Penjikent situated in the opened valley with vineyards, fields and orchards holds a population of 50,000 people, an essential town on the Silk Road. The magnificent archaeological sites of ancient Penjikent and Sarazm are strong reminders of their historical significance and earlier wealth. For tourists, they blended well with the architectural wonders of Samarkand. As late as the autumn of 2010, Penjikent was the gateway between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and indeed it should probably be part of Uzbekistan given that 70% of the population is ethnically Uzbek.
The modern town is on the banks of the Zarafshan River. It is a typical Soviet town with wide streets, some fine civic buildings, and a dramatic statue of Dewashtich. There are a bustling bazaar and an 18th-century madrassa. The old city, today abandoned, is on a hilltop to the east of the town. The Rudaki museum holds an excellent collection where the guest must visit. The town rose mainly because it was strategically placed on trade routes. It is also the center of a fertile agricultural area, and gold was panned here, using sheepskins. However today the modern Penjikent is a virtual ghost town, due to the border closure. The flow of tourists has slowed to a trickle, and businesses are only just clinging on. Only if this important communication route reopens does Penjikent stand a chance of recovery?
How to get to Kokand
Bus / Taxi
The distance between Dushanbe to Penjikent is about 300 km through the city of Ayni. The road between Ayni and Penjikent has not been maintained for several years and consequently, the condition is quite poor. often with no tarmac at all. So, get ready for the bumpy ride. 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.
Penjikent does have its own airport on str Nezavisimosti 10 in the south of the town, but flights take place in winter only. And according to some reports they do not bother to conform to a regular itinerary. Departure details and tickets are all available from the airport’s information office. Minibus N1 goes from the bazaar to the airport, and N4 goes most of the length of Rudaki.
Visiting an ancient Penjikent 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, the multi-domed roof of which is reminds the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
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
The Rudaki Museum in the center of the new town is a must-visit if you are in Penjikent. 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, 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. The museum’s name originates from the fact that Penjikent was the birthplace of Abu Abdullah Rudaki (858-941), the Samanid court poet considered by many to be the father of Persian poetry.
Rudaki modern mausoleum is a popular pilgrimage spot located 58 km east of Penjikent in the village of Panjrud, along with a small museum and guesthouse. The best local excursion is to the charming Marguzor Lakes, up in the Fan Mountains.
Page last updated 3.01.2021