The flat top of the west hill of Mizdakhan Complex, located near Hojeyli, Karakalpakstan, is crowned with the majestic ruins of ancient settlement Gyaur-Kala. Impressive even today, the 10-meter-high fortress walls run along the edges of the steep cliffs of the hill. Within the walls there are complex labyrinth-like remains of two citadels dating back to different epochs. The earliest of them has turrets. Some archeologists believe that these turrets were not only fortifications but also served as cult structures. The excavations in the other citadel revealed a large inner yard surrounded by ceremonial, dwelling and household quarters, decorated with paintings and clay carving. Facing the necropolis of Mizdakhan is the crumbled part of a huge arch once decorating the town’s gate. All over the area of the settlement there are hillocks burying ancient constructions.
For an inexperienced person it will be difficult to make out the outlines of Gyaur-Kala settlement, but Uzbek scholars have determined that in the 4th century BC the Mizdakhan hills accommodated a town called Mazda – a large commercial and craft center of Khorezm, through which one of the north arteries of the Great Silk Road ran. The evidence of this are the remains of fabrics with gold threads, cowry shells from the Indian Ocean and coral beads found during the excavation works.
The Russian archeologist and orientalist S. Tolstov, who for a few dozen years researched into the ruins of ancient Khorezm fortresses and towns, came to the conclusion that Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest world religions, originated in this region; it was Khorezm from where Zoroastrianism began spreading out to other Asian countries. Many scholars, supporting this conclusion, believe that it is here, in the environs of Hojeily, Zoroaster himself wrote the first gats - the hymns of the holy Zoroastrian book Avesta. No one calls into question the fact that Mazda was inhabited by fire-worshipers – the followers of Zoroastrianism.
In 712 the Arabian army, led by the military leader Kuteyba ibn Muslim, invaded Khorezm. For the next 70 years after the invasion the local population fiercely resisted the Muslim invaders. It was then that the town got the name Gyaur-Kala, ‘fortress of the unfaithful’, for Muslims looked upon fire-worshippers as pagans.
Archeologists determined Gyaur-Kala’s cultural layer to be up to 10 meters deep and to cover the time period from the 4th century BC to the early 13th century AD. Much happened within that period. The local beliefs become customs practiced along with new Islamic rituals. The town’s residents lived through good and bad times, but none of them could even conceive of disaster that Mongolian invaders would bring. In 1220 the army of the khan Juchi, Genghis-khan’s son, razed the town to the ground.
In the nearby lowland, among the sands, there shows up the quarters’ layout of Shakhar-Antakiya urban settlement of the 13th-14th centuries, where Gyaur-Kala residents moved to after the Mongolian invasion. The excavation of this settlement revealed dwelling houses and craftsmen shops with a lot of fragments of ceramic and metal objects, creamery and wine cellars. In one of the neighborhoods archeologists unearthed a namazgoh mosque in the courtyard of which there was a sewerage system made of big ceramic pipes, which is a vivid evidence of high engineering level of the town’s residents. But soon this town perished in the sands.
Gyaur-Kala is the highest hill in the area. On its clay slopes the local people neither graze their cattle, nor do they grow orchids. From the citadel walls the surrounding steppe can be seen to the distance of dozens of kilometers away. The ruins of Gyaur-Kala have been standing here for eight centuries, reminding us of the times of ancient Khorezm’s prosperity.