Ancient Urgench

Urgench, Ancient


(also Gurganch, Gurgandzh, Dzhurdzhania), the capital of feudal Khwarazm. Ruins of ancient Urgench are located near the settlement of Kunia-Urgench in the Turkmen SSR. The date of the founding of Urgench has not been established. The first written references to the city date from the tenth century, when Urgench was already the capital of Northern Khwarazm and a major handicraft and trading center. In the late tenth century, after the unification of Southern and Northern Khwarazm, Urgench became the capital of the united Khwarazm state. In 1221 the city was sacked by the Mongols. It was taken by Jochi in 1224 and was soon rebuilt.

In the mid-13th century, Urgench became part of the Golden Horde and remained important as a handicraft, trading, and administrative center. In the mid-14th century, Khwarazm won its freedom from the Golden Horde, and Urgench became its capital once again. In 1388 the city was destroyed by Tamerlane. It was partially rebuilt in 1391 but did not grow to any significant extent. In the 17th century, Urgench ceased to exist as a city.

The site of ancient Urgench has numerous ruins. The mausoleum of Fahr al-din Razi (second half of the 12th century), a cubic building crowned by a 12-sided tentlike cupola on a 12-sided drum, has a front facade ornamented with carved terra-cotta. The mausoleum of Tekesh (late 12th to early 13th century) is built on a rectangular plan and has a conical tentlike cupola on an undulating drum. Also of interest is the minaret of Kutlug-Tamerlane (between 1321 and 1333), a high pillar tapering to a cone and ornamented with belts of patterned brickwork and a strip of inscriptions. The site also has a khanaka (almshouse) with the mausoleum of Nadzhmeddin Kubra (first third of the 14th century), which features a portal with three cupolas and tombstones ornamented with multicolor glazed tiles; the tiles are notable for their rich floral design and calligraphic ornamentation. Another interesting piece of architecture is the portal of a 14th-century caravansery with multicolor inlaid tiles. Tiurabek Khanym (1360’s) is the intricately designed mausoleum of the Sufi dynasty with a portal topped by a high triple cupola on a drum; the drum is ornamented with a mosaic of a geometric floral design.

Excavations conducted in Urgench in 1929 by A. Iu. Iakubovskii and in 1952 by S. P. Tolstov yielded articles relating to the culture of Khwarazm and the history of feudal cities in Central Asia.


Trudy Khorezmskoi arkheologo-etnograficheskoi ekspeditsii, vol. 2. Moscow, 1958.
Piliavskii, V. I. Kunia-Urgench, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1974.