There are about 240 archeological monuments in Tashkent – Uzbekistan’s capitalt. The oldest of them is believed to be the ancient Shash-Tepa settlement, which is situated within the precincts of the city near Southern Railway Station. Apart from being the oldest monument in Tashkent Province, Shash-Tepa has the only fire-worshippers’ temple discovered by the archeologists on the territory of the province.
The excavations on Shash-Tepa mound revealed ruins of a few settlements, dating back to different epochs. The earliest of them proved that people began to settle in Tashkent oasis as early as 5th–4th centuries BC. The archeological finds in the lower cultural layers showed that those who lived here were farmers and cattle-breeders. They used earthenware, practiced weaving and smelted bronze and iron. Apparently the raids of nomadic neighbors made these people leave their modest dwellings, which then for dozens of years were beaten by winds and rains.
At the end of the 3rd century BC in the center of the settlement, on the banks of the Salar River, there was built an earth mound that served as a base for a monumental fortress. This fortification structure, 45 metres in diameter, was surrounded by double ring of 20-meter fortification walls with a roofed corridor inside. Even today the remains of the walls look very impressive: 6 meters in height, the walls were made of pakhsa-beaten clay and large adobe blocks, and had numerous loopholes.
The excavations showed that the inside of the fortress had a cruciform layout. Some of its vaults and arched doorways have survived. The scholars came to the conclusion that this structure was used both as a fortress and a temple. A cross inside a circle, which is exactly what the layout of the fortress resembles, was the ancient symbol of the Sun characteristic of Zoroastrian fire-worshippers.
Shash-Tepa settlement and the temple had apparently existed till the Arabs conquered Tashkent. The temple was not only the place where religious rites used to be performed; some of the rooms were used for burying the priests’ remains and for commemorating the ancestors.
In those distant times Shash was already a large Silk Road trading center. In Shash-Tepa they excavated objects that had been made in Hellenistic Black Sea countries, India and Asia Minor. Among them were an ivory stylus, a rython drinking horn with a relief head of a Parthian king, antique coins and statuettes. The excavation of the settlement is still well under way; the most interesting finds are yet to come.