Ancient Penjikent - A view from our expert author

Ancient Penjikent, Tajikistan by Tourist Development Centre, Tajikistan

The well-preserved ancient site at Penjikent © Tourist Development Centre, Tajikistan

Ancient Penjikent is remarkable due to the state of its preservation. Having been abandoned suddenly 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 is 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.

Remarkable due to its state of preservation, this abandoned city is home to an impressive citadel.

The easiest place to see Penjikent’s remarkable frescoes is in the Rudaki Museum (67 Rudaki; open: 08.00–17.00 Mon–Sat; local/foreigner TJS2/10) in the centre of the modern town. It’s an attractive, white building with well-laid-out displays, plenty of information and an enthusiastic curator. 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 admire murals depicting many-headed gods, ancient heroes and the Sogdian aristocracy. Other notable artefacts 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.

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