Day 3: Fayoz-Tepe

Efforts by local authorities, in cooperation with the Japanese, facilitated by UNESCO, have gone to great lengths to preserve the excavated ruins using original materials, protecting the site from further deterioration now that the ruins are exposed to the harsh elements of Central Asia.

While Kara-Tepe may be the more exciting Buddhist monastical complex, located well within the sensitive border zone, requiring advance permission, nice view of Afghanistan, and shrapnel mixed in among the ancient pot shards, Fayoz-Tepe is decidedly the more monumental of the two.  They’re even within sight of each other, and date from the same period, both reaching their peak during the golden age of the Kushan Empire.

outside the UNESCO visitors’ center, now indefinitely closed do to funding cuts

Located on the flat desert steppe beneath the hills of the cave monasteries of Kara-Tepe, Fayoz-Tepe was more vulnerable.  Evidence suggests that the Fayoz-Tepe complex was abandoned about 100 years before Kara-Tepe, were it’s likely the Fayoz-Tepe community sought refuge when the Persian Sassanids invaded.  This invasion in the mid 3rd century AD led to the establishment of the Kushano-Sassanin Kingdom, as the Kushan Empire lost its western territories in Bactria, Sogdiana, and Gandhara.

This eastward expansion of the Sassanids also led to the spread of Manichaeism into Central Asia.  The prophet Mani, who declared himself an apostle of Jesus Christ, fled persecution in Persia to Central Asia during the 3rd century where he was exposed to Buddhism.  Manichaeism went on to incorporate aspects of Buddhism, especially the concept of the transmigration of souls (rebirth), as it continued to spread, again thanks to the silk road, with adherents claiming that Mani was actually the reincarnation of Zoraster (Zoroastrianism), the Buddha, and Jesus Christ.  Mani returned to Persia following the death of Shapur the Great, but ended up being unpleasantly executed by flaying after continuing to debate religious topics with Zoroastrian priests.

Restoration efforts were true to the original design and use of materials from the 1st to 3rd century AD, with the restored complex taking on an otherworldly appearance.

The early abandonment of Fayoz-Tepe proved to be good for long term preservation of the archeological site.  Kara-Tepe continued to be used as a monastery for another 100 years while Buddhism gradually declined thanks to Sassanid influence.  There was even a feeble attempt at Buddhist revival during the 5th century by pilgrims from India, but these efforts failed, and the caves of Kara-Tepe were then used as burial chambers.  Other uses as a Christian monastery, and then a Sufi secret hideout, proved devastating for any historical artifacts that may have been left behind.  Because Fayoz-Tepe was abruptly vacated, archeologists have been able to find many treasures at the site, most of which are on display at the State Museum of History of Uzbekistan in Tashkent.

our guide, Sergey, gives us a detailed explanation of the history of the Fayoz-Tepe monastical complex from within the cool enclosure of the new stupa shell protecting the original

In an additional example of cooperation in cultural heritage preservation, UNESCO recently facilitated a total restoration of the Fayoz-Tepe complex by the Japanese, complete with a new shell for the ancient stupa, and a re-creation of a Buddhist temple from Kushan times that functions as a visitor center (although funding cuts mean the visitor center is now indefinitely closed).

outside the new stupa

Thanks to the efforts of our outstanding guide, the friendly caretaker was keen to give us access to the inside of the shell of the new Stupa, where the original dating from the 1st century AD, is kept protected from the harsh elements.  Preservation efforts have essentially put an adobe-like cap over the walls of the excavated ruins giving the entire site an otherworldly appearance.

Similar to the north section of the Kara-Tepe archeological complex, the main feature of the Fayoz-Tepe site is a large enclosed cloister-like courtyard, with a perimeter roof supported by Greek columns.  Of course today only the bases of the columns remain, but the surrounding rooms contained some of the most spectacular Buddhist archeological discoveries in Uzbekistan, including a spectacular relief of the Buddha flanked by two Greek-inspired Corinthian columns, frescos, images of Alexander the Great, pottery, gold coins and jewelry, and fragments of dozens of statuettes dating from the 1st to 3rd century AD.

the restored stupa from another angle

Access is much easier here since the site is not located within the sensitive border zone.  The friendly caretaker makes sure visitors don’t stray too far towards the frontier.  Our first vantage point of this spectacular monastical complex was from a hillside adjacent to the ruins.  This hill, obviously man made, is probably another un-excavated “tepe”, surveyed by archeologists, but deemed unworthy of further investigation for the time being.

The landscape around Termez is littered with hundreds of such sites, remains of ancient civilizations, so many that archeologists only explore those which seem the most promising.  So from the top of some as of yet un-described ancient historical monument we were able to get a full panoramic view of both Fayoz-Tepe and Kara-Tepe, the two most significant ancient Kushan Buddhist monastical complexes yet discovered on the territory of modern Uzbekistan.

overview of the entire Fayoz-Tepe complex from the adjacent hillside

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