Substantially closer to Samarkand, Uzbekistan, than to Dushanbe, Penjikent is the old center of the Sogdian empire. It lies at the entrance to Zeravshan Valley, one of Tajikstan's main touristic attractions. Around the modern town and in its museum you will find remains of the pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian civilization. The remains of this Sogdian city are just out of town, on a hill overlooking the valley. You can wander around the site without being bothered by anyone. Unfortunately,there are hardly any signs explaining what is what. The director of the museum just next to the site is able to explain everything in detail though. You may also find some excavators here, and students from St. Petersburg willing to tell you about their work and finds.
The town has a another small museum with Soviet memorabilia and stuffed animals as well as impressive finds from the excavations nearby -- wall paintings from the 5th century, with faded colors but recognizable motifs and hunting scenes.
You can also do excellent treks in the surrounding Fan Mountains and further up the Zeravshan Valley. Penjikent is usually visited from Samarkand as part of a tour along the Silk route, other entry points are Dushanbe in the South or Khujand in the North. For the latter routes, you will have to cross high passes though. This means that Penjikent is often isolated from the rest of the country during wintertime.
The name Panjakent is derived from "panj" (five) and "kant" (settlements), meaning "five settlements".Rudaki, the founder of Persian-Tajik literature called "Adam of poets", was born in Panjakent.
The ruins of ancient Panjakent are situated in the Zarafshan Valley about 60 km east of Samarkand. Panjakant was the easternmost city of Sogdia. The site is being excavated from 1947 onwards. Excavations were led by Y.Yakubovsky, A.Belenitsky and B.Marshak of the Ermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Due to the long period of excavations, Panjakant has become one of the most thoroughly studied early medieval cities in all Asia. Excavations show that Panjakant was founded in the 5th cent and was inhabited until the 770s.
Panjakent is famous for the outstanding frescoes. Today, a few of them are exhibited in the small Rudaki Museum at Panjakent, but most of them are exhibited in Dushanbe and the Ermitage in St. Petersburg.
Ancient Panjakent was a town of the Soghdians. The Soghdians were a people of an Iranian language. They belonged to the most important peoples in Central Asia before arrival of the Islam. The nameSoghd or Soghdian is mentionned in historical sources of the Achaemenid Empire (6th cent BC). The Soghdians founded several city-states in the Zarafshan Valley and colonies along the Silk Road from the Crimea to China and Mongolia. Ancient Panjakent was the capital of the state of Panch. The town dates to the 5th cent. AD. It was inhabited by rich merchants and land-owners. The Arabs conquered Panjakent in 722. The last ruler, named Devashtich, fled into the mountains, but he was captured and sentenced to death. People stayed in Panjakent under the rule of the caliphate, but towards the end of the 8th century, the city was abandoned.
Sights of Penjikent
The archaeological site of the ruins of old Penjikent - a walled inter-city which stood 2500-years ago - was once a Sogdian trading city on the Silk Road. Today, only ruins are left owing to the fact that the main construction material was clay-bricks. Often referred to as The Pompeii of Central Asia, it is well worth a visit. Duplicates of old Sogdian art are exposed in the nearby museum. The director will also take you on a tour, which will open your eyes to many interesting details which will normally escape the laymen's eye. Ancient Panjakent was divided into a shakhrestan (residental quarter) covering an area of about 13 hectares, an ark (citadel) with a palace, covering an area of 1 ha, a rabat (suburb pulular district) and a necropolis. The site is huge. Located on the top of a hill, it offers amazings views over the entire valley. The living quarters and fortress were separated by a narrow wadi with a bridge connecting the two parts of the city. Two temples in the shakhrestan formed the center of the urban area. The two temples contained statues and mural paintings. During the 5th and 6th centuries, no building in Panjakent was as magnificient as the two temples and even the houses of the wealthiest residents seemed rather humble compared to the two temples. The buildings were made of mud bricks and paksha. Theresidential houses ranged from single room buildings to large estates, reflecting the social status of their inhabitants. In the 7th and 8th centuries, the hoses of the rich dominated the architecture of the city. At the beginning of the 8th century, the spaces between the houses were converted into passageways and often covered with vaults. The houses of the rich became two-story buildings with vaults over the room on the first floor. All residential houses were covered with wall paintings and woodcarvings. The larger houses consisted of halls with four columns and benches along the walls. They were the most important part of the houses and served religious purposes. More than a third of the hoses had such reception halls. It is here where the archaologists discovered many exceptional mural paintings. These paintings date from the 5th to to the 8th century and are considered the most important works of early medieval art in Central Asia before the arrival of Islam. Most houses had a dark vaulted room for storage and a spiral staircase leading to the living quarters in the second floor. The houses of the well-to-do population usually had a room with a fire altar and a ceremonial hall decorated with wall paintings and wood carvings. In the main hall, there was a niche up to 4 m widr opposite the entrance with giant images of tutelary gods and small pictures of the praying members of the household. The center of the hall was marked by four wooden columns which supported complex wooden structures with a dome on a square foundation on the top. The hall was decorated with woodcarvings in high relief and even with small statues of caryatids and atlantes. The most common motif of the reliefs in the ceiling were arched niches with figures of the gods, including the sun-god in his chariot. The wall paintings on the other three walls were much smaller than the gods facing the main entrance. They formed two or three friezes depicting royal feasts, hunting scenes, the heroic deeds of Rostam, local heroes, amazons or persons from the Indian epic Mahabarata. The layout of the Sogdian central hall is unique. The decorations show that the Sogdian artist were familiar with the artistic and literary traditions of different cultures, as Persia, Greece and even India. The majority of the population observed some local variation of Zoroastrianism, which is proved by the wide distribution of ossuary funerals and fire-altars. There is, however, some evidence of the presence of Christianity and Buddhism and eventually even of the cult of Shiva. Zoroastrianism was combined with cults of additional gods and goddesses. Not all of these deities were of Iranian origin, as can be seen from the cult of the Mesopotamian goddess Nana. The iconography of these goods can be traced back to the Hellenistic period, e.g. the image of a defeated goddess. It was also influenced by Sasanian ideas of the royal attributes of gods and observed some Hinduistic features as well. The iconography took its final form in the 5th and 6th centuries. Each household had its own divine protector, but all gods formed part of a single pantheon, as can be seen from wall paintings depicting several deities side by side. The three-headed god of the wind Veshparkar, who resembles Shiva, and the four-handedNana riding on a lion or seated on a throne in the shape of a lion can easiliy be recognized. Altogether, more than 20 deities can be found on small terracotta images, murals, woodcarvings and clay figurines. The images of Nana, a god sitting on a throne in the shape of a camel and of a god standing over a fallen demon are most common. US$5.
Rudaki Museum (Republican History and Regional Study Museum)
This interesting museum of local history has recently been rehabilitated and should not be missed. Abu Abdullo Rudaki was a famous poet of the 10th century. He lived in Panjakent for a while and later became the national hero of Tajikistan. Among the exhibits in the museum are frescoes from the ancient city of Panjakent depicting a banquet, a battle, and daily life scenes; statues of Zoroastrian divinites and a wooden statue of a dancing woman. Apart from showing artifacts and frescoes of the archeologial site nearby the city, it also features exhibits from Sarazm, a neolithic site a few kilometers further west. There excavators found proof human settlement as old as 5500 years and - most notably - the richly decorated remains of a young woman referred to as the princess of Sarazm. The museum has 8 halls. The first hall is devoted to the history and culture of ancient Sarazm with exhibits illustrating the beginnings of farming and city building in the area. The second hall shows findings from Panjakent from the 5th to 8th cent AD. In the third hall, artifacts from the period of the Somonid empire are at display. The forth hall is devoted to Rudaki, the founder of Tajik literature. The fifth hall shows objects of Tajik ethnography: clothes, embroideries, copper and bronze dishes, clothes from the 19th and 20th centuries. The sixth hall refers to the establishment of the Soviet power in Tajikistan, the seventh hall to the independence of Tajikistan in 1991. In the eighth hall, animals of Tajikistan are exhibited. US$10.
Olim Dodhko Mosque and Medressah,
A Friday Mosque dating from the 18th and 19th centuries for up to 1500 people
Kainar Ato Spring.
According to the legend, Ali, the desecendant of Mohammed, visited this place which at this time accomodated only serpents. When Ali came to Kainar Ato, he prayed, the snakes disappeared and a spring was formed. Today, 6 water pumps work at Kainar Ato, supplying water to about 2/3 of Panjakant's population.
You can do excellent treks in the surrounding Fan Mountains and further up the Zeravshan Valley.
The Fannsky Gory (Fan Mountains) are one of Central Asia's most popular trekking areas. You can do a day trip from Panjakent to the Seven Lakes (Marquzor Lakes), about 60 km south of Panjakent. It costs about US$ 40 to hire a car from Panjakent (2007). Anothe favourite place is Iskander Kul, a mountain lake about 25 km south of the Panjakent Dushanbe road. There is, however, no public transport to the lake. The former Soviet holiday camp offers accomodation for 20TJS (2007) and a great lakeside restaurant. The lake is at an altitude of nearly 2200 m.