Penjikent (Panjakent or Panjikent too) is situated in the wide and green Zerafshan river valley filled with vineyards, fields and orchards and has a population of about 50 000 people. Panjakent was an essential town on the Silk Road but it was already a significant and developed center more than 5000 years ago. The archaeological sites of ancient Penjikent and the nearby Sarazm tell about the wealth of the past. As the nearby Samarkand boasts with the middle age architecture, Panjakent and the Zerafshan valley offer something different from the older times and with the nearby nature sights of the Tajik Fann mountains. 

The modern Panjakent town is on the banks of the Zarafshan River and it is a typical Soviet town with wide streets, some fine civic buildings and a dramatic statue of Dewashtich. There is also a bustling bazaar and an 18th-century madrassa next to it. The old city, today abandoned, is on a hilltop to the east of the town. The Rudaki museum of Penjikent holds an excellent collection and it is a must visit for tourists. 

The location of Panjakent is very well strategically situated on ancient and medieval trade routes and it is the main reason for the birth of the city. It is also the center of a fertile agricultural area and gold was panned here ages ago, using sheepskins. Nowadays there are also modern gold mines in the nearby Fann mountains.

Panjakent bazar, Tajikistan
Ismail Somoni statue in Panjikent city center

Ancient Penjikent

The ruins of ancient Penjikent lies on a terrace above the banks of the Zeravshan River, 1.5km southeast of the new town. A major Sogdian town was founded in the 5th century and abandoned in the 8th century.  The banks of the Zarafshan River, at a vital Silk Road crossroad, were the ideal location for an ancient city to grow and flourish. At its height, the settlement was a rich trading center and one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the Silk Road. The city was built in the 5th century, covering an area of 20 hectares, with a population of 5,000. 

The Sogdians constructed an impregnable-looking fortress with walls 12m thick at the base and 5m high at the top (with battlements and a wide pathway to allow rapid deployment of troops) on a hill 4 km east of the modern town. The fortress had watchtowers on three sides and was protected by a steep slope on the northern side. At 1,000m it is greater than the new town in the river valley. It was a blooming time of the Silk Road cultures, with Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Manicheans and Nestorian Christians all making their unique contributions. It had two large Zoroastrian temples, with the holy fires burning continuously. There were a royal palace and a citadel.

The city was attacked by the Arabs for two years but was eventually captured in AD 722. The Arabs set fire to the city, and this act meant that Penjikent became a repository for much of what is now known about the Sogdian civilization. Many of the buildings were burnt to the ground. Rather than attempt to rebuild their luxurious palaces and temples, Penjikents inhabitants abandoned their city, inadvertently preserving it in time for archaeologists to uncover it more than a millennium later. The last Sogdian ruler, Dewashtich retreated into the mountains but was captured and, by one account, crucified. His followers, including women and children, were massacred as they fled Penjikent for Khujand.

Ancient Penjikent is remarkable due to the state of its preservation. Today the ruins are mostly restrained to sunbaked walls but they are worth a look, and the modern city is becoming increasingly popular as a springboard to visit the nearby Fan Mountains. Having been abandoned quickly and never built over, it is still possible to walk the streets laid out much the same way as they were the day the Arabs came. At its height, the city covered around 20ha, and about half of this area has been carefully excavated, with finds being removed to the National Museum in Dushanbe and the local Rudaki Museum. Most impressive amongst the buildings are the citadel on top of the hill overlooking the city, the necropolis, and the fine, once multi-storied buildings where the famous frescoes were discovered

Mosaic in Panjikent main street
Tea pot art in Panjikent, Tajikistan

Panjakent sights

While visiting the ancient Panjakent, you can explore the faint foundations of houses, two Zoroastrian temples and the shop-lined bazaar of the main town center and citadel to the west. The palace was originally decorated with ornate hunting scenes and pillars carved in the shape of dancing girls. 

Penjikent’s busy bazaar has a large, decorative gateway and directly opposite is the Olim Dodho Mosque that has a multi-domed roof which reminds the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The best local excursion around the Panjikent is to the the charming Marguzor Lakes (Seven lakes), up to the Fann Mountains. 

Rudaki Mausoleum & Rudaki Museum

Rudaki was a Persian poet singer and musician and he is known as the first major poet to write and served as a court poet during the Samanid era. Rudaki’s modern mausoleum is a popular pilgrimage spot and is located 58 km east of Penjikent in the village of Panjrud, along with a small museum and a guesthouse. 

The Rudaki museum presents a sculpture of Rudaki that was created by the archeologists based on his skull fragments along with other findings from the Panjikent and Sarazm sights. There is a Russian-speaking guide in the museum. Here you can observe Penjikent’s remarkable frescoes. It gives you a better understanding of the site of the fortress and of the life of the people who lived there. The museum is an attractive, white building with well-laid-out displays and lots of useful information.

The Sogdian frescoes are undoubtedly the biggest draw and although the best and largest examples (one of which was 15m in length) have been spirited away to Dushanbe and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, you can still cherish murals depicting many-headed gods, ancient heroes and the Sogdian aristocracy. Other notable artifacts include ornaments carved from wood and clay, domestic and ritual pottery, ossuaries (vessels for the bones of the dead) and altarpieces, many of which show marks of the apocalyptic fire. 

Head sculpture of Rudaki in Rudaki museum
rudaki mausoleum and museum

Travel to Panjikent

Bus / Taxi

The distance between Dushanbe and Penjikent is about 300 km through the Fann mountains and the city of Ayni. The minibus takes around five hours and more if the road is wet. 

There are two bus stands in Penjikent. The eastbound intercity buses leave from the east gate bus stand, and local buses also use the Bazaar bus stand. 

Panjikent is also located just next to the Uzbek city of Samarkand and Panjikent can be easily accessed from Samarkand through the Sarazm border. You can take taxi from Samarkand till the border, cross it and take another taxi from the border to Panjikent. 

Other Sights & destinations near Penjikent

Page updated 18.5.2022

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