Turkistan is a city and the administrative center of Turkistan Region of Kazakhstan, near the Syr Darya river. It is situated 160 km (100 mi) north-west of Shymkent on the Trans-Aral Railway between Kyzylorda to the north and Tashkent to the south. Its population has increased within ten years from 102,505 (1999 Census results) to 142,899 (2009 Census results). Turkistan’s most prominent historical and cultural asset is the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is served by Hazrat Sultan International Airport.
In 2021, Turkistan was proclaimed by the Turkic Council as Spiritual Capital of the Turkic World. In the same year, Turkistan was named as one of the top ten tourist destinations in Kazakhstan.
Turkistan is one of Kazakhstan’s historic cities with an archaeological record dating back to the 4th century.
It became a commercial centre after the final demise of Otrar, the medieval city whose ruins lie near the Syr Darya to the southeast. Throughout most of the medieval and early-modern period it was known as Iasy or Shavgar and after the 16th-17th centuries as Turkistan or Hazrat, both of which names derive from the title Hazrat-i Turkistan, which literally means the Saint (or Blessed One) of Turkistan and refers to Khoja Akhmet Yassawi, the Sufi Sheikh of Turkistan, who lived here during the 11th century CE and is buried in the town.
Because of his influence and in his memory the city became an important centre of spirituality and Islamic learning for the peoples of the Kazakh steppes. In the 1390s, Turco-Mongol warlord and the founder of the Timurid dynasty Timur erected a magnificent domed Mazar or tomb over his grave, which remains the most significant architectural monument in the Republic of Kazakhstan. It was pictured on the back of the banknotes of the national currency until 2006.
Other important historical sites in the city include a medieval bath-house and four other mausoleums, one dedicated to Timur’s granddaughter and three to Kazakh khans (rulers).
Before the Russians came in the 19th century, Turkistan lay on the frontier of the settled Perso-Islamic oasis culture of Transoxiana to the south, and the world of the Kazakh steppe to the north.
In the 16th to 18th centuries, Turkistan became the capital of the Kazakh Khanate. It became the political center of the Kazakh steppe, but after advancing conquest expeditions of the Russian Empire and the associated weakening of the Kazakh Khanate benefited small southern states that he was captured. Finally, this city was conquered in Kokand khanate by Russian General Veryovkin in 1864. When Turkistan fell to the Russian Empire it was incorporated into the Syr-Darya Oblast of the Governor-Generalship of Russian Turkistan. When the Tsarist regime fell in 1917-18 it was briefly part of the Turkistan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic before being part of the Kazakh ASSR within Soviet Russia in 1924.
On 19 June 2018 Shymkent was taken out of South Kazakhstan Region and subordinated directly to the government of Kazakhstan. The administrative centre of the region moved to Turkistan and the region was renamed Turkistan Region.
In 2021, it was announced that the first 5G city will be set up in Turkistan, Kazakhstan. This project will be sponsored by Kcell and Ericsson.
The magnificent mausoleum complex of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is the main culture point of Turkistan.
Built by Timur in honor of this medieval Sufi poet, it occupies a huge rectangle measuring 46 by 65 meters.
In total, there are 36 rooms, including the Central hall, covered with the largest 18-meter diameter brick dome in Central Asia,and the height of the mausoleum in the central part is 44 meters. Inside, you should definitely see a huge ritual water bowl with a diameter of almost 3 meters and weighing two tons, which is made of an alloy of seven metals, and an impressive bronze lamp, cast in 1397, is a gift from Tamerlane to the mausoleum.
Other interesting rooms of the mausoleum are the Grand Palace with the Khan’s throne and scepter, the Small Palace, where the Pantheon of Kazakh khans is located (43 tombstones), the actual tomb of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, the Small mosque — the main place of prayer, as well as auxiliary extensions-the well and dining room, where preserved ancient stoves, a cauldron, and wooden dishes used by pilgrims to eat.
A legend states that Emir Timur ordered the construction of a mosque on the site of Ahmet Yesevi’s grave but all attempts were unsuccessful. Timur was then told in a dream that in order to have success, he should first build a mausoleum over the grave of religious mystic, Arystan Baba.
The mausoleum dates back to the 14th century and is constructed over Arystan Bab’s 12th-century grave, but was reconstructed several times up to the 18th century. In the 18th century the previous mausoleum, which had been destroyed by an earthquake was replaced with a double domed structure supported by two carved wooden columns.Most of the current structure was constructed in the first decade of the 20th century with only the carved wooden pillars, remaining from the original building.
The mausoleum features a large central arch and wide front facade with minarets at the ends and two large domes to the left of the main arch. As well as the two-chambered table-tomb (gurkhana) of Arystan Bab and three of his students, Hermet-Azyra, Karga-Baba and Lashyn-Baba, a mosque and auxiliary quarters and museum are located in the other rooms of the mausoleum. The effect of high groundwater levels led to the mosque being demolished and rebuilt in 1971. A quran showing medieval calligraphy is displayed under glass here. The mausoleum is today a place of pilgrimage.
According to legends, Arystan Bab, a religious mystic, was the recipient of Mohammad’s amanat beads or persimmon pip. When he was in Sayram, he passed these on to the eleven-year-old Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, who then became his pupil. The people treat Arystan Bab as a Saint (Aulie). So every Thursday, pilgrims spend the night at his grave and say prayers. A popular expression is widely spread: “spend the night at Arystan Bab, ask Khoja Ahmed”. According to legends, Arystan Bab lived for over 400 years
In the vicinity of Turkistan, there are also many natural and historical sights that definitely deserve a one-day “outing”.
Nature lovers are invited to visit the Otrar oasis (60 km from Turkistan), on the territory of which one of the most important cities of the Great Silk Road — Otrar-was located in the 9th-12th centuries.
Today you can see the remains of the settlement-the ruins are not well preserved, but the scale of the settlement is really amazing. You can also visit the Karatau nature reserve, located in the Central part of the ridge of the same name, where 15 species of animals listed in the Red Book live. There are a variety of trekking routes in the reserve.
The city attracts thousands of pilgrims. According to a regional tradition, three pilgrimages to Turkistan are equivalent to one hajj to Mecca (such local piety is known also in relation to other religious monuments in the Muslim world). The Saint was held in such reverence that the city was known as the Second Mecca of the East, a vision which has helped shape the spiritual identity of Muslims in Kazakhstan.
In 2021, Keruen-Saray, Central Asia’s largest tourism complex, was opened in Turkistan. This unique attraction features merchants, artisans, a flying theater, an amphitheater for equestrian shows, a bazaar, hotels, restaurants, a spa & fitness center, a cinema, a family entertainment center, and more.
Turkistan may be reached by train from Almaty, in a journey of nearly 20 hours. The road trip from the nearest airport at Shymkent takes about two hours.
Turkistan experiences a cool semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk) with short, cold winters and long, dry, very hot summers. The vast majority of the annual precipitation falls between late autumn and late spring.
Modern-day Turkistan has a population of 165,000 (2019 census). The population rose by 10% from 1989 to 99, making it the second fastest-growing town in Kazakhstan, after the new capital Nur-Sultan.
The ethnic composition of the city:
The ethnic composition of the city according to the 1897 census:
At the same time the ethnic composition of the Chimkent uyezd (Chimkent district) which included the city of Turkistan according to the 1897 census:
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