Burana Tower: Architectural wonder of Central Asia

Asia Nilanjan Hajra
Burana Tower
Ancient stone sculptures near Old Burana tower located on famous Silk road, Kyrgyzstan. Photo : Dreamstime

The Burana tower is the earliest architectural wonder of central Asia. This tall minaret is nine hundred years old. Besides being a marvellous monument itself, the tower is the most prominent surviving remnant of a bustling ancient city named Balasagun. The Qarakhanid rulers founded this city in the 9th century. They ruled till the 13th century. And the Qarakhanids built the Burana Tower in the 11th century. Sadly, local inhabitants partly damaged the tower in the early twentieth century by using bricks from it for their own masonry works. However, the erstwhile USSR government renovated the tower in 1970. There is a haunting legend about how the top portion of the tower broke down.

Architecture and history of Burana Tower

The Burana tower as it stands today is 82 Ft tall. However, originally this architectural wonder during its time was 148 Ft tall. The tower is built of bricks. In those days the Burana tower was a template for all such minarets in the region, such as the Bukhara tower. The masons didn’t paint the tower to make it beautiful. Instead, they made geometric patterns out of the brickwork to decorate the outer surface of the tower. They also built eight faux gateways at the base of the tower to beautify it.

Unfortunately, the tower lost its top portion in a major earthquake in the 15th century. However, according to a popular legend, a fortune teller predicted that the daughter of a ruling khan would die of a spider bite on her 16th birthday. The khan immediately built the architectural wonder, put his daughter in it with all amenities, and sealed it. Only a handful of servants used to go inside with utmost care, after ensuring that they were not carrying any insect. On the 16th birthday of the girl, the khan himself went in to gift his daughter a basket full of fruits. A spider hid inside one of the fruits, and it bit the girl to death. Watching her daughter die the khan in deep anguish cried out so loud that the top of the tower tumbled down.

The city of Balasagun

The architectural wonder served as a landmark for the ancient city of Balasagun. The Turkic Qarakhanid rulers founded the city in the 9th century in the Chuy valley of Kyrgyzstan. And it was a bustling economic and trading centre on the Chang’an-Tianshan network of silk routes. The city was the capital of the Qarakhanid khanate from the 10th to the early 12th century.

In 1134 Balasagun became a part of the Great Liao empire. Mongols captured the city in 1218. While the Mongols were fascinated by the city and used to call it ‘Gobalik’ or ‘the pretty city’, it fell into bad times during the Mongol rule. Incidentally, besides the Muslim majority, the city had a sizable number of Nestorian Christians. By the 14th century, Balasagun lost its importance and glamour. Slowly it turned into a village. However, many architectural remains, including the tall architectural wonder, stand testament to the glorious history of the region.

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