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Kunya Urgench, Turkmenistan

Kunya Urgench (Turkmen: Köne Ürgenç, from Persian Kohna Urganj, “old Urgench”) also known as Konya-Urgench, Old Urgench or Urganj is a municipality of about 30,000 inhabitants in north-eastern Turkmenistan, just south from its border with Uzbekistan. It is the site of the ancient town of Urgench, which contains the unexcavated ruins of the 12th-century capital of Khwarezm. Since 2005, the ruins of Old Urgench have been protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Formerly situated on the Amu-Darya River, Old Urgench was one of the greatest cities on the Silk Route. Its foundation date is uncertain, but the extant ruins of the Kyrkmolla fortress have been dated (rather ambitiously) to the Achaemenid period. The 12th and early 13th centuries were the golden age of Urgench, as it surpassed in population and fame all other Central Asian cities barring Bukhara. In 1221 Genghis Khan razed it to the ground in one of the bloodiest massacres associated with his name.

After that, the city was revived, but the sudden change of Amu-Darya’s course to the north and the town’s destruction by Timur in 1370s, constrained inhabitants to leave the site forever. A new town of Urgench was developed to the north, in present-day Uzbekistan. First archeological research on the old city site was conducted by Alexander Yakubovsky in 1929.

Most of Urgench’s monuments have completely or partly collapsed. Nowadays, the site contains three small mausoleums of the 12th century and the more elaborate 14th-century Turabek-Khanum Mausoleum, which was much restored in 1990s. The most striking extant landmark of Old Urgench is the early 11th-century Kutlug-Timur Minaret, which, at 60 meters, used to be the tallest brick minaret prior to the construction of the Minaret of Jam. Also of note is the Il-Arslan Mausoleum – the oldest standing monument: a conical dome of 12 facets, housing the tomb of Mohammed II’s grandfather, Il-Arslan, who died in 1172. Somewhat to the north, sprawls a vast medieval necropolis.