Takht-i Sangin

Temple of the Oxus

Takhti-Sangin is also written as Takht-i-Sangin is located 40 km west from Shahrituz town next to the confluence of the Vakhsh and Amu Darya (Oxus) rivers. Takhti-Sangin translated from the Tajik language as “stone throne” is one of the best monuments of Zoroastrianism. It is the Temple of the Oxus, one of the earliest and most significant archaeological sites in Tajikistan. Founded in the 6th century BC at the end of the Achaemenid period, this ancient settlement was centered on a fortified citadel. Inside was a monumental temple – the Temple of Oxus – with a columned hall encircled by two rows of corridors and finished with a Classical portico. The walls of the inner sanctum were an impressive 5m high, and in places, they were 3m thick. The pillars would have been topped with Ionian finials, and there were numerous statues atop pedestals.

Central to the temple was a magnificent carved altar at which worshippers made offerings of coins, precious metals, artworks and ritual weapons. Almost 5,000 artifacts have been excavated, and they clearly show Hellenistic influence. Most likely those were the gifts of church-goers to the temple: the image of Alexander the Great as Hercules, the sheath with the image of a lion holding a fallow deer, chests facings made of ivory and decorated with carved drawings, the biggest collection of arrow tips in Central Asia (more than 5 thousand), arms of Greek-Macedonian warriors. The fragments of gilt bronze helmets which looked like if made of pure gold were also found there. Discoveries of gold and ivory goods, fine glassware and alabaster also affirm the importance of Takht-i Sangin as a Silk Road trading post. The finest pieces now in the National Museum were excavated here by Soviet archaeologists in the 1970s and ’80s, and, likely, the remarkable Oxus Treasure was also discovered in the vicinity. 

Within 1976 and 1991 Russian archaeologists excavated a temple on a citadel set within an enclosure of about 75 hectares. It used to be devoted to the Divinity of the river whose cult had existed there since the old days. The central columned hall of the temple was surrounded by storerooms containing more than 5,000 objects, dating from between the sixth century BC and the third century AD. The temple was built right at the end of the Achaemenid period, but some of the objects derive from an earlier date. The magnificent Oxus Treasure is thought to have been found nearby. Local legend has it that Alexander worshipped at this temple.

After all this time the archeologists and the scientists agree that there is a direct connection between Amu Darya Treasure “the Treasure of Oxus” in the British Museum and “the Temple of Oxus” in Takhti Sangin since the place of treasures discovery and the location of the temple are the same, and all treasure items are of ceremonial value. It might have happened that the treasures were moved from the temple in troubled times and hidden nearby in the riverbank. The ruins of Takhti Sangin today can be seen in the scenic valley of the rivers Panj and Vakhsh, and “the Temple of Oxus” treasures – in metropolitan museums.

If you wish to visit, we recommend you first visit the Museum of National Antiquities in Dushanbe. In the foyer is the altar from this site, and other artifacts excavated. The site is impressive, even although the artifacts have been removed and it is rarely visited. There are the excavation pits, with some dressed stone walls exposed, plinths of columns and a pit with the bones of animals sacrificed on the altar. The ancient writing on one of the stones turns out to be graffiti scratched by Russian soldiers. There is a range of hills behind, and across the reed beds of the Amu Darya lies an abandoned Afghan fort. The river cannot be reached because of a frontier fence. Just by the site is a watchtower, and a ruined gun emplacement, a reminder of the political sensitivities of this volatile region.

how to get to Takht-i Sangin

The best way to get to the site by car or taxi. Takht-i Sangin is 37km from Shahrituz town. From the town re-cross the Kafirnihan River to the north, and take a right turn after 200m. It is 4km to a crossroads, take the road to Chirik (6km), bear right and at 7km a T junction is reached. Turn left and left again after 2km. The tarmac ends and there is a road leading over a pass in the hills, with fine views over the Amu Darya. On reaching the bank Takht-i Sangin is 2km to the left, but visitors should turn right first to register at the military post at Takht-i Kulwad (2km). From the military post, drive along the track to Takht-i Sangin.

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