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Burana Tower | Balasagun

About 40 km from Bishkek, this historic tower presides over the wide valley that spans the region between Bishkek and Issyk-Kul.  Karakhanids, an Islamic Turkic group related to the Uyghurs, took dominance in the region in the 10th century.  They established three major cities for trading purposes along the Silk Road, one of them being Balasagun, just south of present-day Tokmok in Kyrgyzstan. 

(The name “Balasagun” comes from an 11th century poet who was born in the town.  Yusuf Balasagun’s portrait is still featured in Kyrgyz currency, on the 1000 som note!)

Balasagun on the 1000 som Kyrgyz banknote

The Burana Tower is the primary remnant of the Balasagun settlement, believed to have been a minaret  for the city.  Earthquakes and natural elements destroyed a significant portion of the tower over the centuries, but a 1970’s reconstruction project put together the tower that now stands today.  It is only half of its original height, but a climb up the steep narrow stone stairs proves sufficient in both exercise and the views that it affords.

The fact that the tower remains in any condition at all is partly in thanks to Genghis Khan.  As he raided through the region in the 13th century, he notoriously deemed Balasagun a “good city”, and renamed it as such: Gobilik.  A large number of artifacts that connect Balasagun to the Silk Road are therefore able to be seen on display in the fields and small museum near to the tower. 

An alternate story for the origin of the tower comes from a Kyrgyz fairytale.  A king with a new-born daughter was warned she would die on her 18th birthday.  In order to protect his daughter, the king built a tower (presumably Burana) and locked her inside.  Alas, as predicted, the girl was bit by a poisonous spider that had hidden in her food, and she died on the day she turned 18.  The legendary daughter’s name was Monara.  

Ruby Mitchell

Online Content Editor @ White Leopard Travel Co.

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