Jambas-Kala

One hundred and sixty kilometers northward from Urgench on the territory of Ellikala District of Karakalpakstan there lies one of the most remarkable Central Asian antique monuments – ancient fortified settlement Jambas-Kala, which dates back to the 4th century B.C. The fortress was built on a barren upland which closes a chain of hills stretching south-east from Sultanuizdag mountains.

Covered at some spots with sand dunes, these double, five-metre-thick walls reach 10 metres in height. Between the outer and inner walls of the fortress there is a 3-metre-wide passageway. The lower parts of the walls, up to the level of embrasures, is wattle and daub with streaks of brickwork, whereas the upper parts are made of adobe bricks 40x40 centimetres in size.

Around the whole periphery, the outer walls of the fortress have high, narrow arrow-shaped embrasures arrayed in two staggered rows. Between the rows, from inside, there were built gangways for accommodation of fortress defenders. The narrow 20-centimetre-wide embrasures were specially designed to shoot arrows at the foot of the walls, almost vertically downward. Therefore the bottom of the embrasures has steep slopes facing outside. Jambas-Kala is quite distinct from most Central Asian fortresses: it has neither corner nor in-wall turrets. However, the builders of the fortress provided for all the actions to repulse enemy’s attacks. To rebut the assailants on the flanks there were arranged systems of three embrasures: the central one being directed straight and two side ones vectored sideways – right and left. Each group of such embrasures was built in a small arched niche which provided space for just one archer. Such systems of embrasures in the walls of the fortress alternated with a set of 20-30 ordinary embrasures.

Fortification art of Jambas-Kala architects can be fully seen in the well-preserved intricate construction built to fortify the only gate to the city. A rectangular wall projection at the gate contains a narrow maze-like passage formed by five turret-like bastions with curves at a right angle. On all sides this passage could be raked with arrows. In case the assaulters managed to get to the gate the defenders of the fortress could confront them face to face from two vaulted passages leading from the gangway inside the walls.

From the fortress gate there runs a wide 30-metre-wide street. On either side of the street there were two large residential areas consisting of about 200 dwellings. This fact allowed the archeologists to arrive at a conclusion that the adult population of Janbas-Kala was about 2000 people. In the ruins of Jambas-Kala there was found a huge amount of ceramic fragments, terracotta statuettes and various artifacts made of metal. Besides, the archeologists unearthed bracelets, signet-rings, jade and crystalline pyrite beads, and, notably, a large number of glass beads of various shapes and colours. Such glass beads were wide-spread in the northern Black Sea area, which proves well-established foreign trade connections of ancient Khorezm.

Jambas-Kala residents professed Zoroastrianism – one of the world’s oldest religions which for more than a thousand years dominated a huge area between Khorezm and India, Xinjiamg and the Middle East. Across from the gate, at the other end of the town, there were found the ruins of a fire temple. It was the centre of spiritual life of Jambas-Kala population. Inside the temple there still remains an oval pedestal on which the holy fire in metal altar used to burn day and night, as was prescribed by religious ritual. In the sanctuary there is a partly ruined long stone bench for the priests who were to keep the eternal fire by feeding it with fruit tree twigs. It was the place where they performed the fire purification ceremony and sang Avesta hymns.

In the 1st century the settlement was attacked by nomads. With the help of a battering-ram they managed to break the wall open and burst inside the fortress. The enormous number of metallic arrow-heads of two types found here testifies to a fierce fight that took place inside the fortress. Most of the defendants were probably killed in the battle, the rest were captured and sold as slaves. The fire temple and residents’ dwellings were destroyed and burned down. Within two thousand years that followed this tragic event, rain and wind eroded away and buried in sand dunes the survived constructions, and today only the walls of the fortress still remind us of the former grandeur of Jambas-Kala.