Qurgashin qala is known as Kurgashin Kala in Russian. We use the Latin transliteration of the Qaraqalpaq spelling.

Qurgashin Qala from the west
Qurgashin qala from the west.

Qurgashin qala lies about 24km due east of Ayaz qala. From Ayaz qala Yurt Camp return on the rough track that runs south from Ayaz qala 2 until you reach the metalled road. Continue south for a further 1.4km, crossing the canal and taking the first left. Drive east for 6.3km and turn left at the t-junction. After a further 2km this new road bends sharply to the right - the ruins of Little Qırq Qız qala can be seen to the north of the road on the left.

From this bend the road now continues in a straight easterly direction all the way to Qurgashin qala. Some 4.5km from the bend you first pass close to Big Qırq Qız qala on the left, and after 8.2km you cross a bridge over the canal. Finally after 18.5km from the bend you reach Qurgashin qala, which is situated in a prominent elevated position on the right of the road.

Qurgashin qala

Qurgashin qala was one of the frontier fortresses defending the northern flank of Khorezm from nomadic attack. It was built around the end of the 4th or possibly in the early 3rd century BC. It may have been garrisoned by professional troops.

Plan of Qurgashin Qala
Plan of Qurgashin qala.
Image courtesy of Associate Professor Alison Betts, University of Sydney Central Asian Programme.

A preliminary investigation of Qurgashin qala was undertaken by Sergey Tolstov and some of his colleagues from the Khorezm Archaeological Expedition in 1939. More detailed excavations were undertaken by Kolyakov in 1986 and 1991 and the military architecture was studied by Xojaniyazov in the 1980s.

The fort is dramatically situated on the edge of a slightly elevated plateau so that when seen from the west it appears to be raised up above the level of the desert plain. It is this south-western flank that is in the best preserved condition.

Qurgashin Qala
The fort of Qurgashin qala looks more imposing from the foot of the escarpment.
View from the south-west.

The citadel is rectangular, measuring about 130 metres long and 90 metres wide, and it is oriented so that its corners face the four cardinal directions. There is an outer and an inner perimeter wall, separated by a space of roughly two metres for the provision of archers' galleries. The unfired mud- brick walls are built on a paqsa base and are slightly inclined inwards. In some places today they reach as high as 14 to 16 metres.

Curtain wall at Qurgashin Qala
The best preserved section of the outer curtain wall at Qurgashin qala.
Note the two tiers of loopholes.

View from a loophole at Qurgashin Qala
View from one of the arrow-shaped loopholes at Qurgashin qala.

The fort has a rather irregular design every corner is reinforced with a different arrangement of tower, either rectangular or semi-oval and either single or in pairs. The external curtain walls and towers contain two tiers of arrow-shaped loopholes.

Rectangular tower at Qurgashin Qala
Remains of one of the rectangular towers at Qurgashin qala.

The single entrance is positioned in the centre of the south-east wall and is defended by a rectangular barbican.

Qurgashin Qala
Badly eroded section around the entrance to Qurgashin qala.

The fortress was surrounded on three sides by a low outer defensive barrier or wall, known as a proteichisma, built of mud-brick about 10 metres out from the curtain walls. This did not extend around the south-western flank of the fort since this was protected by the natural escarpment of the site. The proteichisma made it difficult for attackers to get close or to manoeuvre siege engines up to the fortress wall.

Qurgashin Qala
The interior of Qurgashin qala.

Unlike Ayaz qala 1, Qurgashin qala was not an open refuge but was completely occupied with residential buildings. It sat in the centre of a large agricultural area, watered by a large canal with many side channels. The oasis was occupied by many small settlements surrounding the central qala. Today the whole area surrounding the site is covered with fragments of pottery.

Qurgashin Qala just before sunset
Qurgashin qala just before sunset.

A second stage of construction seems to have taken place at the site around the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD, when the barbican was modified and an entrance ramp was added. The fortress continued to be occupied up until the end of the 3rd to 4th centuries AD, after which it was abandoned, as was the surrounding agricultural oasis. We assume that the cause was a natural drying-up of the local water supply

Google Earth Coordinates

Unfortunately this region of Qaraqalpaqstan is not well covered on Google Earth. The following reference point (in degrees and digital minutes) will enable you to only roughly locate Qurgashin qala.

  Google Earth Coordinates
Place Latitude North      Longitude East     
Qurgashin qala 42º   2.040 61º 19.340

Note that these are not GPS measurements taken on the ground.

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