Day 90: Fortress of Nur

Alexander the Great’s fortress at Nur overlooks the modern day Uzbek city of Nurota

Founded by Alexander the Great in 327 BC, the ancient city of Nur is today known as Nurota.  Over 2,300 years ago, the fortress was built to defend the city and settled lands to south from the nomadic peoples of the steppe to the north.  The remains of the fortress, which is one of the most ancient monuments in Uzbekistan, can still be observed on top of a hill which overlooks the modern city of Nurota and the Chasma pilgrimage complex with its mysterious spring, and a 16th century mosque.

The fortress itself is today in a state of total ruin.  From the Chasma complex at the foot of the hill, looking up you might mistake the ancient walls for natural rock outcroppings.  From the top, you can better appreciate the site’s strategic significance.  With commanding views in all directions, it’s no wonder why Alexander and his army set up camp here, and fortified the hilltop as a way to defend this stop on such an important caravan route along the ancient silk road.

Nine hundred years after Alexander’s armies defeated the Scythian army outside Tashkent in the battle of Jaxartes, the fortress of Nur was still being used to defend against the invasion of Genghis Khan.  Timur the Great used the fortress to secure his empire, protecting the route to Samarkand and Bukhara.  Up until the 20th century, Nurota was considered an important defensive outpost on the border of the steppe, where the Emir of Bukhara maintained a powerful presence.

The Chasma complex and city of Nurota spread out beneath the fortress.

Recent excavations have uncovered Alexander the Great’s original water and irrigation system which amazingly is now being refurbished and used by the residents of Nurota.  Ancient Greek plumbing, more than 2,300 years later, is still serving its original purpose, providing a vital conduit for water in this dry territory on the edge of the steppe.

While the Fortress of Nur no longer provides any practical defensive purpose, the Chasma complex below still manages to attract thousands of pilgrims annually.  The spring that brought Alexander and his army here so many years ago to establish what would become today’s Nurota, is also the location of even earlier archaeological evidence of human habitation at the site.

Some the earliest evidence of human migration, some sources dating back 40,000 years, can be found in the nearby mountains.  Cave drawings are just the start.  Visitors through the ages have experienced supernatural phenomena in this area, with legends of meteorite impacts, and frequent UFO sightings just adding to the mystery.

A seldom visited, but endlessly fascinating corner of Uzbekistan that was important enough for Alexander the Great to defend is certainly worth consideration on the itinerary of any adventurous traveler.


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