In the old days, wherever a traveler directed his horse the first things that loomed up before him on his way were the cogged walls of cities-fortresses. Of these forts only sand-buried ruins or remains of mud walls have survived to our time. The most impressive among them are the majestic ruins of the ancient fortified capital of antique Khoresm, known as Toprak-Kala. The origination of this settlement dates back to early 1st millennium. Located in Ellikkala region of Karakalpakstan and covering the area of more than 17 hectares, this settlement is encircled along its perimeter by mighty adobe brick walls with numerous towers. Arched loopholes cut the battlement topped with merlons. From the main entrance gate all through its territory the town was intersected by thoroughfare from which there run diametrical streets.
The northern part of Toprak-Kala contained a big Fire Temple with a sanctuary and a front square. In the north-west there towered the stronghold of the Khorezm rulers. This fortified palace is one of the most remarkable architectural constructions of Oriental antiquity. The palace was erected in the 2nd century and is placed on a high base thus dominating other structures of the city. Three huge full-squared towers rose above the main construction of the palace. Massive walls were partitioned by semi columns.
Archeologists unearthed and restored the general outline of the palace layout. There were more than one hundred rooms in the palace: large halls, enfilade of small rooms, residential apartments and inner courtyards. The palace also housed archival depository, storerooms and craftsmen workshops. The ceremonial halls, separated from other premises by arched passages, one by one opened up before the visitors’ eyes their splendidly decorated interiors. Along the walls on special pedestals there were statues and high-reliefs imaging local kings and queens, court dignitaries, local gods and armed dark- and red-skinned warriors which were kind of guarding the lord of Khorezm.
In the Hall of Victories, soaring allegoric feminine figures in long streamy attire flanked the throne elevation where the ruler used to sit. All sculptural compositions of Toprak-Kala were made of burnt gault or gypsum and painted, which added them emotionality and expressiveness.
The interior of the palace impresses with its brilliance. Many fragments of wall paintings survived to the present day. The wall-paintings of large halls are characterized by intense crimson and red hues, whereas in other premises there were found standing out against light background images of elegant women with fancy coiffure and rich jewelry, as well as musicians playing harp and image of a young scrivener carrying scrolls on a tray.
Unlike the ceremonial halls, some premises in the western part of the palace were apparently meant for ordinary receptions, and that is why they have a plainer interior decoration. Thus in the Red Hall quite visible is the outline of a tiger – a common habitant of the riverside tugai thickets. Other room contains the high-relief imaging deer enclosed in vinery and pomegranate trees.
Toprak-Kala settlement with its palace of Khorezm rulers – one of the most ancient secular constructions in Central Asia- is included into the UNESCO World Heritage List.