and Byzantium to China, lived in the city.  One of the routes of the Silk Road passed through Panjikent.  It is now known that Sogdian dealers profited greatly from Silk Road trade, acting as intermediaries between the East and the West.  Panjikent gives a fuller picture not only of Sogdian city culture, but also of the whole Silk Road.  Sogdians of ancient Panjikent were not only the largest organizers of international trade in Asia, and thanks to this many of the cultural treasures of one of the Asian people groups were carried to the furthest regions.

Kuhandiz (Panjikent citadel) covers an area of more than 2.5 hectares and its layout has a very similar layout to Varahsh (Bukhara) citadel.  The palace and the castle had internal fortifications and the east and south sides of the castle had two lines of walls.(

Long-term excavations have shown that there were two large buildings – a dungeon and a palace in the citadel – until the Arabian invasion. The dungeon consists of a 26m x 26m platform 2.5m above the surrounding courtyard area and a socle above an 8m high platform spanning 18m x 18m.

The main building of the citadel was the palace complex.  It was excavated at the foot of the governor’s palace.  This complex consists of a three-storied hall sized 22m x 12.5m, with a royal throne colonnade and three small (11m x 10m) halls.  On the west, southwest and north of the palace there is a main veranda 12m long and a main corridor 45m long.  Based on the remaining painting left on the surface of the walls it is likely that all the main premises were decorated with multicoloured paintings.  The palace building was surrounded by farm premises and dwellings for the governor’s staff on the south, east and north sides.  The palace and Shahristan suffered badly from fire in 721-722.  The main premises were burnt and all the paintings were taken down from the walls and destroyed.(

The cemetery is located south/southwest of Shahristan.  It really is a unique pre-Islamic Sogdian cemetery.  Before excavation the cemetery as a whole was a long chain and groups of separate mounds.  Rabad is a suburban settlement located east/southeast of Shahristan.  Panjikent Rabad covers an area several times larger that the city.  It had more than twenty mounds located separate from each other.  Excavations have shown that the mounds consisted of separate houses with three or four rooms.  Each of them had a specific purpose: bedroom, kitchen, guestroom, workroom, etc.  In the majority of houses in Shahristan there was a slope leading to the second floor or the roof.

From studying the suburban houses, it is clear that in the 7th-8th centuries Panjikent Rabad had started to become a single topographical organism indivisible from the early feudal cities.  After a while these would have been included in the city boundaries and surrounded by a defensive wall like we see in Samarkand, Bukhara, Khojand, Termez and other medieval cities.

The excavations in the ancient settlement have allowed study of the fuller picture of the construction business and the basic features of the city’s architecture.  Panjikent architects were familiar with Mesopotamian, Bactrian, and Iranian architectural traditions.  Ancient Panjikent shows the priority of universal values and respect for national property.  Here we can see clearly what a high level Central Asian culture had already reached in those ancient times, thus connecting it with all the main centres of development of world civilisation.(

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