The Ancient City of Taraz
22 October 2019

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Taraz, one of the oldest cities in Kazakhstan, was built as a fortress some two thousand years ago. Its first written mention under the name of “Talas” was made in 568 CE by a Byzantine historian Menander Protector. The city flourished at the intersection of two cultures of sedentary agrarians and nomadic pastoralists, and this circumstance determined the formation of a unique steppe civilization in Kazakhstan.

Taraz was a political and cultural center of early states of Turkic people, Karluks and Turgeshs, and later the capital of the Karakhanid state. Turkic tribal federations living in the Talas valley during from the 5th–7th centuries left later generations a remarkable inheritance of runic written monuments: the Talas runes. A variant of the Turkic “runiform” Orkhon script, the Talas alphabet containing 29 identified letters has been named for the city.

Located on fertile lands irrigated by River Talas, the medieval city of Talas developed as a major trade center and craftmanship along the Silk Road. It was also home to one of the most ancient mints.

Talas secured a place in history by virtue of the Battle of Talas (751 CE) fought between the Abbasid Caliphate against the Chinese Tang dynasty. Resulting in a Tang rout, the battle had huge geopolitical significance marking the end of Tang’s westward expansion. One of its indirect outcomes was transmission of paper-making technology to the west via the Arab capture of Chinese prisoners.

In Middle Ages, the ancient city of Talas was glorified in their poems by Hafiz, Omar Khayyam, and Rumi. Outstanding architectural masterpieces – mausoleums to Aisha-bibi, Karakhan and Babaji-khatun – were erected in the vicinity of the ancient city.

Archeologists have found evidence of a peaceful dialogue of religions and confessions that coexisted in Taraz. Religions such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Manicheanism, Islam, Tengrianism and Shamanism gained traction here. Written artefacts suggest that Christians, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and others fleeing persecution from elsewhere found refuge in Taraz and were welcomed by its tolerant dwellers.

The city reached its highest level of economic development and prosperity by the 12th century but was razed by the Genghis Khan army in 1220.

Taraz celebrated its official United Nations recognized 2000th anniversary in 2001.