This charming historical city located at the border with Uzbekistan is one of the oldest cities on the Kyrgyz territory. Built more than 2000 years ago, the city of Uzgen was an important crossroads of civilizations on the Silk Road, and the capital of the Kara-Khanids. In our days, it still keeps this cosmopolitan aspect with a mixed, but essentially Uzbek, population.
Located on the road between Osh and Arslanbob, Uzgen is a perfect stop to discover Central Asian history and relax between two hikes. Here’s a small guide to this treasure of the Fergana Valley.
A little bit of history
Nestled in the Fergana Valley, a fertile and densely populated region spread between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Uzgen is one of the oldest cities on the Kyrgyz territory. The Kyrgyz people have always been nomads, living in mountain pastures with their herds and yurts. It’s only with the arrival of the Soviet Union that they have become more or less sedentary. However, Kyrgyzstan is home to several very ancient cities inherited from the Silk Road period, during which thousands of merchants and their caravans would cross the country each year and seek places to rest.
The first traces of civilization in Uzgen date back to the second century BC. Back then already, the city had been conceived as a market and trades place, an aspect which it has kept in our days. It was a supply point on the road between Fergana and Kashgar, in China.
Uzgen later became the capital of the Kara-Khanid khanat (10th – 13th century). This is when the city, then called Maravannahr, developed. It was so densely populated that some historians estimate it was possible to cross the whole city on the rooftops, because the constructions were so close one to the other.
On the Silk Road, Uzgen was an important resting place for caravans. It had many public baths and mosques, some of which are still standing today.
Nowadays, Uzgen is still and important trading place on the road between Osh and Bishkek, more precisely between Osh and Jalalabad or Arslanbob. You’ll probably have the chance to stop by Uzgen during your trip in Kyrgyzstan.
Uzgen is the capital of the district of the same name, which is one of the most populated regions of Kyrgyzstan. The city has a large majority of Uzbeks: more than 90 percent of the population is ethnically Uzbek. There are also Kyrgyz, Russian, Tajik and Tatar minorities.
It’s the ideal opportunity to discover another culture within Kyrgyzstan, explore the typical bazars of Central Asia, and go back in history to the Silk Road period.
People in Uzgen mostly live off agriculture, and mostly off rice production. The Uzgen rice is a variety of red rice that is known throughout the world and highly appreciated in Central Asia. It’s this specific rice that is used to cook **the typical dish « plov » **.
In addition to visiting the open air museum in Uzgen, which has beautiful monuments dating from the Kara-Khanid period, you’ll also be able to relax in an ancient public bath (next to the museum, on the Lenin Road), visit the local market or a rice mill.
The city of Uzgen is located close to the National Park Kara-Choro.
The Uzgen Minaret
In the heart of Uzgen stands an important historical complex. It has a madrassa, a minaret, a mosque and mausoleums of three members of the Kara-Khanid dynasty. Although some of the ancient buildings were partially destroyed by the Gengis Khan invasion in the 13 century, and later by a huge earthquake in the 20th century, some monuments are still very well preserved and make Uzgen a great destination to discover the medieval Silk Road and the Khanat.
Beautiful details are still visible on these buildings. Archeological findings also allowed to find some interesting objects from the Silk Road: coins, gold or silver, vases, ceramics…
The Uzgen minaret was 44 m high but now rises at around 20 m. The tower is very well preserved and was recently restored. You can climb up to enjoy a panoramic view on the valley, its rice fields and the Pamir Mountains. The stairs are very steep, narrow and dark, so be careful on your way up.
How to get there?
Uzgen is located between Osh and Jalalabad in the south of Kyrgyzstan. You can get there by car from Bishkek (615km, around 10 hours) or from Osh (55km, around 1 hour), by shared taxi or by marshrutka (minibus).
To get to Osh, you can take the road that crosses Kyrgyzstan from North to South (it takes between 10 and 12 hours), or take a plane from the capital (around 1 hour). In any case, the mountainous landscape is splendid!
Fees and schedule
The historical complex is open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The entry costs 40 soms.
The bazar works from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.
The public bath works from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. It costs 100 soms.
To visit a rice mill, book with your guide or agency.